Environmental Enrichment – Part 1: Social

As caregivers in a sanctuary it is our job to provide an environment for our residents that is enriching. We have to get our creative minds going every day to come up with new and stimulating ideas that will help support our mission of caring for these amazing critters.

Why is environmental enrichment important?

Viktor and Annie Reinhardt (1998) defined environmental enrichment as “the provision of stimuli which promote the expression of species-appropriate behavioral and mental activities in an under stimulating environment.” Although that sounds like a pretty fancy way of describing it, environmental enrichment is simply meant to stimulate the very active minds of captive animals and give them as many opportunities as possible to use natural behaviors they might use in the wild.

Any accredited sanctuary will tell you, it’s their job to make that space a little more exciting. The best way we can do that is with environmental enrichment!

Regis grooming Chance
Regis grooming Chance

Enrichment for the highest possible quality of life

There are 5 main categories of environmental enrichment:

  1. Social
  2. Cognitive
  3. Sensory
  4. Food
  5. Physical Habitat

Each of these contain their own subsets of enrichment categories but are not mutually exclusive — meaning you can use as many together as you want, no need to only implement one at a time!

Loulis and Tatu grooming
Loulis and Tatu grooming

Social enrichment

So let’s take a look at some of the ways we enrich the residents of Fauna in each category, starting with Social Enrichment. (Stay tuned for more on the other categories in later blogs.)

Social enrichment includes:

  • Chimpanzees / different groups / access to view others
  • Human caregivers
  • Positive reinforcement training (PRT)

Social interactions with other chimpanzees

The most important aspect of enrichment is of course, the social lives of the residents! Here at Fauna we offer the residents as many opportunities as possible to interact with other residents. Chimpanzees, like all primates, are very social creatures. They participate in grooming, play, and many other activities that require a friend nearby.

Social interactions with human caregivers

In addition to non-human primate residents, human caregivers play a large role in the social lives of chimpanzees and monkeys. Caregivers spend time each day doing activities with the chimpanzees. Every action is an opportunity for social enrichment. For example, when we are cleaning we may stop to share a drink from the hose with the chimps or give them soapy water and a bucket to clean alongside us. During a meal we may sit and offer to serve a meal with a spoon or slowly sipping a cup of tea that the caregiver is holding. We may sit and groom, or play a quick game of chase. We take the lead of the chimp.

Laurence serving Rachel
Laurence serving Rachel

Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT)

More structured interactions include medical procedures such as blood glucose monitoring. Cooperation in these activities requires a strong connection with each chimpanzee that is seated in the investment of time in those unstructured relationship building fun times. To firmly build a structure around cooperation in these medical interactions, we have regular Positive Reinforcement Training sessions. Positive reinforcement training, or PRT, is a fun and rewarding way to allow the residents to participate in their own health care. We reinforce behaviors that allow us to perform non-invasive medical procedures, such as EKG monitoring, or behaviors that help us to provide wound care in the case of an injury.

Enrichment program training & safety

In addition to working around other residents (pre-COVID of course), we had volunteers working around the chimpanzees and monkeys too! Fauna Volunteers help prepare enrichment items, as well as prepare lovely meals for the residents. Most importantly, all the humans, caregivers, and volunteers here at Fauna are trained to understand and use chimpanzee behaviors when around the residents.

At Fauna and other accredited sanctuaries, humans and the animals in their care have protected contact. This means that we can still play with and groom the residents, just safely from the other side of the mesh. We are NEVER in the same room as the chimpanzees or monkeys! Safety is a top priority at Fauna and we would never put our residents or caregivers in danger.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn more about different kinds of environmental enrichment here at Fauna!

Donate to our enrichment program!

If you’d like to donate to our enrichment program, you may purchase toys and enrichment supplies to help the Fauna chimps and monkeys! Our Amazon Wishlist contains many of their favourite things. Items purchased off our Amazon list ship directly to us. We greatly appreciate your help and support!


– by Kaeley Sullins, Animal Caregiver