A family of otters has learned to play a keyboard at the National Zoo. The activity is part of an enrichment program, which provides animals with mental and physical stimulation. Although zoo animals are provided with numerous forms of activities, the use of musical instruments is unique.
Traditional enrichment activities include social interaction and “hide-and-seek” games. However, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo wanted to try something new. Spokeswoman Jennifer Zoon said the electronic keyboard allows the otters “to use their natural abilities and behaviors in new and exciting ways.”
Zoon said the otters play the keyboard every two weeks. Although they seem to enjoy the activity, increased exposure could lead to boredom:
“… what may be interesting to them one day may not interest them the next… Otters are generally inquisitive about enrichment, including new loud toys.”
Humane Society Director Jonathan Balcombe said enrichment programs, in general, are important for captive animals:
“Providing stimulation is critical for a decent quality of life for captive animals. Sadly, too few zoos make an effort. It’s the least we can do for creatures who are essentially imprisoned in settings that can only provide an incomplete replica of their natural existence.”
However, Balcombe explains that the otter’s interest in the keyboard underlines “how hungry they are for stimulation.”
The National Zoo’s Asian small-clawed otters debuted this spring. The family includes 5-year-old Chowder, his 3-year-old mate Clementine, and their nine offspring.
As discussed by the National Zoo, Asian small-clawed otters are the “smallest and most social otter species.” The new exhibit was built to mimic their natural habitat and encourages plenty of swimming, playing, and foraging for food.
In addition to their habitat, the otters now have access to a keyboard. The National Zoo hopes the otters’ performance will raise awareness about enrichment programs in general.
As reported by Huffington Post, the zoo will celebrate Enrichment Day on May 31. The National Zoo has an extensive enrichment program, which is critical to animal welfare. Although the zoo strives to provide a welcome and natural environment for all animals, boredom is an ongoing concern.
To combat boredom and anxiety, enrichment programs provide both mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis. Exercise, novel objects, and socialization have been proven to increase satisfaction and decrease negative response in zoo animals.
The National Zoo also provides auditory and olfactory stimulation, in the form of sounds and smells, which stimulate the animal’s interest. By playing the keyboard, the otters have an opportunity to combine physical activity with auditory stimulation.
[Image via TribWPix]