Posted on

Advancing Enrichment for Non-Human Primates in Research Laboratories: Current Insights and Perspectives

The welfare of non-human primates in research laboratories has been an ongoing concern, prompting scientists and regulatory bodies, like the USDA, to continuously explore ways to enhance their well-being.

Enrichment programs, designed to provide physical and cognitive stimulation, social interactions, and even opportunities for species-specific behaviors, play a crucial role in improving the quality of life for these animals. For example, the best conditions for cynomolgus, rhesus, and long-tailed macaques may be different for African green monkeys.  In recent years, there have been significant advancements in our understanding of primate behavior and cognition, leading to new and improved strategies for enrichment. Effective enrichment also reduces stereotypic behavior and improves the reliability and outcomes of research projects.

Below is a summary of the latest thoughts surrounding the enrichment of non-human primates in research laboratories.

  1. Cognitive Enrichment: Recent studies have highlighted the remarkable cognitive abilities of non-human primates. Recognizing their intelligence and capacity for problem-solving, researchers and zoo staff, like the National Zoo’s Jennifer Botting, have focused on developing cognitive enrichment strategies. These include the use of puzzles, interactive devices, and computer-based tasks that stimulate the primates’ mental faculties. Cognitive enrichment not only helps combat boredom but also enhances their overall well-being by providing mental stimulation akin to their natural foraging and problem-solving behaviors in the wild.
  2. Social Enrichment: Non-human primates are highly social animals, relying on complex social structures for their physical and psychological health. Consequently, researchers have prioritized social enrichment programs that promote social interactions, group dynamics, and opportunities for social learning. The implementation of compatible housing arrangements, social grooming sessions, and regular exposure to conspecifics has proven beneficial in reducing stress and improving the well-being of laboratory primates.
  3. Environmental Enrichment: Creating a dynamic and stimulating environment is essential for non-human primates, mimicking the complexity of their natural habitats. Research laboratories have started incorporating diverse elements into their enclosures, such as:

The aim is to encourage physical activity, exploration, and natural behaviors like foraging and tool use, which are vital for the primates’ physical and psychological health.

  1. Sensory Enrichment: Engaging the primates’ senses through auditory, olfactory, and visual stimuli has emerged as another promising avenue for enrichment. Laboratories have implemented the use of environmental sounds, natural scents, and visual displays, including videos of conspecifics and their natural habitats, to provide sensory stimulation. These strategies aim to alleviate stress, reduce self-harm, and enhance the animals’ overall well-being.
  • Mirrors are proving to be effective enrichment devices.
  • The Otto Talkie Phone provides visual and audible stimulation when manipulated by primates.
  • The Bullet Feeder makes it easy to present non-human primates with an assortment of aromatic plant material and tasty fruit.
  1. Individualized Enrichment: Recognizing the individuality of each primate, recent efforts have focused on tailoring enrichment programs to suit a primate’s unique needs and preferences. Observational studies and the integration of behavioral assessments have helped researchers understand specific preferences, allowing for the customization of enrichment plans. Individualized approaches ensure that each animal receives appropriate and engaging enrichment, maximizing their welfare, and minimizing any potential negative impacts. This is the guiding driver in the development of our Primate Enrichment System (PES).
  • The PES makes it easy to integrate effective enrichment products into your laboratory’s welfare and IACUC
  • PES Products are easy to install, clean, and swap out.
  • Adaptable to any type of laboratory enclosure.

Advancements in our understanding of non-human primate behavior and cognition have led to significant progress in improving the lives of these animals in research laboratories.

The latest developments discussed in this article highlight the growing emphasis on modern enrichment strategies. By implementing these approaches, research laboratories can better support the well-being of non-human primates, ultimately enhancing the quality and ethical standards of scientific research involving these animals. Continued collaboration between researchers, animal welfare organizations, and regulatory bodies is crucial to ensure the ongoing refinement and implementation of effective enrichment practices in research laboratories. This also results in more positive research outcomes and reproducible data that is crucial in new drug development.

Posted on

Stress-Busting Solutions: Improving Well-Being for Pigs in Medical Research Projects

Most people are unaware that pigs have played an important role in medical research for over 50 years. Pigs are used as an animal model for studying various human diseases and conditions because their anatomy and physiology are similar to humans.

One of the most well-known examples of medical research involving pigs is xenotransplantation, which involves transplanting organs or tissues from one species to another. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, ten patients die each day in the United States while on the waiting list to receive lifesaving vital organ transplants. Pigs are often used as the source of donor organs or tissues because their organs are similar in size and function to human organs.

