Valentine’s Day at the Zoo

Last year, a family member adopted a young cat, and thus the most playful cat in the world became a part of my life. Last month, I searched pet supply stores for a Valentine’s Day-themed cat toy for him, surprised by how difficult it was to find anything. I could have bought something online, but I was worried it wouldn’t arrive on time. Finally, on a tip from a friend, I went to a small store that was selling little red hearts filled with catnip. I picked up two of the hearts, a couple other tiny toys, and a red food bowl.

After the gift was given to the kitty, he found the discarded gift tag I’d put on the wrapped present and played with that (in addition to playing with the toys themselves). Of course, he didn’t care whether his toys were Valentine’s Day-themed, being a cat. This particular cat doesn’t even care whether his toys are toys. The insistence on finding a seasonal gift was all my doing, to keep in the spirit of the holiday.

Similarly, the cats (and other animals) at zoos around the world need enrichment in their lives, but the fact that so many enrichment items took the form of red and pink hearts last month made no difference to the animals. The Valentine’s Day-themed objects are a hook to get humans engaged – and to give visitors a chance to learn about the ways that enrichment keeps the animals physically and mentally active throughout the year.

The Oregon Zoo and Banfield Pet Hospital put together this Cat Enrichment Guide showing examples of stimulation and novelty for zoo felines, and the corresponding version for the housecat. As cat owners know, pet cats like scratching posts, toys that dangle, and window perches that allow them to see outside. Big cats benefit from interesting smells and herbs, elevated perches, and live crickets. Cats of a variety of sizes enjoy boxes and catnip.

Among the recent enrichment given to cat species in zoos were heart-shaped blood popsicles for lions at Potter Park Zoo, a large heart cutout for the clouded leopard at the Nashville Zoo, and a pink and white decorated box for the snow leopard at the Philadelphia Zoo. Enrichment isn’t limited to cats, and a variety of critters took part in activities designed for their species.

I hope you had a happy and enriching Valentine’s Day!

About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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