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Celebrating Independence Day at the Zoo

As the vibrant days of summer approach, zoo staff across the country start gearing up for one of the most festive occasions of the year: the 4th of July.

This day not only marks a significant moment in American history but also presents a wonderful opportunity for zoos to engage with visitors in creative and meaningful ways. Here are just a few examples of how zoos are blending the spirit of Independence Day with their mission of education, conservation, and animal welfare through innovative ideas and environmental enrichment.

 Red, White, and Blue

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to get into the 4th of July spirit at the zoo is by incorporating patriotic colors into enclosures and activities. Imagine enclosures adorned with red, white, and blue banners, streamers, and themed enrichment items. These colors create a festive atmosphere that visitors of all ages can enjoy.

For example, enclosures can be decorated with non-toxic paint, paper, or cloth materials in patriotic colors, providing a visually stimulating experience for animals while aligning with the celebratory theme. Enrichment items like frozen treats with berries (red), yogurt-covered snacks (white), or blue-themed puzzles can be introduced to animals to engage their senses and cognitive abilities in a festive manner. The Maryland Zoo is breaking out the red, white, and blue enrichment items for their bobcats, warthogs, lemurs, goats, and lions. You’ll find Jolly Push-N-Play balls are an easy way to provide red and blue enrichment items that appeal to many animals.

                        Photo: Maryland Zoo

Combining Environmental Enrichment with the Holiday

Independence Day offers a prime opportunity to further enrich the lives of zoo animals by introducing novel stimuli that encourage natural behaviors and mental engagement. Consider crafting enrichment activities that tie into the theme of independence. For example, use interactive puzzles where animals must unlock compartments to find hidden colorful treats. Use puzzle feeders, like the Kong Duratreat Ring to explain how enrichment stimulates the animal’s senses of touch, smell, and sight. The Virginia Zoo is planning a variety of colorful July 4th-themed treat-activities for visitors and animals alike. This YouTube video shows how the Brookfield Zoo combined frozen treats with patriotic colors.

Interactive Experiences for Visitors

The 4th of July is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate. Zoos can enhance the visitor experience by offering interactive activities that encourage exploration and learning. Consider setting up themed scavenger hunts or guided tours that highlight animals native to America or those symbolizing freedom and independence. The Lehigh Valley Zoo will be using patriotic enrichment in the animal enclosures. Objects like The Brick interactive puzzle toy is both festive and engaging for animals and visitors.

Interactive exhibits where visitors can learn about and touch enrichment toys can also be a hit. This hands-on approach not only fosters a deeper connection between visitors, zoo staff, and the animals but also promotes the idea that animals in the zoo are being cared for. These sessions can showcase the dedication of zoo staff and the daily efforts made to ensure the well-being of the animals in their care.

Visitor Discounts

The Milwaukee Zoo  is offering a reduced entrance fee of “$4 on the 4th” to encourage attendance. The Cincinnati Zoo will be offering free admission for active service members and the option of purchasing up to six discounted tickets for family members.


As you prepare to celebrate Independence Day at your zoo, remember that it is an opportunity to engage visitors in meaningful ways, educate them about wildlife conservation, and enrich the lives of the animals in your care through thoughtful and creative activities. By incorporating patriotic colors and themes into environmental enrichment programs and offering interactive experiences for visitors, you can create a memorable and impactful celebration. Let this 4th of July be a reflection of your dedication to animal welfare, conservation, and community engagement. And remember, Otto Environmental is always here to assist with your facility’s enrichment and enclosure needs.


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The Evolution of Zoos: Moving Towards Better Lives for Animals

The recent closure of the state-funded zoos in Costa Rica has been highlighted in the media.

While many news outlets reported that it marked the end of zoos in Costa Rica and that the animals would be released into the wild, the complete story is a bit more complicated. In 2013 lawmakers moved to ban government-funded zoos. Private zoos were unaffected by the regulation. “State zoos in Costa Rica make no sense,” said Juan Carlos Peralta, director of the NGO Association for Animal Welfare and Protection. “Each 10-year contract costs $1.95 million to Costa Ricans.” Instead, the Simón Bolívar Zoo for example, will be turned into an ecopark for tourism. The idea is to appeal to travelers looking for what they perceive as sustainable tourism experiences and cut costs to the government.