Common medical procedures that utilize pig donors include:

  • Pig skin for burn victims
  • Pig kidneys for kidney failure
  • Heart valves
  • Pig pancreatic islets for diabetics
  • Sight restoration through corneal grafts

Bioengineering of porcine donors show promise in improving successful use of organs such as bioprosthetic heart valve (BHV) replacements. The University of Alabama recently completed the first successful genetically modified pig to human kidney xenotransplant (video).

In addition to xenotransplantation, pigs are also used in medical research to study a wide range of other conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and infectious diseases. Researchers use pigs because they are large enough to allow for complex surgical procedures and imaging studies, and their physiology and immune system are similar to humans.

Pigs are also used in the development of medical devices and surgical techniques, such as endoscopic and laparoscopic surgery. These minimally invasive procedures require specialized equipment and techniques, which can be tested and refined before being used in humans.

All research pigs, whether regular type or genetically engineered, benefit from thoughtful handling, transport, and enrichment.

Reducing stress is key for pigs used in medical research. When pigs are under stress, research outcomes are inconsistent. Here are a few proven stress-reducing enrichment methods for pigs used in research and medical studies.

We make it easy to provide enrichment for research laboratories, pig breeding operations, and veterinary schools. You don’t have to waste time cobbling together home-made devices that may not work as intended. Here are just a few of our pig-focused enrichment products.

  • The Hayball Feeder is designed for browsing hay and straw. It is easy to load and is safe for pigs of all ages. Simply hang it so pigs can nose and forage.
  • The Hay Play Feeder is a rolling plastic ball that can be stuffed with aromatic grasses, hay, and straw. Pigs will roll, nose, and pull the grass out of the holes.
  • Pigs like to bite and tug on a hanging rope. The Animal Hanging Rope is rugged and safe for pigs to chew on.
  • The Moon Toy and Bite Star are proven winners when it comes to satisfying the desire to nose, pull, and chew objects. These hanging toys reduce aggression and stress.
Hayball Feeder
Hay Play Feeder
Animal Climbing Rope

We carry more than porcine enrichment toys. Otto Environmental manufactures top-quality enclosure, transport, and husbandry equipment suitable laboratory, farm, and university settings.

  • Our stainless-steel Pig Farrowing Crate has all the features you are looking for: anti-crush bars, a feeder bowl, and an adjustable rump guard.
  • The Boar Feeder is a heavy-duty wall-mounted swine feeder that is easy to load and can handle rough treatment.
  • We have a variety of customizable animal transport carts that are essential for bringing pigs to and from surgery (video).
Pig Farrowing Crate
boar feeder on white background
Boar Feeder

Pig environmental enrichment is key for successful medical research studies because it counteracts negative social behavior, reduces stress and immune system suppression, and aids in producing consistent results in research projects. If you have any questions about our swine enrichment and husbandry products, please contact us for knowledgeable and helpful support.

Posted on

Improving Preclinical Trials with the Calm Mouse Model of Environmental Enrichment

Animal models with mice are commonly used in preclinical drug development to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs before they proceed to human clinical trials. However, it has been increasingly recognized that stress and other environmental factors can significantly affect the outcome of these studies, leading to a high failure rate of drugs in human clinical trials. The translational phase of the research has been called the “valley of death” because so many new drugs fail at this point.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases where drugs that showed promise in preclinical mouse studies failed in human clinical trials. One example is the case of anti-inflammatory drugs that targeted the cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1), which had shown promise in preclinical mouse models of inflammation and autoimmune diseases. However, when these drugs were tested in human clinical trials, they failed to show significant clinical benefits, likely due to differences in the biology of mice and humans, as well as the effects of stress and other environmental factors on the mice used in preclinical studies.

Stress in mice can arise from various sources, including housing conditions, handling procedures, and feeding. Stress can have profound effects on the physiology and behavior of mice, including alterations in their immune system, metabolism, and stress hormone levels. These changes can affect the way that mice respond to drugs and other experimental interventions, leading to misleading or inconsistent results.

Mice are social animals that require environmental enrichment to exhibit natural behaviors, prevent boredom, and improve their physical and mental health. The “calm mouse” model involves providing mice with a complex and stimulating environment that includes opportunities for social interaction, physical exercise, and sensory stimulation.

This model has become increasingly important in animal research because it has been shown that minimizing stress in laboratory animals can improve the accuracy and reproducibility of scientific experiments. By providing mice with an enriched environment, researchers can improve the animals’ welfare while ensuring the validity and reliability of their research results.

