Zoos Use New Tricks To Stimulate Animals

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
August 27, 2002

One of the more unusual applications for Calvin Klein's cologne, Obsession for Men, is at the Bronx Zoo, where it drives the female cheetahs wild. Scientists discovered this little-known fact while investigating how to create a more stimulating environment for captive animals—a science called "animal enrichment."

"Most animals have a highly developed sense of smell, and spend their time in the wild with their nose to the ground to sniff out predators, prey, and also rivals," said Joseph Mahoney, supervisor of mammalogy at the Bronx Zoo, New York, where the cheetahs are housed. But in the zoo—where they are well fed and blissfully safe from natural predators—the animals get bored.

The goal of "enrichment" programs is to keep each animal's environment dynamic—constantly changing objects, odors, and sounds to mimic the physical and mental simulation they would experience in their native habitat.

"Part of the enrichment is the searching and hunting before they are rewarded with a new object or smell or food—they need to work for it. It keeps them stimulated," said Mahoney.

Surprise Element

The key is surprise. Adding an element of the unknown keeps the animals' senses on alert, said Diana Reiss, co-chair of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Animal Enrichment Program that is headquartered at the Bronx Zoo.

The zookeepers surprised the cheetahs with different odors to see which ones they enjoyed. About 19 perfumes later, the CK cologne emerged a clear winner.

"The females [cheetahs] have a very strong preference for Calvin Klein's Obsession," said Mahoney, who has had the pleasure of spraying the logs, and tufts of grasses with the heady mix.

When the cologne is sprayed on a log a female might play for 15 minutes—first seeking out the smell, then rolling, rubbing and pawing the log. She even defends the log against an approaching male by chasing him off, said Mahoney.

The preference for this specific cologne may have something to do with one particular ingredient: musk. Musk is a component of many perfumes and colognes and is also a natural substance that animals exude.

Although squirting perfumes around animal enclosures sounds frivolous, animal enrichment is a formal science. It is about measuring the animals reactions and behavior to new objects.

"We try to measure how much the animal is enjoying a particular new object or scent or food," Reiss said. "We record how an animal responds—exactly what it does and for how long."

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.