Reactions to the closures

There have been mixed reactions to the idea that the zoo animals, many of which have lived their entire life at the zoos, would be returned to the wild. Dr. Darryl Heard,  associate professor of zoological medicine at the University of Florida, said that in some cases, it could take years before animals were ready for life in the wild. Rachel Nuwer (Smithsonian Magazine) notes that “Releasing formerly captive animals into the wild, however, is a notoriously tricky business. Birds, for example, will imprint on keepers—they develop an attachment to humans. Some may even see themselves as a human. For all but the most primordial insects or reptiles, life in a zoo can soften them and make them complacent around people, two factors that are detrimental to life in the wild.” Wildlife biologists have found that many animals learn essential skills from parents. Southern pied babblers, birds from southern Africa, teach their young specific calls related to feeding. Researchers found that adult meercats give the youngest pups dead scorpions to eat. But as the offspring mature, parents deliver more lively scorpions sometimes with the stinger removed, to prepare the pups for life on their own. Wildlife rehabilitation centers often spend months or even years carefully training animals for release back into the wild.

Meerkat tending a pup: National Geographic


Should zoos be closed?

While some wildlife advocates have called for closing zoos, Dr. Heard said the subject is a “very complex issue” and the focus should be on animal conservation advances. “I know that there are things that still need improvement,” Dr. Heard said of zoos. “But there’s generally been a positive trend in remediating those issues.” Zoos have long been a subject of fascination and education, providing a unique opportunity for people to encounter exotic animals they might never see otherwise. However, as our understanding of animal behavior and welfare has deepened, the traditional concept of zoos as mere displays of wildlife has changed. Modern zoos are increasingly focused on conservation, education, and most importantly, the well-being of the animals in their care. This shift represents a significant and necessary transformation aimed at improving the quality of life for zoo animals. It is known that animals kept in a zoo environment generally live longer than their wild counterparts. Zoos and wildlife centers have contributed to countless advances in animal care, surgery, genetics, and species conservation that have helped animals in captivity and in the wild.



The move to improve life for zoo animals reflects a broader societal shift towards greater empathy and responsibility for the welfare of animals in our world. Modern zoos are no longer only places of entertainment; they are centers of conservation, education, and animal welfare.  Your role as animal care professionals in preserving wildlife and educating the public is critical. By creating enriched, stimulating environments, providing excellent medical care, and focusing on the mental and physical health of their residents, zoos are taking significant steps to ensure that the animals live fulfilling and healthy lives. At Otto Environmental, we are dedicated to providing the finest caging and enrichment products for zoo animals, supporting these vital efforts to enhance animal well-being, and ensure they thrive in their habitats. If we can help with your enrichment and conservation projects, please contact us for prompt, helpful assistance!

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Enhancing Swine Welfare in Research: Caging and Enrichment

The utilization of swine in research, particularly as a preclinical model, has significantly increased since the early 1980s

Their distinct anatomical and physiological features make them an ideal model for various organs and systems. Swine are utilized as preclinical models in various biomedical areas such as cardiovascular, integumentary, urinary, and digestive systems. Swine are also used in cancer research. Commonly used breeds in research include Duroc, Yorkshire, Landrace, Pietrain, as well as miniature breeds like Yucatan, Hanford, Sinclair, and Göttingen. Nonetheless, swine also presents unique behavioral and husbandry challenges that need to be managed when they are used as laboratory animals.

Photo: Ellegaard Göttingen Minipigs


Social interactions of swine

Custom Swine Pen Systems


Swine housed in laboratory settings may be accommodated either individually or in small groups within pens. While individual housing is common in research environments, it is important to ensure that individually housed pigs maintain visual, olfactory, and auditory contact with others to prevent social deprivation. Dr. Candace Croney (Perdue University) stresses that when group housing is chosen, it is crucial to consider the behavioral dynamics, particularly the formation of social hierarchies. The size of both the pens and the pigs will determine the number of animals that can be housed together; however, group sizes should typically range between 10 and 15 animals to maintain a stable social hierarchy. It is advisable to provide partitions so that subordinate animals can avoid aggression from dominant ones. Based on these facts, our custom swine pen systems can incorporate similar partitions that reduce stress and aggression. Additionally, efforts should be made to keep groups together as much as possible. When necessary to regroup, minimizing aggression can be achieved by introducing unfamiliar pigs into a freshly cleaned cage just before feeding or sleeping times.

