Christina Eastwood, hoofstock keeper and Dallas Zoo enrichment committee chair, guest blogs on ZooHoo!.
With a collection of more than 2,000 animals, providing fun enrichment to help our residents stay active and elicit natural behaviors isn’t the easiest task. We need extra hands to build “enrichment” items with us.
They may be smaller, sometimes sticky, hands, but they’re full of energy and the desire to help. Since 2011, children ages 5 to 19 from the 4-H Dallas chapter have created enrichment items with us. After our Enrichment Committee invited the kids out for the first time, we were so impressed with their hard work and ambition that we made it a permanent partnership.
The 4-H students work on items from papier-mâché balls for the chimps to break open and find a food surprise, to bamboo curtains for giraffes to scratch between their ossicones, to fire-hose cubes for elephants to swing in the air with their massive trunks.
Some animals spar with the items, or rip them open to eat the treats inside, just like they would in the wild. Because of the quick destruction, we constantly need to replenish our supply — which is why this partnership benefits the Zoo so immensely.
One Saturday every month, the 4-H students come to the Zoo and construct new items for our animals. In turn, we teach them helpful skills, such as using tools and learning about construction design. And the best part: after creating these items, the kids get to watch the animals enjoy them. And the students get to interact one-on-one with zookeepers and learn about the animal’s lifestyle and conservation needs. For many kids, it opens up their eyes to a new career field.
Through this unique partnership, the Dallas County 4-H groups have received both regional and national recognition by their peers and have been a model for other groups nationwide. They’ve inspired other groups to reach out to animal and wildlife facilities. We’re very proud of this partnership and look forward to continuing it for many years to come.