As told to Sarah Z. Wexler
"My title is animal keeper and chair of the Enrichment and Training Committee at the Smithsonian's National Zoo -- which is a long-winded way of saying I'm in charge of helping the animals have a good time. I started out eventually became responsible for keeping creatures mentally and physically stimulated. On any given day, I might be wandering through a hardware store in search of PVC tubes to hide kibble in or hanging a bone from a garage door spring for a leopard to grapple with."
Who's Who at the Zoo
"Every species has a different personality. Otters are perpetual toddlers: They're energetic and just want to play with colorful toys or bang on keyboards. Orangutans and gorillas are supersmart, so we let them work on iPads, where some of them go straight for the drumming app. Our pandas make art with nontoxic paint using special brushes they hold the same way they would bamboo. Sometimes they get paint all over themselves, and we have to explain to visiting kids why a bear is purple!"
Wild at Heart
"It's in the animals' nature to work for their food, and when they don't get to do that, we often see them burning energy in abnormal ways like fighting, picking fur or pacing. Zoos protect endangered species, but it's also our job to make sure they can express themselves -- whether by lounging in a swinging tire or creating Jackson Pollock -- like artwork (those sloth bears are really good)."
To donate to the National Zoo's animal enrichment program, visit NationalZoo.SI.edu/Support.
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