Enriching the Lives of Your Sugar Gliders
Enrichment - providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. Providing an interactive enviroment is as critical to an animal's well-being as having the right food and medical care. Toys, foraging products, tunnels, and climbing branches or ropes might not seem very exciting to you and me, but for some animals that's the perfect playground! Providing the right environment for animals is crucial. Animals need opportunities to run, jump, pounce, climb, burrow, dive, hunt for food, and explore. Enrichment keeps animals mentally and physically fit.
Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing the animals welfare.
Types of Enrichment
It is important to have knowledge of a species’ natural behaviors and physiology when developing enrichment program. Several categories of enrichment are then used to enhance that species’ behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well being. These categories are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, however each, if relevant to the species, should be incorporated into an animal’s enrichment plan.
Environmental Enrichment Devices
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) are objects that can be manipulated by the animal. These objects may be novel or pre-existing. Natural EEDs may include browse (foods), large and small branches, eucalyptus sticks, acacia gum jell stuck into creveces, and natural honey sticks, however these items should be kept clean to prevent bacterial growth. Man-made EEDs may include premade items such as interactive toys, swings, pouches, and exercise wheels.
Habitat design is an important consideration for providing enrichment. Habitats should provide a variety of substrates, levels, and complexities. Considerations should be given to useable space versus total space, and ease of reaching or changing platforms, tiers, ropes, nesting/denning areas, feed/water dispensers, and crevices/crannies for EED/enrichment food hiding.
Animal sensory systems are typically specialized by species and play crucial roles in their survival. Sensory enrichment is designed to address the animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste and elicit species-specific response, territorial, reproductive or hunting behaviors. Olfactory stimuli may include natural predator, pheromone, or prey scents or novel scents such as spices or perfumes. Tactile stimuli may include a variety of EEDs that can be manipulated including materials of different textures such as straw, soft blankets, paper, burlap, cardboard, or wood. Auditory stimuli may include the presentation of natural sounds or animal vocalizations recordings. Visual stimuli may include EEDs of different colors, those that move by wind or water current, animals in the line of sight from other habitats, video presentations, or mirrors. Gustatory stimuli include food enrichment items, flavored sprays, or beverages.
Food can be presented in a variety of ways elicit feeding, hunting, foraging behaviors, problem-solving strategies, and to facilitate behavioral conditioning. Food may be fresh, frozen, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy, light, cold, or and may be incorporated into puzzle boxes, hidden in or scattered about the habitat, or buried in the substrate.
Social groupings should resemble those observed in the wild to facilitate feeding, grooming, social, territorial, and courtship behaviors. Mixed species exhibits may also provide symbiotic or complementary activities between the species.
Enrichment devices and strategies should be presented on a varied schedule and in a variety of contexts to make sure the animals do not become desensitized or habituated to them. You should maintain a detailed schedule for what type of enrichment will be introduced for a specified date, time, duration in the habitat (if it is appropriate to remove it), location, and type of presentation that is randomized. These records should also provide a summary of the animal’s responses to the enrichment to ensure that safety continues to be a priority and that the animals are still stimulated by it.
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