Enrichment activities may include providing mice with toys, hiding food treats for them to find, or installing climbing structures and tunnels in their living space. By providing a “calm mouse” environment, laboratory mice experience less stress than when housed in barren, isolated cages.

  • Using a transfer tube has been shown to reduce handling stress. Our stainless-steel transfer tube can be used as a hiding place or tunnel handling. The stainless-steel tube provides a darkened area that reduces stress and calms rodents. The 4” diameter tube is large enough for rodents like rats. We have a variety of transfer tubes suitable for laboratory mice and rats.
  • To create a complex living environment use structures like Rodent Domes, a red polycarbonate Mouse House, or chewable Mouse Huts. These provide a sense of security and provide a relaxing space.
  • Our hanging stainless-steel Mouse Relaxer is a calming interactive toy to nudge, bump, and explore.
  • Exercise wheels like the 4” stainless-steel Mini Mouse Jogger Wheel and Swinging Mouse Mini Jogger fit into any cage or enclosure and provide exercise opportunities for laboratory mice.
  • Rodents need to chew to avoid stereotypic behavior. Our 1” birch chew blocks are made of unfinished wood and contain no chemicals. We have a variety of chewable wooden blocks, balls, and sticks that are safe for mice and rodents in a laboratory setting.

More naturalistic housing conditions, improved handling, and use of enrichment products are being included in modern study protocols. By improving the accuracy and reliability of preclinical studies, researchers hope to increase the success rate of drugs in human clinical trials and improve the overall efficiency and efficacy of drug development. Our rodent enrichment products are easy to implement in mouse breeding programs and in clinical trials. If you have questions about our laboratory mouse and rat enrichment products, please contact us for prompt and helpful assistance.

Posted on

The Latest on Giraffe Environmental Enrichment

Giraffes are unique in that they are the tallest animal and largest ruminant on Earth. In their native habitat giraffes will eat grass and fruit but their primary is the leafy tops of acacia trees.

Giraffes’ natural inclination is to slowly graze and nibble on leaves. A giraffe can eat up to 75 pounds of leaves in a single day.

The desire to browse throughout the day is a powerful instinct in giraffes. In the zoo environment giraffes often exhibit stereotypic behavior when the ability to forage is absent. Paul Rose (Sparscholt College)  and Sarah Roffee (Trycross Zoo) studied ways to encourage positive behaviors through environmental enrichment. Consuming food through browsing was essential for Giraffes. It was observed that giraffes tended to pace around, exhibit oral stereotypies, and pull at weeds growing in their enclosure when browse was absent.

Providing ample browse material, placed at head height, reduced stereotypies. This technique also proved helpful when giraffes were brought inside at night and other times when they could not roam outdoors. The giraffe liked to consume cherry and hawthorn branches along with birch and willow. The giraffes did not like oak branches if they contained acorns. This method of environmental enrichment, which promotes species-specific behavior, is believed to be an effective cognitive and physical enrichment technique.

What zoos are doing for giraffe enrichment

The North Carolina Zoo is using this “species-specific” approach to its enrichment plan. Camryn Jefferson writes: “Because giraffes are natural grazers and spend a large part of their day feeding, most of their enrichment is feed-based. Keepers fill these specialized feeders with various foods, and the giraffe spent time manipulating the objects with their head, mouth, and even tongues to get the food out. The objective of this enrichment is to extend their foraging times and create a novel challenge.”

The hoofstock staff uses hanging feeder balls, like the Jolly Hay Ball, stuffed with leafy foods. This interactive hay dispenser has holes that encourage browsing food through the holes. The ball has a loop for you to hang it at the proper height.

Jolly Hay Ball

Jeff Mihok, Hoofstock Keeper at Riverbanks Zoo says:Enrichment is a dynamic process for enhancing the animal’s environment within the contexts of that animal’s natural history and biology. In a zoo setting, it’s on us to try and create those changes via different objects; new items we can hang up to watch them exhibit more natural behavior…anything to enhance the overall welfare of the animals.”

Jeff likes to use puzzle feeders that require the animals to use their tongues to retrieve food. The Aussiedog PVC Forage Bag is designed for ungulate foraging and is ideal for giraffes. Simply stuff the bag with leafy forage and hang it from a tree. Giraffes will spend hours retrieving food from the holes.