Important factors in swine caging

Pens need to be robust due to the strength and forcefulness of swine. They often exert considerable force by rubbing their sides against the pen walls and use their snouts to manipulate loose objects. Otto custom swine pens are constructed using 304 stainless-steel and precision-welded for strength and durability. We are proud of our outstanding track record of producing reliable caging for swine used in universities and research laboratories. Swine feeders must be firmly attached to the pens to prevent accidental damage. Our stainless-steel swine feeder attaches securely to the cage or wall, and is easy to load with food.  Automatic waterers are preferred over bowls as they ensure continuous access to clean water. The Otto Swine Waterer attaches to the cage and has an adjustable height feature. Flooring options include solid concrete or raised grids. Bedding should be provided for rooting and nesting activities. Grid floors facilitate sanitation because bedding is often not used. We offer a variety of cage floor options along with stand-alone flooring products such as Swine Maxima Nursery, Sow slat, and plastic-coated metal grid flooring.


Custom Swine Pens
Swine Feeder
Swine Waterer with Adjustable Bracket
Swine Maxima Nursery Flooring
Sow Slat Flooring
Plastic Coated Flooring


Environmental enrichment

Laboratory swine need environmental enrichment for wellbeing and consistent research outcomes. Pigs have strong chewing and rooting instincts. Swine used in research are no different. In the absence of bedding, swine can become agitated. Straw and wood shavings enable natural rooting behaviors. But even with bedding, swine benefit from various enrichment devices. Balls, large dog toys, and hanging items suspended from chains like our Porcichew and hanging forager are proven winners with swine. These enrichment objects satisfy the need to chew and explore and reduce negative behavior. Another effective enrichment tool is various scratchers. The Scratch-N-All flexible scratcher mounts to the wall or post and provides a safe way to scratch that itch. You can see all of our scratch products here. Make sure to keep the enrichment toys clean! Pigs will avoid soiled enrichment devices. Regular rotation of enrichment items helps maintain their effectiveness.

klinker ball
Klinker Balls
Large Dog Toys
anti stress chain
Hanging Forager
Scratch N’ All


The Otto Environmental Advantage

In conclusion, Otto Environmental is committed to supporting the research community with our top-tier swine caging and enrichment products. Our dedication to quality and reliability ensures that researchers can focus on their important work, confident that their swine subjects are housed in safe, comfortable, and enriched environments. By prioritizing animal welfare, we contribute to more ethical and effective research outcomes. Choose Otto Environmental for all your swine caging and enrichment needs and join us in fostering a bright future for research animals and the scientific community. Please contact us with any questions and to discuss your project’s needs.

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Military Working Dogs in the News

McConnel AFB plans new kennel facility

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District, is presently engaged in the planning, designing, and building of a modern $5.3 million kennel facility for the operational canines of the 22nd Security Forces Squadron, stationed at McConnell Air Force Base (MAFB) in Wichita, Kansas. The existing kennels, erected many years ago, are in dire need of renovation. “The current kennel facility is just antiquated,” said Gary Shirley, military programs project manager with the Kansas City District, “it doesn’t meet the current requirements for housing working dogs.” Military working dog kennel facilities must meet strict requirements that are mandated by the Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Air Force. The DoD requirements use a standard facility design template but allows for modifications to adapt the layout to the unique needs of the dog facility. For example, the design for the new facility at MAFB will take into account sun and wind exposure.  “We take into consideration sun angles for the outdoor kennels so the dogs aren’t sitting out there in the late afternoon getting hot or ensure the dogs will not get all northerly wind exposure,” said Shirley. “The design of the kennels themselves is absolutely critical.” But there is more to caring for Military Working Dogs than just nice housing.

Tech. Sgt. Noah Hyatt, kennel master for the 22nd Security Forces Squadron said, “You know, we talk about mental health of people in the military all the time, but it’s huge in the dogs as well and you can tell,” said Hyatt. “When dogs are in a better kennel environment, they don’t have these issues.” This includes plenty of play time with the assigned handler and the use of enrichment devices like the rugged Kong product range of dog products. We also recommend the Otto range of chewable canine enrichment toys, like the Zigg and Zoy, for MWDs.

Photo: 341st Training Squadron

US Army breaks ground on kennel in Bavaria

A new kennel groundbreaking ceremony was held at US Army Barracks Bavaria. The ceremony marked the construction start of a new standard design military working dog facility. The project will replace the outdated military working dog kennels, which were constructed over a century ago. “This kennel is long overdue,” said Col. Kevin A. Poole, USAG Bavaria commander. “We have to take care of our canine friends of the 131st Military Working Dog Detachment. It breaks my heart every time I walk into this kennel. I have been helpless for the last year, but we move a step further now that we are about to break ground on this facility.” The kennel is home to 131st Military Working Dog Detachment where dogs are trained (video) in a variety of tasks including explosive detection, narcotics search, and criminal take-down maneuvers.

