Behind the scenes at Adventure Aquarium: the wonderful world of chinchilla enrichment

Cheech and chong

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Fluffy, soft and furry are not the words you would use to describe the majority of the animals at Adventure Aquarium but they do perfectly describe Cheech and Chong the chinchillas. That’s right! We have 2 chinchillas here at the Aquarium as part of our program animal collection. Many of you have probably seen them out on stage at one of our up-closes. However have you wondered what these guys do when they’re not hanging out with everyone? If so, this blog shows some of the enrichment provided to Cheech and Chong.

One important part of any animal’s life is exercise, so we provide the chinchillas with a few different things to keep them active. The chinchillas have a multi-level enclosure they can run around in, and boxes or houses provide great surfaces to jump/climb on. One of their favorites though is the wheel which they can run around in just like a hamster would.

in boxesChinchillas also like to hide so the houses and boxes provided can double as places to hide or sleep in. Another favorite hiding spot for Cheech and Chong is their plastic tube

The biologists can get creative with their enrichment items too and create more unique toys for the boys to play with. Sometimes they’ll get a hanging cardboard platform to jump to or get a box full of hay with treats inside that they have to find. As shown in the picture below Cheech and Chong got to chew apart a paper mache ball to find some treats inside. As part of the rodent family, chinchillas need items they can chew on so the paper mache and even the cardboard boxes work well for that.

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Enrichment for their minds is important too and the chinchillas were trained to do few basic behaviors to keep them thinking. Cheech and Chong were trained to voluntarily hop into the crate used to take them to the up-close area. They were also taught to station to a particular target (or symbol). After they knew how to target, both boys were trained to sit on the scale for their weekly weight checks, as Chong demonstrates below.

Thanks for checking out two of the aquarium’s furry animals and make sure to look for them at an up-close at our Irazu Falls stage our outside in Critter Courtyard during your next visit!

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Go behind the scenes with some of the animal ‘artists’ at Adventure Aquarium

If you’ve ever participated in one of our penguin encounters or have seen some of their artwork in the gift shop, you know that our African penguins are very good artists. However, have you ever wondered why our penguins paint? Or, what other animals at Adventure Aquarium have taken their turn with paint and canvas? If so this blog entry will answer those questions and have some super cute photos of animals putting paint to canvas!

Minnie Painting with Jamie

Jamie paints with African penguin (and artist!) Minnie

The main reason we paint with our animals is for their enrichment (providing something new or different for the animal to mentally stimulate them or just simply have a different activity in their day). Part of the animals’ benefit through painting is actually the process of learning how to paint. Another reason we paint with the animals is because it’s fun for us too! We can use that time to further bond with the animal or to enhance guest experience in the case of the penguins painting during the encounter programs.

In order to train the penguins to paint, they must first be comfortable being handled by the trainers and taking a bath in the sink afterwards. (All penguins need clean feet before going back on exhibit and some even splatter paint up their bellies!) The next step is to introduce the penguins to the paint tray and canvas and teach them to walk across it in a straight line, although some of our penguins seem to prefer walking in circles across the canvas instead!

Minnie finishes her painting

Minnie finishes her painting

Once comfortable with the routine, the penguins start painting. Eleven penguins of our colony have passed art school and make footprint paintings for our guests and other events. Some of the penguin artwork has helped raise money for their fellow endangered species in the wild during Adventure Aquarium’s African Penguin Awareness Weekend. This is yet another benefit for training the penguins to put paint to canvas.

Another species in the “foot painter” group at Adventure Aquarium is the cape porcupine, brothers Julian and Vince. Both porcupines already knew how to target to a pole and follow it around so the trainers added in the new behaviors of stepping in paint and walking across a canvas. 

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Rule #1 of painting - always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

Rule #1 of painting – always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

And just like the penguins, our porcupines have bath time afterwards too. In order to rinse off their feet, the boys were trained to walk through a tray of water.

Combining both old and new behaviors in a series is great mental stimulation for the porcupines. It also helps the process when they get their favorite treat, banana slices and peas, as their reward. Just look at that happy face!

You may not have guessed our last big painters, but believe it or not, our trainers have actually taught hippos Button and Genny to paint too! Instead of making footprint art, these girls paint with their muzzle and whiskers. Just like training the porcupines, our hippos started out with behaviors they already knew – such as resting their head on ballards, targeting, and “touch,” a cue given to let the girls know when they will be touched. Then the trainers added to the “touch” behavior by applying paint to the hippo’s muzzle.

hippo painting_484x252


Once the paint is applied the hippo can target to the canvas, ending with a unique whiskered face print! Button and Genny even look forward to the clean-up and enjoy being sprayed off with the hose. Also like the porcupines, the girls are quite excited to work for treats, which are given after the painting is made to avoid food bits in their art.

Hope you enjoyed seeing some of our artists in action! 

