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Enrichment makes something more meaningful, substantial, or rewarding. It improves something, like quality of life.   Enrichment is when something is made more valuable - for animals, it means valuable things such as food, toys and the opportunity to explore their environments.  Captive animals - while kept in top physical shape - are often left with quite a lot of free time, since they do not have to search for food.  They also spend very little time exploring their environments, because there are very few changes that happen.  


Johannesburg Zoo has partnered with COAPE SA (www.coapesa.com) to develop and implement a comprehensive enrichment program, where the needs of every animal in the zoo are studied and met through an enrichment program designed specifically for that animal.  This enrichment program is carefully designed to encourage the animals in the Zoo to engage in very similar activities as their wild counterparts.  The process is monitored and adapted so each animal gets the most out of the program.


There are five different categories that we focus on when providing enrichment. These are:

  1. Play enrichment.
  2. Social enrichment.
  3. Cognitive enrichment.
  4. Sensory enrichment.
  5. Food enrichment.


Play enrichment is where we use toys and social contact as a form of enrichment, for example playing tug of war with people, playing musical instruments or playing with bubble machines.


Social enrichment encourages social contact as a form of enrichment. This includes clicker training and tablets to show YouTube videos of other animals. 


Cognitive enrichment is when the animals are given puzzles to solve in order to get treats or food.  They have to really think about how to solve the problems, and this keeps them busy and stimulated for hours on end.


Sensory enrichment uses sensory exploration as a form of enrichment.  Here, we use scratch and sniff scented objects hidden around enclosures for olfactory enrichment, herb gardens/baskets planted in the enclosures for taste enrichment, different textures like hay, cardboard boxes filled with feathers or leaves, straw, pebbles etc. for tactile enrichment and wind chimes / music for auditory enrichment.


Food enrichment utilizes the animal’s daily food in such a way that they have to mimic foraging/hunting behaviour seen in the wild. We use pulley systems for the crocodiles to encourage them to hunt, we hide food in hard to reach places to encourage primates to forage, and we provide meals in specially made feeders to encourage natural food acquisition behaviours in all the species.


In addition to these five categories, we also look at changes that can be made to enclosures to make them more stimulating for the animals.  These changes include meeting species-specific needs like climbing structures for canopy dwelling monkeys or trees for spectacled bears.


When you’re looking at the animal enclosures and there is a sign that says “Enrichment in Progress” please keep in mind that any unusual objects or items in the enclosure are part of the enrichment program, and not rubbish or junk left un-cleaned.  This includes cardboard boxes, hessian bags, excess leaves, hay, straw, tyres, plastic bottles or fire hose cubes, bamboo food dispensers etc.


For video clips of the enrichment implemented at Johannesburg Zoo, please visit:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVws488VqxE8--LmiWcKnjQ


Every three months, the Johannesburg Zoo Curators choose two new species that COAPE SA then develops an enrichment program for.  The program is then approved by the Curators, and then COAPE SA and volunteers work alongside the Johannesburg Zoo staff to make and implement the enrichment program.  So keep an eye on our page as it will be updated every three months!




Mokoko the Gorilla


Spider Monkeys




Andean Condors


King Vultures




Honey Badger


Spectabled Bears


Pachyderms and antelope


Reptiles and Amphibians


Nile Crocodile



Johannesburg Zoo
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