Environmental Enrichment

Due to the high standards of welfare afforded to the animals in our care, they can have an abundance of time on their hands/paws/claws or fins.

Amur-Tiger-Image credit-Simon-CockramMuch of the "normal" time they would have to spend in "survival mode" in the wild has been eliminated by being in a captive environment.

In captivity, food and water is supplied, territory is already delineated, social groupings are usually fairly stable and structured, there are no predators to avoid, and quite often mates are selected for them. With all the extra free time, the animal will have a need for new and entertaining or challenging activities. That is where the role of enrichment comes in.

There are many forms of enrichment. Each type has a different application and can be as varied as the animals it can be presented to. Some forms of enrichment are simple, while others can get quite complicated and expensive.

The overall aim of Colchester Zoo's enrichment programme is to provide a mentally and physically enriching environment specific to each species in our care.

We can provide this in numerous ways. There are 5 main categories in which enrichment can be provided and with knowledge and a little imagination, there are literally thousands of ways in which our keepers improve the daily lives of the animals in their care.

Amazon Enrichment Wish List

All purchased items from our Amazon Enrichment Wish List are delivered directly to Colchester Zoo and put to good use as exciting enrichment additions for a number of different species throughout the park!

If you would like more details or have purchased an item and would like to know how it has been or is planned to be used, please contact us directly by e-mail at admin@colchesterzoo.org with the subject, Amazon Wishlist.


Amur-Leopard-Image Credit Christian VolkeFood based enrichment is the most widely used method of enrichment as all animals require food to survive and the animals are more inclined to interact. The aim of food based enrichment is to prolong feeding times. The easiest way to do this is by dividing the animal's daily diet into three of four separate feeds.

Food based enrichment can be as simple as leaving the fruit and vegetables whole and throwing them onto the roof so that the animals have to pull the food through the mesh. It can also be cut very small so that it can be scattered through the exhibit so that the animals have to forage through the enclosure substrate. Other methods include hiding food in boxes or paper sacks.


Sensory enrichment can encompass any of the five senses, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. The most common form of sensory enrichment used is olfactory enrichment; which utilises sense of smell. Items such as herbs and spices, perfume and deodorant, catnip for the cats or even toothpaste or mouthwash can be dotted around the exhibit before allowing the animal access to it. This type of enrichment will normally induce extra scent marking from the animal reaffirming its territory boundaries.


meerkat-enrichmentCognitive enrichment utilises novel objects that occupy the animal's time in a captive setting. The sort of novel objects that you may see used in this way include Boomer balls, Kong toys, tyres, cardboard tubes and fireman's hoses.

Cognitive enrichment is used to provide and enhance an animal's mental stimulation, by creating puzzle feeder training sessions where food is hidden in a number of ways and within a number of diffenet objects such as those mentioned above, to make the animal think about how to access food hidden inside.


Social enrichment involves housing animals of other species that they would naturally associate with or encounter in the wild, for example, this can be seen in the number of variety of animals that share the kingdom of the wild paddock.

Social enrichment can also be seen alongside the flock of flamingoes. Increased flock size gives flamingoes confidence to breed, and due to this, a number of mirrors were constructed and put up around the lakeside/possible nesting areas. This had the positive effect of creating confidence within the birds to start mating behaviours, and a number of natural, positive behaviours were seen.

Physical habitat

orang-enrichmentThe physical habitat of the animal plays an important role in the animals welfare, meeting their physical requirements and providing a positive environment in which for them to live.

A number of ways are used to adapt and utilise the physical space for enrichment, including hiding food within the spaces in the enclosure, incorporating further enrichment objects to encourage natural behaviours and developing and enhancing the space further to provide further mental stimulation.



Opening times: 

9.30am – 5.00pm or dusk if earlier*

*Last admission 4.00pm

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Animated gif of a meerkat