Forage Bag

The Woodlyn Park Zoo prepares a fresh salad consisting of kale, lettuce, carrots along with raisins and nuts, for their giraffe enrichment program. The salad is loaded into an interactive feeder that is hung from a tree. The “giraffe salad” recipe is simple:

  • 3 cups of kale and butter lettuce (chopped or shredded)
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup pistachio nuts (crushed or whole)
  • Handful of your favorite veggies such as cucumber or red bell peppers, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups black-eyed peas (cooked)

Taronga senior giraffe keeper, Johny Wade, describes puzzle feeders: “This enrichment item is designed to utilize the giraffe’s natural bio-tools – their tongues, to stimulate them physically and mentally by doing something out of the ordinary.” Stuffing fragrant, tasty foods into the Bobbin Feeder causes giraffe to use their tongue to retrieve the treat. Research indicates scent is important to giraffes. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation conducted a study on the use of scent enrichment as a way to increase exploration and activity levels in zoo-housed Rothschild giraffes. Results suggest that scents can be used to decrease inactivity and alter exhibit utilization in the short term.

Bobbin Feeder

Guest feeding appears to be gaining popularity at many zoos. The research suggests having visitors feed giraffes is a beneficial enrichment technique. But how to do it? The Hay Play Feeder is designed to make it easy for staff or visitors to interact with giraffes through safe feeding encounters. The feeder keeps fingers away from the giraffe, but it allows for interaction between humans and animals.

Hay Play Feeder

We understand that your staff does not have the time to continually refill puzzle feeders throughout the day. Our Hayball Enrichment Feeder is designed to hold a substantial amount of hay and leafy foods for long-term browsing. The ball is easy to fill and can be hung just about anywhere, providing a continuous browsing experience for your giraffes. Additionally, the Giraffe Feeder has a stainless-steel tube frame with wire mesh to allow visual and olfactory stimulation while holding a substantial amount of browsable food. The hinged cover allows for easy refilling. The Greens Feeder is perfect for fruits and leafy vegetables. This hanging feeder is made of 100% stainless steel to prevent rusting, damage, and wear. It features a locking rod that keeps the lid closed to ensure long-term browsing.

Hayball Feeder

If you have any questions about our enrichment products, please reach out to our friendly staff for assistance.

Posted on

The Benefits of Human-Animal Bonding

Animal-Human Bonding

The human-animal bond is a complex and multifaceted relationship that can take many different forms depending on the species of animal, the individual human, and the context in which they interact.

At its core, the human-animal bond is based on mutual affection, trust, and companionship. Humans and animals form strong emotional connections with one another through shared experiences and interactions, which can include playing, training, grooming, feeding, and simply spending time together.

For animals in our care, the bond provides a sense of security and belonging, as well as access to resources such as food, water, shelter, and medical care. The animals in our zoos, petting farms, and even pets are dependent on us to provide them with a high quality of life. Overall, there is growing evidence in the scientific literature that a positive human–animal relationship can bring intrinsic rewards to the animals and thereby benefit animal welfare. Humans also benefit from these relationships and interactions with animals.

Research shows that spending time with animals can have a variety of positive effects, including reducing stress and anxiety, increasing social support and a sense of community, improving physical health, and promoting emotional well-being.

Animals can also provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life and can help us cope with difficult situations and transitions.

Specifically, human-animal interaction (HAI) causes a release of oxytocin in humans (and animals). This results in improved social attention, social behavior, interpersonal interactions, and mood; stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure levels; decrease in self-reported fear and anxiety; better mental and physical health, and reduction in cardiovascular diseases.

Aside from the health benefits, interacting with animals is just plain fun! Here are just a few stories of animals interacting with humans and learning something new.

  • A border collie named Chaser has learned over 1,000 words! Psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College say she can categorize over 1,000 toys by function or shape, something human children learn to do when they are about three years old.
  • Koko the gorilla from the San Francisco Zoo was the subject of the longest continuous experiment ever undertaken to teach language to another species. After four decades of human interaction, Koko developed a sign language vocabulary of over 1,000 words.
  • A recent study of puppies as young as 8 weeks revealed they can understand human gestures as directions. The canines understood that hand motions meant they should explore the area where the human pointed.
  • Having pets in the workplace improves productivity, collaboration, and alleviates stress.
  • A study conducted by Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction found that second graders who read to dogs had an improved attitude about literacy. No, the dogs never learned to read but they helped the kids advance in reading skills.
  • A study funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute showed that the presence of classroom pets may provide some positive effects for children in third and fourth grade, such as improving social skills and competence, and may also decrease select problem behaviors in the classroom.