“The facility will help ensure the proper training, safety, and wellbeing of our military working dog teams, which represent a strategic asset in Europe, Africa and around the world,” said Col. Richard Stearns, Commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade. “These teams deploy worldwide in support of the president, the vice president, secretaries of state and defense, key NATO and partner nations, and in support of the combatant commands.”


New MWD facility at Joint Base Sam Houston

Photo: 502nd Security Forces Squadron


The groundbreaking ceremony for the inaugural Military Working Dog kennels at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston was held by the 502nd Security Forces Squadron on March 1, 2024, with completion slated for April 2025. Curtis Hoosier, Chief of Plans and Programs for the 502nd Security Forces Squadron, emphasized the challenges faced in providing optimal Military Working Dog coverage at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. He noted, “To date, Military Working Dog coverage at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston has not been ideal due to travel time, rest, and feeding times, which have greatly hindered the team’s ability to provide adequate and continuous support for both locations.” The new facility is expected to offer the dogs a more stable environment, which will improve the health and wellbeing of the dogs.

How Otto Environmental can help with your kennel project

At Otto Environmental provides custom caging and kennels for all categories of animal facilities, including military and government security agencies. We work closely with your architect and facility specifications to deliver caging and enclosures that are easy to install and fit perfectly into your design. We have many options when it comes to materials, doors, locks, and other features that transform your outdated kennel to a state-of-the-art military working dog facility. Otto also offers durable kennel beds, bowls, and flooring. Otto also offers the widest range of tough enrichment toys for working dogs including mastiffs, pinschers, German and Dutch shepherds, and Malinois. Since every kennel project is unique, we recommend contacting us to discuss your project so we can provide the best solutions for your facility.

Custom Kennels
Kennel Bowl


Dura Saver Flooring


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The Essential Guide to Caging for Working Dogs: Ensuring Safety and Security


Working dogs play a vital role in various security fields, including military operations, law enforcement patrol and detection canines, penal system security, and airport security (TSA).  For example, it is estimated that there are about 2,500 war and military service dogs in service, with about 700 serving at any given time overseas. These highly trained canines are often required to operate in challenging environments where safety and security are paramount. One crucial aspect of their care and management is providing appropriate caging solutions that offer comfort, protection, and functionality. In this guide, we will explore the importance of caging for these working dogs and provide valuable insights for professionals in these fields.

Photo: Cornell University

Understanding the Importance of Caging

Caging serves as a secure and comfortable space for working dogs when they are not actively engaged in their duties. It provides a designated area where they can rest, recuperate, and recharge between missions or shifts. Additionally, caging helps ensure the safety of the dogs, handlers, and others in their vicinity by preventing unauthorized access and containing the animals when necessary. Caging is also used to isolate a dog when wounded or sick. These types of working dogs can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous animals, when ill, injured, or stressed, and especially when not under the control of their assigned handler. Adequate caging and kennels provide security for the dog and the staff tending to them. This video gives a glimpse into the kind of care and training Department of Defense working dogs undergo.

Key Considerations for Choosing Caging and Kennels

In 2023 the U.S. Air Force issued a guidance policy for military working Dogs (MWD), which is being used as a best practice manual in many working dog facilities. While the guidelines allow for a wide degree of flexibility, the following factors are key in any working dog program.

  1. Size and Space: Cages should be spacious enough to allow the dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. The size of the kennel will vary depending on the breed and size of the dog, so it is essential to select an appropriate size to prevent confinement-related stress or discomfort. Our custom dog kennels can be made for any size dog including large working breeds like German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Boxers, Bull Mastiffs, and Pinschers. We also have rolling dog cages that make it easy to roll dogs from room to room or for transportation in vehicles.


  1. Durability and Security: Working dogs are strong and energetic, so the cage must be durable enough to withstand their activity. Hinges and latches must be high quality and stand up to heavy use. We build our cages and kennels with 304 stainless-steel materials and offer optional 316 stainless-steel for extra corrosion resistance in salty environments. We also use heavy-duty HDP panels for privacy barriers. All of our cages and kennels have secure latching doors that can be locked to prevent escape or tampering. We also build custom canine enclosures for permanent installations. We can provide dog transport cages that keep canines safe when traveling.


