Environmental Enrichment: Increasing the Biological Relevance of Captive Environments

Scientific Journal Articles

Environmental enrichment is a vague concept referring to improvements to captive animal environments. Some authors have applied the term to an environmental treatment itself, without any concrete evidence that the treatment represented an improvement for the animals. Others have used the term when the main beneficiaries may have been people rather than their captive animals. The criteria used to assess enrichment have also varied according to animal use (e.g. laboratory, farm or zoo animals). In this paper, environmental enrichment is defined as an improvement in the biological functioning of captive animals resulting from modifications to their environment. Evidence of improved biological functioning could include increased lifetime reproductive success, increased inclusive fitness or a correlate of these such as improved health. However, specifying an appropriate endpoint is problematic, especially for domestic animals. Potential methods of achieving enrichment that require further investigation include presenting food in ways that stimulate foraging behaviour and dividing enclosures into different functional areas. The quality of the external environment within the animals’ sensory range also deserves greater attention. A common shortcoming of attempts at environmental enrichment is the provision of toys, music or other stimuli having little functional relevance to the animals. Failure to consider the effects of developmental factors and previous experience can also produce poor results. Environmental enrichment is constrained by financial costs and time demands on caretakers, and providing live prey to enrich the environment of predators raises ethical concerns. Future research on environmental enrichment would benefit from improved knowledge of the functions of behaviour performed in captivity and more rigorous experimental design.

Newberry, R. (1995). Environmental enrichment: Increasing the biological relevance of captive environments. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 44, 229-243.

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Topic(s): Breeder Resource, Enrichment, Enrichment, Stress & Improved Welfare