The stories mentioned above are just a few examples of how humans and animals enrich each other’s lives. The latest research shows that humans and animals benefit from this unique bond.

In some cases, a human was able to provide daily one on one interaction with the animal. This is often difficult at a busy zoo or petting farm. While caregivers would like to spend more individualized time with the animals in their care, time simply does not allow it. That is why we focus on providing environmental enrichment products for all animals large and small, and helpful tips on how to incorporate them into your facility’s enrichment program.

Our enrichment products help provide your animals with a healthy, interesting environment that complements the human care and interaction provided by your staff.

Posted on

How to Explain Environmental Enrichment to Zoo Visitors

Giraffe using Hayball enrichment toy

Zoo visitors often wonder about the seemingly random items placed inside animal exhibits.

Items such as large plastic balls in the enclosure, wire baskets filled with hay for the giraffes, and swings and hammocks made of fire hose material. However, what many guests don’t realize is that these “toys” are not randomly selected but are part of a methodically designed enrichment program implemented throughout your facility. Rather than simply tell visitors that enrichment products are just toys for the animals, use the question as an opportunity to explain the importance of enrichment for captive animals. Here are some tips to help you and your staff explain environmental enrichment.

Cargo Net Hammock
Giraffe Feeder


Define animal enrichment:

  • Start by defining what animal enrichment is and why it’s important for the animals in the zoo. Enrichment can be defined as the process of providing animals with stimulating environments, activities, and objects that encourage natural behaviors, cognitive and physical activity, and mental and emotional well-being.
  • Explain the types of enrichment products: Point out the different types of enrichment products that are commonly used, such as puzzle feeders, ropes, hammocks, and other types of toys that mimic the animals’ natural habitats.
  • Tell visitors how these objects enrich the lives of animals: This includes reducing boredom and stress, promoting physical and mental health, improving learning and cognitive abilities, and enhancing the overall quality of life. Visitors like to know that enrichment even helps their pets at home as promoted by Purdue’s Canine Welfare Center.
  • Explain how all animals, including pets, may exhibit “stereotypic” negative behavior such as seemingly aimless repetitive or ritualistic movement, poor posture, pacing, or aggressive actions toward others when they are bored. Visitors will enjoy hearing your stories of discovering which enrichment products certain animals like. It may be a story about a gorilla that loves lounging in a hammock or how polar bears and tigers like rolling a huge ball. Research shows enrichment even helps marine mammals!
    round hammock
    36″ Round Hammock

    Planet Ball
  • Tell visitors that one of the key steps in providing for an animal’s welfare is creating an engaging environment that allows for the expression of natural behaviors. Staff who work with the animals and design enrichment for the zoo animals are experts in their specific care. These professionals are intimately familiar with what enrichment animals most eagerly use. Your staff may even create calendars to make sure they’re switching up enrichment products frequently to keep the animals engaged and challenged.
  • Give examples of how enrichment helps the wide variety of animals in your facility. People are intrigued to find out that animals like mice and rats, parrots, rabbits, otters, and even marine mammals enjoy and benefit from enrichment products.

Don’t forget to discuss how your facility follows ethical care guidelines from organizations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoological Society of America, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and governmental organizations such as the USDA and the European Commission.

This discussion may seem routine to your staff, but it builds confidence in visitors when they hear about the great strides that are made to care for the animals properly and ethically.

Posted on

Prevention of Zoonosis at Animal Care Facilities

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans.

Recent estimates suggest that around 70% of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans originate from animals, and approximately 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic in nature. These diseases can be spread through various means, including direct contact with infected animals, consumption of contaminated food or water, inhalation of infectious particles, and transmission by arthropod vectors such as flies, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Here are some common examples:

