Fun for the Wild Child

The holidays approach and thoughts turn to fabulous food and toys for tots. At CROW, our staff and volunteer elves are busy year-round making fun things for our wild babies.

CROW sees approximately 4,000 wildlife emergencies every year. In addition to providing for the medical and nutritional needs of these animals, staff are also concerned for the welfare of the patient as being in captivity is highly stressful for a wild animal. CROW personnel are trying to help, but the patients do not know that. One way to help ease the stress of hospitalization is to offer appropriate environmental enrichment.

Enrichment is loosely defined as a dynamic process for enhancing an animal environment within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Enrichment is designed specifically for each species at CROW to encourage physical and mental activity.

There are many reasons why enrichment is both a moral and medical imperative.

For young, wild orphans raised in captivity enrichment can encourage the development of naturally occurring behaviors, which may increase the animal’s survival probability upon release. Additionally, it may provide increased opportunities for exercise, which may help make the animal more physically fit for life in the wild.

Enrichment also enhances mental development and contributes to the reduction or prevention of stereotypical behaviors, which are defined as repetitive patterns with no goal or objective. Examples of this seen frequently in caged wildlife include negative activities such as pacing, circling, over grooming, chewing or licking cage wire, and inappropriate aggression.

There are lots of different fun things CROW can offer its patients, such as natural enrichment items like palm fronds, or man-made items like colorful balls. CROW’s rehabilitation cages all incorporate habitat enrichment, which focuses on the design of the animal’s enclosure and may include denning/nesting areas and crevices for food hiding to stimulate natural foraging behaviors. Sensory enrichment is designed to address the animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste. Examples may include olfactory stimuli, like vanilla, or visual stimuli like a mirror in the cage to make the animal believe they are not alone.

Many wild animals spend up to 80% of their waking hours foraging for food. CROW endeavors to mimic these natural foraging behaviors as much as possible, especially for patients such as orphans, who may spend extended periods in captivity. These babies must learn there is no such thing as a free meal and they must work if they want to eat. This is called contra freeloading and many studies show it is preferred among animals. In one study, starlings chose to eat 72% of their diet by foraging even though the same food items were freely available in a dish.

Visit CROW’s social media channels to see videos of enrichment for patients including a special Halloween treat for the raccoons. You can also visit CROW’s Education Center on Sanibel or check out CROW’s website at to watch live feed cameras of patients enjoying their toys and tasty treats!