by Dennis Kroeplin & Rachael Komulainen
The Feline and Canine Enrichment Team is the largest volunteer team, consisting of approximately 35 volunteers on the team at any given time. Any Level 1 volunteer can apply to join the team, and when there is an opening, the committee members for the team decide on the best candidate(s). The team meets the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month to give enrichment to our feline and canine animal friends at Wildlife Waystation. And, on the 3rd Saturday of each month, we, as a team, head up a labor-intensive work party to deep clean enclosures of various animals on our routes. Presently, we have 5 routes of animals that receive enrichment from us. Animals on the routes, include: African lions, mountain lions, tigers, wolves, hybrids, bobcats, servals, black leopards, jaguars, foxes, coyotes, and a hyena.
Enrichment can be considered almost anything that is done to motivate or interest the animal that is different from their daily routine. Studies have shown that even five minutes per week of enrichment for captive wild animals can greatly increase their life expectancy, and, more importantly, their quality of life.
For each species of animal, it varies. Most of our wild and exotic cats prefer scents, treats, and mental stimulation. Some examples, include: chicken sickles (uncooked, small pieces of chicken — meat only — that are frozen in chicken broth in small containers and given like popsickles), willow branches with various scents placed on them (lavender or Vick’s Vapo Rub are favorites for the large cats), feather lures (a couple of peacock feathers are attached to a bamboo pole and moved swiftly in front of the enclosure, to attract the cats’ interest), and boomer balls (especially-made, large hard plastic balls that can withstand the strength of a cats’ bite and/or clawing). As for the canines (wolves, hybrids, foxes, coyotes, and hyena), enrichment items include: large bones, scents, pigs ears, and dog biscuits. The canine residents of WW also enjoy playing with boomer balls in their enclosures. All items given for enrichment are approved by the veterinary staff and Martin Collette before being added to our approved enrichment items list, to ensure the safety of all of the animals.
We get SO MUCH out of enriching our animal friends’ lives at WW! Knowing that we improved their quality of life and gave them some mental stimulation is the greatest joy for any volunteer. We watch as Masai, one of our African lions, takes the willow branches with Vick’s dabbed on them and rubs his body against them, while closing his eyes. After a few moments, he lays on the ground and rolls around, with his belly in the air. He is in cat Heaven! Or Sierra and Sonora, two of our resident mountain lions, who love to chase the feather lure that is being moved along the ground in front of their enclosure. When they are done being enriched with the feather lure, they are given loose peacock feathers, so they can feel a sense of accomplishment and reward after the chase.
We are always looking for great, enthusiastic volunteers to add to our team. If this sounds like something that would interest you, become a WW volunteer. After becoming a Level 1 volunteer, apply for The Feline and Canine Enrichment Team. You will make amazing, lifelong friends AND get endless joy out of enriching the lives of all of our beloved animal friends at the WWS.