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Anthropology Students Help Enliven Primate Exhibits at Zoo

November 29, 2016 -- In nature, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas have to work for a living – to find food, make nests and locate shelter. In zoos, of course, they don’t have to do much work because everything is provided, and their environments are sometimes unexciting.
Anthropology Students Help Enliven Primate Exhibits at Zoo

Nov 29, 2016

CNM anthropology instructor Sue Ruth and two of her classes are attempting to make the ABQ BioPark ape exhibits more stimulating by providing the animals with toys they can play with and arouse their curiosity. The toys are toilet paper, wrapping paper and paper towel rolls stuffed with food and scented paper. The animals work to remove the stuffing.

Adding interesting objects is called environmental enrichment and is designed to provide a captive environment in which abnormal behaviors are minimized and in which behavior patterns resemble, to a degree, those in the animals’ natural habitats.

“Enrichment is all about keeping the animals physically and mentally stimulated,” Ruth said. “The apes especially are problem solvers in the wild and the enrichment engages their senses and provides a mental challenge for these highly intelligent, curious and playful creatures.”

Ruth’s students spent part of the Fall Term collecting the paper rolls. They set up a collection bin in the atrium of the Michael J. Glennon Building on the Westside Campus, along with information about conservation, what enrichment is and why it is necessary. Students in a primate class at the University of New Mexico stuffed the rolls and gave them to the zoo. One of Ruth’s former students who now attends UNM, Kai Werner, helped prepare the enrichment.

Ruth said that the toy preparation was a community anthropology project for her students. They had the option of going to the zoo, observing the apes, talking about their behavior and connecting it to concepts they talked about in class.

Ruth hopes that more environmental enrichment bins can be set up at other CNM campuses next term.