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Animal enrichment enriching for families too

Posted by: Nicole Aragon, Education

As the Child and Family Program Coordinator here at Woodland Park Zoo, I must admit that I do spend a fair amount of time at my desk. But every now and then, I get to take part in some amazing opportunities that could happen nowhere else. One of these amazing experiences was in a class for families that I taught recently, which will be offered again this spring, called Animal Enrichment.

Enrichment is an important aspect of animal health here at Woodland Park Zoo. We provide enrichment that encourages animals’ natural behaviors like foraging, browsing, hunting, seeking out new scents and marking territories. The animals in our care are important ambassadors for their wild counterparts and we work very hard to ensure they lead healthy, enriched lives.

During the class, we toured zoo grounds and I talked about many of the different enrichment items we offer to our animals—everything from Chanel No. 5 to paper bags. Tropical Rain Forest keepers even gave us the scoop on some enrichment items that I didn’t even know about. Did you know that our jaguars get large cardboard tubes (like the ones carpet rolls come on) to roll around and carry in their off-exhibit area?

Playing games of “match the animal to its enrichment” and touring grounds were fun, but the highlight had to be the creation of a giant zebra piñata that we fed to the lions on the second day of this two part class.

The families that attended worked in teams to papier-mâché the head, legs and body of our piñata, which was no easy feat because piñatas for the animals can’t have glue, staples, tape or anything else that might harm the animals.

Our labor of love ended up looking fantastic, and Hubert, our male lion, must have thought it looked tasty. The feline keepers lowered the piñata into the exhibit on a newly installed lure line as we watched with wide eyes. With one smack of his giant paw, Hubert had the piñata off the lure line and was digging in.

The keepers had stuffed the piñata with some tasty ground beef (not the kind of piñata stuffing most kids hope for at their birthday parties). It was fantastic for all of the class participants to see something they had worked on with their own hands being enjoyed by our lions. In fact, I heard back from one participant who said, “We have taken a number of classes over the years and all have been great—engaging instructors, entertaining formats—so I mean to diminish none of them when I tell you that this was the best class yet."

I’ve taught many classes in my time here at the zoo but this one has to be one of my favorites. We are offering this exciting program again in May and registration is now open online! Woodland Park Zoo offers a variety of classes and camps for people of all ages. See our website at for our current offerings or to register for a program. I hope to see you at the zoo soon!

Photos: Grizzly bear and jaguar by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo. Animal enrichment class by Nicole Aragon/Woodland Park Zoo.