Growie and Roni the giraffes make use of their long dextrous tongues to get at the carrot sticks packed in tube feeders made from PVC pipes.

Singapore, 4 October 2010 – Wildlife Reserves Singapore is holding the first Southeast Asian workshop to teach zoo and wildlife rescue staff in the region the best practices in animal enrichment and training, which actively promotes the expression of healthy and normal behaviours of wild animals in captivity. This is part of WRS’ commitment to raising wildlife captive care standards in the region, especially as we observe World Animal Day on 4 October, and remember 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.

Animals in their natural environment carry out a range of activities for their survival in the wild. For example, they need to secure food and shelter, as well as avoid predators, and they pick up the necessary skills from the moment they are born. Those living in captivity at wildlife parks and zoos possess the same instincts and need to express their natural behaviours. However, without the challenges posed by nature, these instincts can express themselves in undesirable and even deleterious behaviours like continuous pacing and over-grooming.

“Even the best captive environment can never truly replicate an animal’s natural surroundings. Animal behavioural management, which involves environmental enrichment, positive reinforcement training techniques and problem-solving processes, has proven effective in keeping captive animals in good physical and psychological health,” said Ms Fanny Lai, WRS’ Group CEO. “We hope this first animal enrichment and training workshop hosted by WRS provides a platform for those passionate about wildlife and wildlife conservation to exchange ideas and share experiences in a bid to improve the management of captive animals and enhance animal welfare.”

The four-day workshop which begins today is held in partnership with animal behaviour consulting firm Active Environments and non-profit corporation The Shape of Enrichment. It is specifically designed for animal care givers and is open to zookeepers, aquarists, managers, supervisors, curators and veterinarians from the Southeast Asian and Australasian region. It will include theoretical and practical training on topics such as enrichment and training planning processes, safety considerations, animal demonstrations, as well as hands-on exercises such as fabrication of animal enrichment devices.

WRS, which operates award-winning wildlife parks including Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari, Singapore Zoo, and the upcoming River Safari, places great emphasis on animal enrichment activities. On average, over 90 species of animals in Singapore Zoo receive three sessions of enrichment each week to hone their motor and sensory skills, while increasing their optimal state of well being. These may include exercises such as changing the way their food is presented, or creating a device to stimulate their minds.

For example, spinning feeder balls are used to challenge the Asian short-clawed otters’ dexterity as they try to get to the tasty treats with their nimble fingers. Giraffes, on the other hand, are challenged to retrieve carrots through holes in suspended, large mineral water bottles or PVC pipes. Predatory instincts of reptiles such as the Komodo dragon is drawn out by tossing them a cardboard box filled with dead rats. The ripping of the box to retrieve the rats mimics how they would rip the skin of their prey. The Malayan sun bears are encouraged to explore the environment and use their natural instincts when coconut husks smeared with honey are dangled from the branches in their enclosures. Such exercises encourage exploratory and investigative behaviours.

Ms Gail Laule, one of the founders of Active Environments, said: “Environmental enrichment and positive reinforcement training are essential components of caring for wild animals in captive environments. All zoos should provide the relevant training for its staff, and we are glad that WRS is taking the lead to host such an event in Singapore.”

“We are excited to be part of this inaugural Southeast Asian animal enrichment and training workshop. This event will contribute towards improvements in animal welfare through education and international exchange of enrichment theory and application,” added Ms Valerie Hare, co-founder and workshop coordinator from The Shape of Enrichment.

WRS is expecting an attendance of about 30 participants representing 20 wildlife institutions, including zoos, rescue centres and wildlife parks. Among the participants are representatives from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia, and the Hong Kong Zoo and Ocean Adventure in Philippines. To ensure that institutions with a real need to implement animal enrichment and training practices in their facilities are able to attend this workshop, WRS has provided sponsorship to participants from Free the Bears in Cambodia, Lao Zoo in Laos, and Saigon Zoo in Vietnam.

Bima the Komodo dragon tries to rip apart a cardboard box to get to a treat. Keepers have to ensure the box is safe removing all the staples first.

Indera the Malayan sun bear is enthralled by a sugarcane-stuffed coconut, drizzled with honey.