  1. Ventilation and Temperature Control: Proper ventilation is crucial to ensure adequate airflow and prevent overheating, especially in warmer climates or during extended periods of confinement. Choose cages with ventilation panels or mesh sides to promote air circulation. Otto Environmental manufactures a wide variety of canine cages and kennels. All provide easy access for the dogs and plenty of ventilation. Consider environmental factors such as temperature and humidity when selecting caging solutions. We recommend 316 stainless-steel for kennels and cages used in damp or salty environments.


Best Practices for Canine Caging Management

  1. Regular Inspections: Inspect cages regularly for signs of wear and damage, such as bent bars or broken locks. Promptly repair or replace any damaged components to maintain the integrity of the cage and ensure the safety of the dog. Otto cage lubricant keeps hinges and locks working smoothly. There is trend to replace aging kennels and cages altogether rather than try to repair enclosures past their useful life.


  1. Cleanliness and Hygiene: Keep cages clean and sanitized to prevent the spread of germs and minimize the risk of disease transmission. Regularly remove waste, debris, and soiled bedding, and disinfect the cage surfaces as needed. The ASPCA offers some disinfection guidelines. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) also provides a best practices guide.


  1. Comfort and Enrichment: Enhance the comfort of the cage by providing soft bedding or mats for the dog to rest on. Military working dogs and police dogs will appreciate and benefit from enrichment items such as chew toys or puzzle feeders . Environmental enrichment keeps the dog mentally stimulated and calm during confinement and down times.


Caging and kennels play a crucial role in the care and management of working dogs, ensuring their safety, security, and well-being. By choosing appropriate caging solutions and implementing best practices for caging management, professionals in fields such as military operations, law enforcement, and airport security can provide their canine partners with a comfortable and secure environment both on and off duty. Otto Environmental dog cages and kennels provide the optimal conditions for heroic working dogs and make it easy to achieve best practices like the Air Force Corporate Facilities Standards- Military Working Dog Kennel guidelines. Please contact us for any caging or kennel needs. We can assist with new kennel projects or when retrofitting an older working dog facility.

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Enrichment Practices for Farm Animals in Petting Zoos and Animal Rescues

Until recently most farm animal welfare research focused on maximizing growth and disease prevention through diet management and grow-out production systems.

In commercial farming animals are kept in high-density herds to reduce costs and bring “protein” to the market. But what about welfare for livestock, like cows, pigs, chickens, and other farm animals living at a petting farm or rescue facility? One of the most effective methods of enhancing the lives of these animals is through environmental enrichment.

Enrichment is not just for zoo animals

While often associated with exotic zoo species or household pets, the concept of environmental enrichment holds immense promise for enhancing the well-being of farm animals in settings such as petting farms and large animal rescues. For professionals already versed in the basics of enrichment, the journey toward optimizing farm animal welfare through thoughtful enrichment presents many exciting opportunities.

A wide range of animals from small goats and sheep to majestic horses and calm cows form the heart of petting farms and large animal rescues. These sanctuaries serve as havens for animals that have endured neglect, abuse, or simply find themselves in need of a new home. While these settings offer refuge, the principles of environmental enrichment can further elevate the lives of these animals, promoting their physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being.

For animal professionals familiar with the fundamentals of enrichment, the integration of these principles into petting farms and large animal rescues requires a tailored approach that recognizes the unique needs and behaviors of farm species. Here are some key strategies to consider.

Habitat Awareness

Creating optimized habitats for each species will enhance their sense of security and well-being. Providing ample space for movement, access to shelter, and opportunities for grazing or rooting allows animals to engage in species-typical behaviors.

Structural Enrichment

Incorporating structures such as climbing platforms and elevated resting areas can encourage physical activity and exploratory behaviors. For example, installing elevated platforms for goats to climb or providing hanging toys for animals to manipulate can promote natural behaviors and alleviate boredom. The Porcichew is a hanging, flavored chew toy that keeps swine busy with positive behavior and reduces tail and ear biting in pigs. Scratching posts like the Animal Itchin’ Post appeal to many animals like cows, sheep, horses, and goats.