  1. Tuberculosis (TB): TB is a bacterial infection that can affect both humans and animals, including primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as other large mammals. Elephants are of special concern. The CDC’s presentation on TB and captive elephants is available here.  The USDA/APHIS has compiled the history of TB and elephants. TB can be transmitted through respiratory droplets and close contact with infected animals, and it can cause similar symptoms in both humans and animals, such as coughing, weight loss, and fatigue.
  2. Rabies: Rabies is a viral disease that affects mammals, including humans and many zoo animals such as primates, big cats, and bats. Last year rabies was discovered for the first time infecting a Tamanduas Anteater housed in a Tennessee zoo. The CDC conducted a lengthy investigation and concluded that multiple humans were exposed to the virus. Rabies is usually transmitted through bites or scratches from infected animals, and it can cause severe neurological symptoms, including agitation, confusion, and paralysis.
  3. Herpesviruses: Herpesviruses are a family of viruses that infect various species of animals, including non-human primates, snakes, turtles, lizards, elephants, and big cats like cheetahs, lions, and tigers. One study found gammaherpesviruses in ruminant species at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Herpesviruses cause a range of symptoms depending on the species and the specific virus involved, including respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, skin lesions, and neurological issues.
  4. Monkey Pox (Mpox): Mpox is an Orthopoxvirus that is carried by rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, and non-human primates. There have been recent cases of zoonosis around the world. Zoonotic transmission occurs from contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or cutaneous or mucosal lesions of infected animals. The CDC Fact Sheet can be found here.
  5. Influenza: Influenza is a viral respiratory infection that affects humans and animals, including birds, non-human primates, and big cats. The US Fish & Wildlife Service recently announced that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) had been confirmed as the cause of mortality for three California condors. Influenza viruses can be transmitted through respiratory droplets and close contact with infected animals, and they can cause similar symptoms in both humans and animals, such as fever, cough, and respiratory distress.
  6. Parasites: Various parasitic infections, such as giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and toxoplasmosis, can infest humans and animals. Parasites pose a serious challenge for captive animals including fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals. Parasites are transmitted through direct contact and contaminated food or water. Parasitic infestations cause a variety of symptoms depending on the parasite and host.
  7. Bacterial pathogens: Bacterial infections, such as salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis, affect humans and animals. The CDC has an extensive list of bacterial diseases that impact animals and humans. These infections are usually transmitted through contaminated food, water, bites, scratches, and open wounds. They cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever, along with many other symptoms depending on the bacteria and infected host.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has also affected zoo animals.

SARS-CoV-2 is primarily a human virus. However, there have been cases of zoo animals and pets testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 and showing signs of infection. Lowland Gorillas at the Atlanta Zoo were infected with COVID. A tiger at a New York zoo tested positive. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge, like those seen in humans. Some infected animals have also experienced lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. In some cases, infected animals have recovered, while in others, the infection has been fatal.

Two lions at Adventure World in Japan have died due to COVID infections. Three snow leopards at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo died due to COVID complications. infections have been reported in other mammals such as minks and canines. The CDC recommends good hygiene, including handwashing and avoiding close contact with animals if you have COVID or are suspected of having COVID, to prevent potential transmission to animals.

While some diseases can affect both humans and animals, the severity of the disease, the symptoms, and the treatment options may vary depending on the species involved. It’s crucial for zoos, laboratories, and other animal facilities to have strict disease prevention and control measures in place to protect the animals and the humans who work with and visit them.

Posted on

Preventing Animal Escapes with Proper Enclosures

We have all read the media reports about animal escapes from zoos around the world.

These are unfortunate events that risk the safety of the animals, keepers, and public. Here are just a few of the most recent animal escapes making the headlines.

  • Ben, an Andean bear at the Saint Louis Zoo, escaped twice from his enclosure and was found wandering the zoo grounds.
  • Two pied crows, three superb starlings and a hooded vulture named Oliver escaped from the Oakland Zoo when a falling tree tore a mesh covering over the African Savanna aviary.
  • A zebra named Sero walked, trotted and galloped for hours through the busy streets of Seoul after escaping from his enclosure. Emergency workers tranquilized the animal and brought it back to the zoo at Seoul Children’s Grand Park.
  • The Lupa Zoo is searching for an Eland antelope that escaped sometime during the week of March 26. This is particularly dangerous as the animal is known to kick when approached.
  • A tiger and liger escaped from the Pine Mountain Animal Safari during a recent tornado. Fortunately, zoo director Katie Harrison was able to track and sedate the animals. “We raised them from cubs,” she said. “So, if something would’ve happened where we would’ve had to put them down, it would’ve crushed me.”

Escapes are usually caused by natural disasters, human error, or failure to follow security protocols.

After investigating the escape of a colony of prairie dogs from the El Paso Zoo, The USDA stressed that “housing facilities are constructed in a manner and of such material and strength as appropriate for the animals involved; they must be sound and maintained in good repair to protect the animals from injury and to contain the animals. Enclosures should not only prevent zoo animal escapes but also effectively prevent predator access”.

Safe enclosures and transportation cages are crucial for the welfare and safety of zoo and research animals. These animals are often kept in captivity for extended periods of time, and as a result, it is essential to provide them with environments that meet their physical and behavioral needs.