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Aquarium Insider: Tips and suggestions for providing enrichment for your animals at home

By: Callin Mulvaney

Tortuga enjoys special food enrichment

Tortuga enjoys special food enrichment

Hippo with tractorWhen walking through Adventure Aquarium have you ever noticed a whiffle ball in an exhibit or the giant tractor tire in Hippo Haven? They might look out of place but actually they were put there on purpose. This is called animal enrichment, which is providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. The Biologists provide many different types of enrichment for our animals to keep them happy and healthy. You can provide your pets at home with enrichment too! Here are a couple different examples of how you can make enrichment for your pets.

Callin's dog Lily enjoys her specially-designed enrichment toy.

Callin’s dog Lily enjoys her specially-designed enrichment toy.

Dogs love toys, right? You can make toys very easily for your dog. If you have an old sock that no one is using anymore and a tennis ball, it can make a great tug toy. Simply put the tennis ball inside the sock all the way to the bottom. Tie a knot around the top of the tennis ball, and ta da! You have a wonderful new toy for your favorite pup. Another kind of enrichment is using food. You can put peanut butter inside of a rubber chew toy. Your pup will love trying to lick out all the yummy peanut butter. Always make sure that your dog does not have any food allergies before giving them new treats.

Callin's cat Milton checks out the string enrichment toy.

Callin’s cat Milton checks out the ribbon and string enrichment toy.

Cats are really easy to please if you have some ribbon or paper and some string. You can tie bits of ribbon or shredded paper to the end of a string. Then tie the other end to the back of a chair so that it hangs just above the ground. Cats love pouncing and grabbing for the hanging toy. Another thing that you can do for your furry friend is get a bird feeder. Set the bird feeder up outside of a window that your cat can easily see out of. This will be like kitty TV. This is also great in the winter because you will be helping feed the birds as well as amusing your cat.

Callin provides Bugsy some exercise enrichment

Callin provides Bugsy some exercise enrichment

For those of you who have the more exotic pets such as parrots, hedgehogs, chinchillas, and other small critters it is very easy to find things just around your house to make enrichment out of. The easiest is cardboard boxes. Our parrots here at Adventure Aquarium love boxes. You can hide their food inside the box so that they have to discover how to open the box to get their treat. Our small mammals such as the hedgehog and chinchillas love just hiding inside boxes. Anything that they can munch on is great too.

Biologist Kate Budion provides our penguins some enrichment by way of bubbles!

Biologist Kate Budion provides our penguins some enrichment by way of bubbles!

Trinidad explores a cardboard box and shredded paper during a special enrichment session.

Trinidad explores a cardboard box and shredded paper during a special enrichment session.

We create enrichment for many of our animals here at Adventure Aquarium. We hope that these tips will inspire you to create enrichment for your critters. Just remember to mix it up as the same enrichment used repeatedly can become less exciting.

How our biologists use everyday items to strengthen the bonds of our penguin pairs

By: Jenn Hutchins, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Hi everyone this is Cliff, one of our 24 resident African black-footed penguins.  Cliff is 26 years old and he lives at Adventure Aquarium with his mate Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment

Throughout the week the keepers like giving the penguin colony different types of enrichment.  One of the main things we like to give the penguins are items of different shapes and sizes to bring back to their nests and to help show off for their mates.

Clif Penguin Enrichment3

Here at the aquarium we give the penguins a variety of items to carry around such as whiffle balls, plastic chains, small children toys, and small dog toys.  In this picture Cliff has one of his favorite “toys” -a yellow plastic chain that he takes back to his nest and shows off for Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment4

When a penguin brings an item back to the nest both mates get really excited and put on a visual and vocal display.  They can also be seen sitting on different toys as if it is an egg.  Giving these items to the penguins is very important to stimulate breeding behavior and create a stronger bond between mates.

Clif Penguin Enrichment2

100% adorable. Cuteness ensues during food enrichment session with porcupine Gonzo

By: Shawn Danner, BiologistGonzo Strawberry

So this prickly, little guy is Gonzo, our prehensile-tailed porcupine! He is native to South America and lives up in the thick tree cover of the rain forest. He has feet that are perfectly adapted to hold on to tree branches so he can easily move throughout the trees.

In the picture however, you can see that Gonzo has found another great use for his hands. He is able to hold onto his food while he eats it just like us. This is very useful for an animal living up in the trees. Drop that food and you’ve got a long climb down to get it!

Gonzo Strawberry3

Gonzo Strawberry2

Gonzo Strawberry 4

Enrichment is an important part of any animal’s life. Since Gonzo doesn’t get a lot of fruits in his normal diet here due to the high sugar content, we give them to him in small proportions. So when he does get fruit it is usually the first thing he eats. It would be like us making sure we ate our dessert before dinner if we didn’t get dessert too often.  And to make this dessert even better for Gonzo, that strawberry is covered in peanut butter!

As you can imagine, this was a very successful form of enrichment for our quill covered friend! Check out the full video below: