VIDEO: Students Enrich Local Zoo Environments

Kangaroos playing with an enrichment structure created by TCU students | Image by Fort Worth Zoo/YouTube

TCU students spent a semester producing enrichment activity structures intended for use at the Fort Worth Zoo.

It was all part of a new Zoo Enrichment class, which is about more than teaching students theory in the comforts of a classroom. Instead, students were expected to work hands-on on real projects to create meaningful change by building enrichment environments for the Fort Worth Zoo’s permanent residents.

And so they did.

By creating these environments, animals are not just given a chance to express their creativity and mental agility but also to improve their overall well-being. These structures provide a source of engagement and stimulation, keeping them active and content during their spare time.

Abi Welch, a student who took the class, said the enrichment structures are intended to help motivate animals to mirror behavior typically found in the wild. She was a member of the first student teams from TCU tasked with creating a structure for elephants. Ultimately, she and her team constructed a “browsing arm” that leverages truck shocks to provide resistance that pushes back against an elephant’s trunk when it grabs for food or engages in play.

“It’s amazing! It’s honestly one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever experienced. When they pull down, it kind of provides that jump back up, that resistance you would see in a tree, and that’s exactly what we were looking for,” Welch told NBC 5 DFW.

Peter Briggs, elephants supervisor at the Fort Worth Zoo, said the device stimulates the animals “both mentally and physically.”

“This is a whole semester’s worth of really hard work,” said student Peyton Harper, per NBC 5, referring to a tree structure that students created for the colobus monkeys at the zoo. “It was super different than any class I’ve been in before.”

Kaylee Cook, a zookeeper who works with primates, explained to NBC 5 the importance of having a “dynamic space” for the monkeys because “they want to climb and jump and love to be up high.”

“So we wanted to create this tree structure to exhibit those natural behaviors that they do in the wild,” Harper told NBC 5. “They’re using it exactly how we expected it to [be used]!”

In February 2023, The Dallas Express reported that the Fort Worth Zoo welcomed a 37-inch-tall, 270-pound baby elephant. The occasion marked the fifth elephant birth at the facility since 1998.

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