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THE SCIENCE BEHIND: Animal Behavior at Virginia Zoo

The Virginia Zoo studies the animals in their care to learn about their natural behaviors. It's called enrichment.

NORFOLK, Va. — You may try to buy a better mattress or grab the latest digital toy to try and enhance your life. At the Virginia Zoo, they use different items to supplement and enhance the resident experience.

"This is a great way to learn about the natural behaviors of the animals and to bring out more natural behaviors," said Emily Muehleman, the school and scout program coordinator at the Virginia Zoo.

They have a multitude of programs, no matter the number of legs. One of those programs is called enrichment. 

NinaAnne Russo is one of the zookeepers but also the Zoo's enrichment coordinator.

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They do different enrichment activities each day, to monitor the physical and psychological health of the animals. 

Once the items are set, things like climbing, foraging and interactions are tracked on an app. 

"We have all the behaviors we have selected for a certain individual animal that they can track on here when a little timer goes off," Russo said.

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"We track all that kind of data so it’s actually more scientific than a lot of people think and we create all kinds of graphs and charts to follow progress or trends. The goal is to make sure that we’re eliciting natural behaviors that their cousins in the wild would be doing."