Stimulate Them!

Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. 

An Amur tiger cub enjoying bubble enrichment at the zoo. Amur (Siberian) Tigers are critically endangered. Less than 40 exist in the wild. Zoo breeding programs are helping the species to survive.

While working for a decade as an Enrichment Coordinator for various animal sections at the Audubon Zoo, I learned that physical and mental stimulation is vital to every species on the plant.  Squid, poison dart frogs, mice, tortoises, spiders, jaguars, sheep, dogs, parrots, ferrets, anteaters, cats, and pigs all need daily mental and physical stimulation!  Think of any animal, and I assure you that it needs daily stimulation.

Life is very stale and very boring without enrichment.  Imagine sitting on the couch in your home. There are no windows. You cannot leave the house.  No one ever visits you.  You have no radio, T.V. iPhone, or internet.  You have to eat and drink the same thing every day.  What do you think would eventually happen to your mind and body after a day, then a week, then a month?  This kind of mental stagnation is incredibly harmful to all living creatures.  In fact, it’s downright deadly.

All animals need enrichment, which is a fairly simple but important concept.  Enrichment improves or enhances the environment for an individual animal and stimulates the animal to investigate and interact with their surroundings more.  At the Audubon Zoo, I would enrich an animal’s environment by making changes to structures in their enclosures, present novel objects and scents for them to investigate, change how we presented food to them, and much more.

We encouraged them to forage, hunt, and handle their food in ways that are natural to them in the wild. (The Shape of Enrichment has a great sample article of this kind of enrichment.)  These tools were used on a regular basis at our zoo to alleviate boredom.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.  Giving animals more choices prevents boredom!

 

animal enrichment_pets_DIY puzzle toys
Offering an animal more CHOICES prevents boredom and other unwanted behaviors!

Coordinating Enrichment for Exotics

As an Enrichment Coordinator, it was my job to ensure that every animal in a particular section had species-appropriate enrichment provided for them every day.  This could be anything from planting geographically appropriate plant species to encourage a critically endangered female Blue Iguana to forage on her native country’s plants to prepare her body for breeding season, to providing a Boomer Ball for our Miniature Donkey in the Children’s Zoo to keep her from becoming bored and harassing the goats, sheep, or visitors!

 

The video below is an excellent example of how we could use a Boomer Ball in a captive zoo environment.  This demonstrates the fun and importance of mental and physical enrichment, with a focus on Choice, Change, and Complexity.

Otters Playing with Boomer Balls at the Philadelphia Zoo

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


What Captive Otters Can Teach Us About Our Pets

Right about now you might be asking, “So what does an otter playing with a ball, underwater, at a zoo, have to do with my pet at home?”  Well, that otter is a perfect example of  what I encourage all of my clients to do with their pets, in their homes, every day: mentally and physically challenge them!   Every one of you has the ability to have this much fun with your pets at home!  I am going to explain how you can do this, why enrichment is so important for your pets, and how it improves your life as well.


How Enrichment Helps

Environmental enrichment, when used properly, can positively address many behavioral issues. This can be anything from “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors that result from the all too common problem in homes: boredom and/or frustration.

In addition to treating behavioral disorders, environmental enrichment should be viewed as an essential part of providing an excellent quality of life for all pets due to its proven positive effect on the health and well-being of animal companions.


What is Enrichment?

Enrichment can be defined as:

A process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history.  It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare .   (Association of  Zoos and Aquariums [AZA] Behavior Scientific Advisory Group 1999, excerpted from Disney’s Animal Programs).

Behavioral enrichment is defined as “the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.”

Simply put, enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

More simply put:  Add a little creativity, fun, and stimulation to an animal’s life!

Environmental enrichment for pets (also called behavioral enrichment) is a means to enhance a companion animal’s surroundings. It serves to enhance their life through means in which the animal is presented with novelty in his/her environment. The animal is given opportunities to learn. And the animal is encouraged to engage in natural, instinctive, species-specific behaviors.


Why Enrichment Is Important

Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs. 

Behavioral enrichment and environmental enrichment are necessary components of life in captivity.  Enrichment improves the welfare of all animals.   All animals in captivity need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary, or your home.  It’s one of the 3 Key Elements That My Work Is Based Upon.

Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.  This directly relates to your pets at home!  Bored animals are easily frustrated, and frustration can lead to destruction.  You can avoid boredom and destruction by enriching your pets!  Enrichment is one of the keys to enhancing your pet’s life.  It is also one of the easiest tools to implement on a daily basis.

