Zookeepers usually take care of animals only during the day. Working hours vary between 7.00 till 22.00. During these working hours, caregivers need to do many essential tasks: preparing food, feeding the animals, clean the enclosure, do administrative tasks, inform visitors about the animals, and many more such as enriching the animals' environment. But often we see that, by the end of the day, the animal is closed into the holding areas and have to be there till the next morning. Nowadays the holding areas are better designed, are more spacious, and animals have often access to the outside enclosure as well. It is a huge improvement already. But when we go home, the animals are still there in the same environment. Moreover, they are there 24/7 all year round. Additionally, often it is seen that during working hours enrichment is implemented in abundance, where for the nights the holding areas are dull, and every single night the same.
The 24/7 recipe
When you develop an enrichment program, you determine specific goals you wish to achieve. For example, you want to stimulate certain species-specific behaviours or want to implement a certain change and complexity to the animals' environment. When you are phasing the planning of the enrichment devices you wish to use to achieve these goals, it is vital to think of the complete life of the animal. And with its whole life, it also means the evenings, nights and early mornings. You have to think into a 24-hour cycle. And for that, you need to do some research into the nocturnal behaviours of the species in question.
What are the normal nocturnal behaviours?
When designing enrichment, you have to take the natural behaviours into account. Not all animals are active at night. Not all animals are interested in activity at night. And not all animals like stimuli and complexity at night. After observation, some zoos concluded that their well-meant enrichment effort was disturbing the normal sleeping pattern. For example, in one case the feed troughs made some much noise when lowered randomly at night it disturbed the sleeping behaviours of elephants. After observation, it was clear that after a particular time there was no interest in food anymore, so it was useless to offer food in the middle of the night.
Make the evenings and nights less dull
But, on the other hand, many animals are bored when keepers leave by the end of the day, and they have nothing but an understimulated environment. So when in your institution it is standard procedure to hold animals in an off-exhibit area for the night, also think of enriching this environment in the time you are away. It will contribute to less anticipation of caregivers' arrival and development of undesirable behaviours. But even when the animal has access to the whole exhibit within the 24/7, it is good practice to extend your enrichment efforts for the time you are not around.