One of the primary benefits of safe enclosures is that they prevent animals from escaping and causing harm to themselves, other animals, or humans. Enclosures should be properly designed to contain animals based on species and size, and prevent the animals from escaping.

Our access doors can be adapted to any enclosure. They have strong hinges and are lockable for maximum security. Another favorite is our wall-mounted sliding door assembly. The four hangers and two trolleys with a lower track prevents ‘kick-out’. We can size these products to suit your needs.

Otto Access Door
Otto Sliding Door Assembly

Another popular product is our stainless-steel window mesh. The indestructible mesh is supported by a 2” stainless steel frame that can be mounted on the enclosure. The mesh offers excellent air flow, viewing, light penetration, and high security.

Otto Stainless Steel Window Mesh

We also design and manufacture stainless-steel and galvanized lion caging to your specifications. We can add any security feature your zoo or laboratory requires.

Stainless Steel Lion Cage

Transportation cages and carts are critical for the safe and humane transport of zoo and research animals.

Our cages are designed to minimize stress and prevent injury during transport. We offer a variety of appropriately sized cages with features that keep the animal secure and comfortable during travel.

The Rodent Cage Transport makes it easy to move up to six rat or mice cages at one time. The lightweight aluminum frame and smooth rolling tires make transportation light work in the laboratory and research setting.

rodent cage transport
Rodent Cage Transport

If you are working with cougars, leopards, mountain lions, bobcats, lynx, and other similar sized felines, consider our Medium Cat Transport. This unit is designed to ensure the safety of the animal and the handler while transporting or restraining felines with the squeeze mechanism.

Medium Cat Transport

Our versatile Transport Cage has removable doors, a squeeze panel, and rolls on four swivel casters.

Transport Cage

Overall, safe enclosures and transportation cages are essential for the welfare of zoo and research animals.

These structures help to ensure that animals remain safe, healthy, and free from harm, both in their everyday living environments and during transport to other locations. Otto Environmental is dedicated to helping zoos, veterinary facilities, universities, and research labs keep their animals safe through high-quality enclosures and transport equipment. If you have any questions or need advice with your project, please contact us for assistance.

Posted on

Celebrating Earth Day with Animal Enrichment

Zebras in Field

Earth Day is often celebrated with outdoor activities focusing on appreciating nature, including animals large and small.

No matter if you are caring for rhinos or tiny mice in a lab setting, Earth Day is the perfect time to care for your animal’s world through environmental enrichment. Not everyone is familiar with the evolving science of improving captive animals’ health and well-being by providing mental and physical activities.

The Albuquerque BioPark takes enrichment seriously because it “Promotes natural behaviors that animals would display in the wild while at the same time providing them mental and physical stimulation.” Enrichment includes:

  1. Food-based enrichment mimics what an animal would do in the wild for food.
  2. Structural enrichment is when objects are added to an enclosure to make the animal’s habitat more interesting.
  3. Cognitive enrichment presents an animal with a challenge or puzzle to solve, in order to get food treats, a comforting shelter, and other rewards.
  4. Social enrichment can mean housing a group of the same or different species together. This encourages social behavior like foraging, play, and even courtship.
  5. Human interaction with caregivers builds trust and stimulates the animal positively.

But what about lab animals? Do they benefit from enrichment too?

Absolutely. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Enrichment is dedicated to spreading the word about how small animal enrichment helps keep the animals healthy in the research environment. There is also a growing body of evidence that lab animal enrichment results in better outcomes in studies and research trials. The Calm Mouse model of stress reduction is one such paper that explains why reducing stress in laboratory animals benefits the animals and the research.

What does Earth Day have to do with animal enrichment? Every year individuals, private businesses, government, and non-profits create their own Earth Day events and celebrations. The San Diego Zoo, Seneca Park Zoo, and the Brevard Zoo are just a few of the public institutions having Earth day events.

As an animal professional, you can highlight your important work with environmental enrichment and have fun at the same time.

Enrichment Products for Lab Animals:

Unlike public zoos, most laboratory studies involving animals limit access to the research team. You can still have fun by giving your lab animals, like mice, rats, and other rodents interesting new enrichment products. Our US-made maple balls are a favorite with rats and mice. They are chewable and safe! The wooden Fuzzy Buddy Barrel can be packed with shred-able materials, so animals can explore and satisfy chewing and nest-building instincts. They are great for hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas, and hedgehogs!