Enrichment at Home Serves To:

  •        Curb boredom and restlessness of an animal
  •         Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •         Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •         Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

 

Types of Enrichment 

Enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories.  All of these can be used at home with your pets:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging
DIY pet-enrichment-puzzle-feeders_dog_cat_parrot_turtle
Food, sensory, novel objects, and foraging enrichment are all shown in this image of pets in homes. Can you identify each one?

The Key to Successful (and appropriate!) Enrichment 

As I mentioned earlier, enrichment is something that can, and should be, incorporated into your animal companion’s life every day.  The image above is a great example of how easy it is to do!  However, the key to successful (and appropriate) enrichment for an individual animal is doing a bit of research.  Your homework is to understand your pet’s natural history.  This means that you need to learn about the history of their species, or background and history of their breed.

For example, did you know?

  • The Italian Greyhound was bred to  hunt rabbits.
  • The Dachshund was used to hunt badgers.
  • The main reason cats were bred and kept around homes was originally for hunting vermin.
  • The Bengal cat breed originally came from crossing domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats.
  • Although cats are carnivores, they still have an occasional craving for live green plants.

All of this matters!  

The breeding history and the natural history of animals affects our pet’s today – even if only on a small level at times.  Your domestic house cat still has a strong predatory instinct, so she needs to hunt every day.  Your cockatoo may live in a metal enclosure in your house, but he/she still has the innate need to chew, fly, and forage.  Your couch potato dog might have a lineage that was bred to swim and retrieve.  We must provide opportunities for animals to do things that are in their DNA.  We can provide simulated hunting, chewing, foraging, and seeking in our homes.  This is what enrichment provides.  It’s important that we take the time to put the pieces of their breed /species puzzle together.


 

Ask yourself:

  • What would my _____ be doing if they were living in the wild??
  • Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal?
  • Do they like to climb, hide, or fly?
  • Do they enjoy chewing, foraging or digging?
  • Do they need to soak or bask?
  • Do they hunt, stalk, ambush, or chase?
  • What does this breed of cat do really well, naturally?
  • What does this breed of dog do on his/her own that might be a peek into their genes?
  • What was this breed of dog, cat, horse, etc. originally bred for?
  • What behaviors does this species do naturally in the wild?
  • What kinds of food are found in their country of origin?

Exploring the breed- and species-specific background for each animal in your home is where we should begin thinking about how to provide appropriate enrichment for them.

The video below is an example of how hedgehogs naturally behave in the wild when they have the opportunity to make their own choices.  Why does this matter?  Well, if a hedgehog owner knows how hedgehogs naturally behave, then they can then provide this kind of stimulating environment for their hedgehog in the home!  The same concept is true for your dog, cat, parrot, or turtle!  When we learn about how our animals would behave naturally in the wild, we then have the tools to help them thrive and live long, healthy, happy lives with us in our homes!

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


How You Can Provide Enrichment at Home! 

Most people have limited resources available to enrich the lives of their animal companions, which results in a huge lack of appropriate enrichment with most household pets, especially exotic animals.  Making a few changes to their daily routines can greatly enhance the life and longevity of your animal companion! They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.   

 

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your pet’s life!

One thing I learned very quickly while working at the zoo was that funds were limited.  If you wanted to do a lot of enrichment, you had to get creative and do it yourself.  This now carries over into our home, and also when I am working with a family that has a very limited budget.  I teach my clients that anyone can make enrichment toys out of almost anything, and in the process you get to recycle in a super fun way!

Every night we give our dog Hocus Pocus (and the cats) some sort of enrichment challenge to do.  Below is a video demonstrating a very easy one for her, but the point is to not just “give a dog a bone”.  Make them work for it!  Dogs are natural foragers, so allow your dog to utilize his/her natural instincts!  Be as creative as you want to be!  This kind of enrichment provides mental and physical stimulation, and in the process they learn that being alone is a Very Good Thing.  Bonus: it gives you time to do whatever you need to get done while they are having fun!



 

Here’s another suggestion: The old school (“traditional”) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  The video below is a great example of providing simple mental and physical enrichment for a very smart and energetic dog.

And here’s another easy example that we do with our dog, Hocus Pocus every night!


