Community Involvement​ in Enrichment Programs

One of the hardest things about implementing an enrichment program is finding the resources to do so. Great enrichment programs are very material intensive and this can be daunting for facilities that do not have a lot of resources at their disposal (I think its fair to say most animal care facilities fall under this category), but what if I told you that a great enrichment program does not need to be expensive? Not only does a great enrichment program not need to be expensive, it can also be an awesome cause for community involvement and even extra revenue.

How to get community support for an enrichment program?

Getting community support for an enrichment program boils down into one very simple answer…. you have to ASK your community for support.

One thing that a lot of people in the animal care industry don’t realize, is that we all have really cool jobs. Well maybe you do realize that you have a cool job but its hard to realize how much someone that isn’t in the industry would be blown away by the stuff that you are seeing every single day. This puts the animal care facilities in an amazing position to leverage these experiences in exchange for not only donations and revenue from behind the scenes tours but enrichment donations as well.

Getting your community involved in an enrichment program is as simple as emailing your local Christmas tree farm in January and saying:

“Hey, local Christmas tree farm,
I work for (facility name) and our animals love Christmas trees. I was just emailing today to see if you have any trees left over from the Christmas season that you would be willing to donate? If you do, we would like to invite you to (facility name) watch us give your trees to some of our animals, you’d also be more then welcome to take videos for your companies social media during your visit.
I’ve attached a picture of Bob our Bison with a Christmas tree that was donated last year for you to check out (attach a picture of Bob here).

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your friendly neighbourhood Zookeeper

This is a win win situation for the tree farmer and for the animal care facility. A video of an animal at the zoo destroying a Christmas tree is going to be far and away the best thing that the tree farm has ever posted on their social media and at no real cost to the zoo, you just got a donation of Christmas trees.

Example of community support

A few years ago I had several projects I wanted to do with wooden spools like these. The problem with wooden spools is that they are quite often owned by a company that makes them, who then loans them out to other companies to spool up wire and tubing. This can make them difficult to obtain due to the construction companies that use them aren’t often in a position to give them away. Then I was driving one day and I passed a hydro company truck that was full of empty spools, so I decided to send them an email asking for a donation. I used the same basic template that we discussed in the previous paragraph, and attached this image:

I didn’t email a specific person or anything like that, all I could find was their general email address that anybody could use to contact them (and Im sure, complain about their bill), so I really wasn’t expecting anything back.

But the next day they emailed me back and sure enough a few days later I had more spools then I knew what to do with, all for the price of letting them come make a video when we put one of the larger spools in with our bison. It resulted in this awesome video:

The benefits of community involvement

There are many benefits outside of just getting great donations, to getting your community involved in the enrichment programs at your facility including:

  • Educating your community about enrichment programs and animal welfare in captivity
  • Great social media content
  • Becoming apart of the local community instead of just being a tourist attraction
  • Easily and inexpensively upgrading your enrichment program

And by no means is asking a company for donations the only way to get support from your community, you can also ask your visitors to bring in potential enrichment items that they may have laying around their house via social media or your facilities website. For example you could even have an enrichment drive day where you ask your visitors to bring something from a list of items, and if they do they get a percentage off their admission. Below I have a few suggestions of things that I think would be easy to get donations for that would make for some great enrichment.

Some support/partnership ideas

  • If you haven’t reached out to your local fire station for fire hose donations, do it! They are always willing to help and quite often have to throw away fire hose after a certain time frame anyways
  • Cardboard tubes and egg cartons from visitors/ volunteers
  • Perfume and spices from visitors/ volunteers
  • Punching bags from a local gym
  • Large appliance boxes from appliance stores
  • Plastic barrels from a chemical/ water treatment company
  • Various sized jugs from a pool company/ chemical company
  • Browse from an arborist/ tree removal company
  • Paper mâché build night for guests (build items out of paper mâché that can be given for enrichment)
  • PVC from a plumbing company or a plastics company

And many many more!

The great thing about enrichment is that it isn’t a complex concept to explain to people outside of the industry and quite often you can see the fruits of your labour right away by the animal interacting with an object. Reaching out to your community for assistance with an enrichment program is a great way to form long lasting partnerships and get involved in a local community through the improvement of animal welfare.

If you would like some assistance getting your local community involved in your enrichment program or have any questions please contact me.

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