Fuzzy Buddy Barrel

The UK’s RSPCA recommends providing rabbits with “hiding spaces” in their enclosure. The Animal Welfare Institute echoes this with their similar recommendation for rabbits housed in laboratory settings. Whether you care for rabbits, ferrets, and similar-sized animals in a zoo or lab setting, they will benefit when you give them some private spaces like our Small Animal Nesting Boxes. Made of 3/8″ thick white polypropylene, our nesting boxes are durable and easily cleaned. The nesting box is suitable for all animal care facilities requiring effective environmental enrichment including zoos, animal rescues, veterinary clinics, and research settings.

small animal nesting box
Small Animal Nesting Box

But what about large zoo animals like tigers, lions, zebras, hoof stock, and other exotic species?

You may think they do not need enrichment since they have plenty of room and can roam freely outside. Not true! The Elephant Sanctuary and the National Zoo understand that enrichment is not just giving the animal a toy. Enrichment products target specific needs for the elephant, from increasing physical activity to stimulating foraging. Our Elephant Food Tube provides an interesting foraging device that stimulates curiosity and foraging behavior.

elephant with heavy duty elephant food tube
Elephant Food Tube

Rhinos also enjoy enrichment products! The International Rhino Keeper Association recommends using enrichment products when keeping Black, White, Javan, Sumatran, and Greater One Horned rhinos. We make rhino enrichment easy with the hanging Rhino Toy. You can fill it with interesting scents and tastes for large animals like Rhinos to nudge, chew, and explore.

Hanging Rhino Toy


Whether your work is at a zoo, animal shelter, petting farm, laboratory, or educational facility, Earth Day is the perfect time to give your animals Earth Day enrichment gifts that will make them happy and improve their quality of life!

Posted on

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations at the Zoo

St. Patrick’s Day has become a full weekend of fun and activities. After all, they say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

There are parades, pub crawls, parties, and a variety of green-themed events to choose from. Many zoos, animal parks, and other animal care facilities have joined in the holiday and created their own festivities.

The Elmwood Park Zoo throws a weekend St. Patrick’s Day event with personalized animal greets and live Celtic music and dancing. There is something for everyone from adults to children.

At the Smithsonian National Zoo everyone gets into the holiday spirit: animal care staff and aides gift enrichment items to the animals. Visitors really connect with the animals through enrichment feeders like the Bingo Ball Feeder. Everyone enjoys seeing primates like tamarins, capuchins, marmosets, macaques, and langurs figure out how to solve a puzzle and get a treat.

Monkey with Bingo Feeder
Bingo Feeder

The San Francisco Zoo keeps it simple. Wear anything with a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day weekend and get $1 off admission. Visitors can enjoy a green beer all weekend long as they stroll the park grounds.

How could we not check in with the Dublin Zoo and see what they have planned for St. Patrick’s Day?

Keeping with the “green theme”, reptiles will take center stage. Keeper talks will run throughout the day in the Zoorassic World. Many reptiles spend their day basking. Visitors like to see activity and feeding time is a great interaction experience. Our Exotic Nutrition canned insects make it easy to provide a variety of nutritious insects to your reptiles.

The Maryland Zoo turns St. Patrick’s Day into an enrichment event. Animal keepers give their animals enrichment items and treats. During the events, staff explain the importance of customized environmental enrichment in the lives of the zoo’s lions, otters, bobcats, polar bears, farm animals, and chimps.

Even animal shelters are creating fun St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Fredericksburg Virginia SPCA promises” puppy kisses, puppy breath, and puppy cuddles” for those attending the St. Patrick’s Day Puppy Yoga event. This is the perfect time to have visitors interact with the rescue animals. Use enrichment toys to help the animals and potential adoptees connect. Dogs love the Kong chewable toys. Cats are especially fond of stalking, pouncing, and chewing on feline enrichment toys. Don’t forget small animals like mice, rats, guinea pigs, ferrets, and birds. They all need engaging environmental enrichment for physical and cognitive stimulation.

Buffet Ball & Kabob


Treat activities are popular with zoo visitors and create a connection between animals and humans.

Whether your animal facility simply offers a St. Patrick’s Day discount, like the Palm Beach Zoo, or goes all out with food, beer, and dancing, the “green holiday” is the perfect time to bring the visitors closer to your important work with the animals. The Philadelphia Zoo has a new exhibit where visitors feed the giraffes. You don’t have to make a complicated program to use treats in your exhibits and demonstrations. Foraging and treat-based enrichment products give you complete control over the diet, provide the animals with fun stimulation, and give visitors and supporters an engaging experience that brings them back again and again. Why not try it this St. Patrick’s Day?

lemur with kong bamboo ball
KONG Bamboo Feeder