Below are a few more examples of simple, easy enrichment that we use in our home on a daily basis.  Each of these are examples of natural behaviors that the animal would do in the wild if they were given choices.  Click the links to see each short video:

Make toys, or buy feeders that “feed” your cat’s natural hunting instinct!
The BoomerBall "Herding Ball" is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It's also great for horses when 3.5" holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.
The BoomerBall “Herding Ball” is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It’s also great for horses when 3.5″ holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.

What Science Has Shown Us

Results from a study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

Now let that really sink in for a moment …. What does that tell you?

 


 

In the video below, Chopin, the Moluccan cockatoo, is being challenged mentally and physically to utilize his natural foraging and problem solving skills to retrieve a high-value nut from a puzzle feeder.  We used this kind of enrichment for Chopin to reduce aggression, frustration, and boredom.



 

I encourage everyone to learn what their animal enjoys doing.  Discover their natural behaviors. Learn the history of the breed, and the natural history of the species.  Once you understand these things, you can challenge the animal to move out of their stale comfort zone and step into the space of Who The Animal Really Is.   Enrichment allows us to bring out the inner “House Panther” in a lazy cat.  Enrichment transforms destructive dogs into mentally healthy canine companions.  It changes frustrated parrots into relaxed, feathered friends.

Daily enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated and time-consuming, but the more creative you get, the more fun your animals will have!  Make it a FUN challenge for you and them!

TIP: Be there with them as they discover their new toy.  Encourage them every time they make a small success!  Don’t just leave them alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our animal companions.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and even when they are just trying to figure it out!

enrichment

What kind of enrichment do you provide for your animals?  Please share in the comments below!

 

Day of the Dragon!

Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day!  Yeah, I know.  It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight.  As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind.  He was amazing in every sense of the word.

Because of this dragon, I learned and felt more than I ever thought possible from a 140 pound lizard.  I cared for him, bred him, trained him, enriched him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed his last breaths.

His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.


Here There Be Dragons!

I was introduced to Kadar on the first day of a very challenging and amazing career path.  I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for many years.  I was a reptile and amphibian “keeper” (animal caretaker) and an enrichment specialist.  Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have.  He dispelled many myths about reptiles, and showed us how to be more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity.  Kadar was a gorgeous specimen, and quite a sight to behold!  He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.

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Kadar gently chasing his mate, Kali around their exhibit

Leaping, Learning Lizards!

Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there.  Thankfully, in 1999 we learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent!  Each day at the zoo, there were scheduled public feedings.  Zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit, and then toss him a deceased rabbit, mackerel, or beef heart into his enclosure.  Kadar would come running over and gobble the gory goodies down within seconds!  The gory (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to see!

Then a female reptile colleague and I taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to in his exhibit, using a laser pointer.  We also taught him to recall on command so we could shift him in and out of his night den without force.  He learned to target, and to trust people again.  We also learned how to safely work with him without using fear or force.

With training and enrichment we encouraged his natural hunting and stalking abilities by encouraging him to “hunt” for scents all around his enclosure, to mimic conditions that he would have experienced in the wild, on Komodo Island.  Through force-free, choice based training we gained Kadar’s trust, we eliminated fear on both ends of the stick!


Lessons Learned 

One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly that he had ingested) and in the process, a vertebrae and some nerves in his neck were severely damaged.  Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues.  He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure.  We did everything we could to help him.  Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive.  We took shifts at night breathing for him.

I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning.  We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late.  Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there.  He had passed in the night while in my arms.  We mourned his passing, but we never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community.  We all learned something from Kadar.

 


Not All Was Lost.

After Kadar passed, we were all heartbroken, but were able to honor his legacy by continuing the force-free reptile training movement with Kali, his very clever Komodo mate.  We taught Kali to station on a scale, allow nail trims, and to be crated.  Our team created a special crate designed to facilitate safe, force-free annual exams without anesthesia.  In the latter years, Kadar and Kali had to be anesthetized for these important annual exams.  This really cool create enabled the hospital staff to come out to our area for medical procedures such as weighing her, blood draws, radiographs (x-rays), colloquial swabs, and checking for eggs.

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Trained Komodo Dragons!

komodo dragon training reptile force free training and enrichement
Images from The Zoological Society of London

When we trained Kadar, there were hardly any force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time.  Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity.  They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training!   Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:


One of the enrichment devices that has been developed at ZSL London Zoo’s Herpetology Department, in conjunction with Aussiedog© is a ‘Tug-Toy’.  This ‘Komodo Tug-Toy’ is the first of its kind and it comes complete with a strong elasticised bungee, two removable tug grips and several different bites.  The device was developed after lengthy email correspondence with specialists at Aussiedog©. We discussed every possible component and variable from anatomy, force and bite radius to enclosure size to what colour to use/not use (as Raja, our male dragon, is trained to a white target for example) and we carefully considered what texture and material would be preferable for the detachable bites.  The device can also be hung from a tree or retaining wall, and meat joints can replace the bites to encourage the natural pulling and tearing motions the dragon uses to consume carcasses.

Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers. This was a specially made "Tug Toy" safe for the handler and Komodo
Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers at the London Zoo’s Reptile House.  This “Tug Toy”  was designed to be safe for the handler and Komodo

Raja even has his own facebook page!

These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.


Lethal Lizards?

Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters.  This is not true.  Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive!   Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice.  They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.

Dirty Dragon?

New research from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons are surprisingly ordinary for a venomous species.

Venomous Varanus!

In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom.  Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered).  There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey.  Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva.  Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”.  They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:

The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight.  In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.

Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyse the preserved head of a dead Komodo dragon and found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile. Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.
Professor Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyze the preserved head of a Komodo dragon. He found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile!  Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.

After the CHOMP,  a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell.  Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell.  But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with.  Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth.  Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!

The Komodo's sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.
The Komodo’s sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson’s organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.

The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules.  If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.


Varanus komodoensis Komodo
Open Wide! A captive Komodo showing off his clean mouth during an afternoon yawn in the sun

 


Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals.  After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry, Associate professor from The University of Queensland


The Komodo dragon isn't a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.
The Komodo dragon isn’t a filthy, bacteria-laden creature. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.

Komodo Dragon

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

Fast Facts:  

  • Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
    Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
  • They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
  • Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
  • Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
  • For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customsstrictlyforbidharmingthekomodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.

    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
    Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
  • Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
  • They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
  • Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
  • The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
  • Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
  • They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.

    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
    When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
  • They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
  • They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
  • They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
  • They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
  • When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
  • They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
  • JuvenileKomodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees)untiltheyarefully-grown and able to protectthemselvesfromotheradultKomodos on the ground.

     Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos  are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
    Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
  • Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
  • Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
  • Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
  • Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smallerlizardspacingaroundakomodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk.Theirtailis stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.
    Photo by National Geographic An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia's Komodo village.
    Photo by National Geographic
    An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia’s Komodo village.

  • Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
  • Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
  • Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
  • Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited!
The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited! These hatchlings represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the hatchlings will all go to different zoos for education and breeding purposes.

Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior.  It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons.  This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.
This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior. It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons. This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.

This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar.  Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined.  You were loved and adored by so many.

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Resources:

“Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh

http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/06/fear-of-komodo-dragon-bacteria-wrapped-myth

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/05/18/venomous-komodo-dragons-kill-prey-with-wound-and-poison-tact/

http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptilesamphibians/facts/factsheets/komododragon.cfm


 

A Porcupine and His True Love: A Pumpkin

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Have you ever seen a tiger bat at a boomer ball, an octopus play with a water toy, an otter hunt down live fish, or a sun bear play eat a real honey comb?  If you were to visit a reputable zoo or aquarium you might see these fun and entertaining behaviors in action!

The reason animals in captivity are given things like this to play with or eat, is not for our entertainment.  Behavioral enrichment is a necessary part of life in captivity.  It’s defined as “the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.”  Or more simply put; we add a little creativity, fun and stimulation to animals’ lives!

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Sand, mud, rotting logs, and leaf litter might not seem very exciting to us, but for some animals that is the perfect playground!  Providing the right environment for animals in captivity is crucial.  Animals need opportunities to run, jump, pounce, climb, burrow, dive, hunt for food, and explore — to do all of the things that come naturally.  Enrichment provides stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. It’s designed to stimulate them mentally and physically!  Read more about why animal enrichment is a vital part of Animal Husbandry and Welfare.


Environmental enrichment is just as critical to Zoo animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary medicine.

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In this video below, Teddy Bear, the “talking” porcupine, demonstrates one of his most favorite enrichment items!  Click on the image so you can hear what Teddy Bear has to say about one of his favorite Fall treats!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH TEDDY BEAR IN ACTION!

You can follow Teddy Bear the Porcupine here:

Zooniversity is a wildlife education company and exotic animal rescue located in Dallas, Texas, USA.