Elevated Resting Areas
green hanging zyro on white background
Hanging Toys
Itchin' Post
Animal Itchin’ Itching Post


Feeding Enrichment

Rethinking feeding practices to encourage foraging behaviors can provide both physical and mental stimulation for farm animals. Feeding puzzles like the Luna Ring allow you to stuff it with flavorful treats like peanut butter, providing an interesting and tasty puzzle for the animals to investigate. Slow-release feeders encourage animals to engage in natural feeding behaviors and exercise, promoting overall cognitive welfare. The Stubbs England Horsey Ball is a favorite with ponies, horses and other hoofstock. This rugged rollable toy slowly dispenses treats as it is rolled and nudged.

donkey with luna ring
Luna Ring
Slow Feeder
Slow Feeders
blue round horsey ball on white background
STUBBS Horsey Ball


Social activities

Recognizing the social nature of many farm animals, providing opportunities for social interaction is essential. Group housing systems that allow for socialization, along with regular rotation of herd mates to prevent social stagnation, can support positive social dynamics. Chickens, for example, tend to peck at each other. Enrichment studies indicate that using products like our stainless-steel Bead Chain or hanging strings of wooden beads reduced this negative behavior. Community feeding devices also encourage a feeling of safety and comfort.

Bead Chain
Wood Beads
Hayball Feeder


Seasonal Variation

Introducing seasonal changes in the environment, such as rotating pasture access or altering enrichment products, can provide novel experiences and prevent habituation, keeping animals engaged and curious.

Monitoring and Adaptation

Regularly assessing the effectiveness of enrichment strategies and making adjustments based on animal behavior and preferences is crucial. Flexibility and responsiveness to the evolving needs of the animals ensure that enrichment efforts remain effective over time.

Next steps

By implementing the principles of environmental enrichment and tailoring them to the unique characteristics of farm animals in petting farms and large animal rescues, animal professionals can make a significant impact on the welfare of the animals at these facilities. Through thoughtful environmental design and a commitment to meeting the cognitive, social, and physical needs of farm animals, we can create environments where animals thrive, enriching their lives and fostering a deeper connection between humans and the animals in our care.

The Otto Environmental Advantage

Otto Environmental is committed to animal welfare and enrichment. Our services range from engineering and fabricating custom animal enclosures to everyday enrichment products for all animal species from exotic zoo animals to farm stock to pets. We serve all animal care facilities including shelters, rescue, zoos, farms, research labs, veterinary schools, and government facilities. Please contact us to discus any size project or enrichment program needs.


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New Elephant Care Facility Opens Its Doors

Anant Ambani, son of industrialist Mukesh Ambani, has initiated a significant project aimed at improving animal welfare.

Known as Vantara, this expansive 3000-acre animal shelter located in the serene landscapes of Jamnagar, Gujarat, is set to redefine the narrative surrounding compassion for animals.


A Forward-Thinking Initiative

Driven by a genuine affection for animals and a determination to make a positive impact, Anant Ambani envisioned Vantara as a sanctuary where animals could thrive under optimal conditions. Rooted in a commitment to wildlife preservation and animal well-being, Vantara addresses critical issues such as habitat loss, poaching, and human-animal conflicts.


Dedicated Elephant Care Center

The Center for Elephants at Vantara features cutting-edge shelters, scientifically designed enclosures, hydrotherapy pools, enrichment, and specialized facilities for the care of over 200 elephants. The facility boasts a state-of-the-art elephant hospital equipped with advanced medical equipment, including x-ray machines, laser treatment devices, and a fully stocked pharmacy. Skilled personnel, comprising veterinarians, biologists, and nutritionists, provide round-the-clock care for these majestic animals.

Enriching activities

Elephants are offered a variety of enrichment activities to stimulate the mind and body. Otto Environmental supplies the world’s zoos and animal centers with specialized enrichment products like this elephant-sized rolling toy, sturdy elephant  drum, and giant Monster Ball. Enrichment is necessary for the wellbeing of elephants in captivity.

A Haven for All Creatures

Situated within Reliance’s Jamnagar Refinery Complex, Vantara spans 3000 acres of untouched wilderness, offering a haven for a diverse array of wildlife. The program has rescued numerous animals, including elephants, rhinos, leopards, and crocodiles, providing them with a secure environment where they can thrive.

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Vantara prides itself on its modern amenities tailored to the unique needs of its residents. From spacious enclosures to comprehensive healthcare services, every aspect of the shelter is designed to ensure the comfort and well-being of its inhabitants. Take a tour with this video.


Commitment to Conservation and Rehabilitation

In addition to providing sanctuary, Vantara actively engages in conservation and rehabilitation efforts to safeguard endangered species and restore fragile ecosystems. Collaborations with conservation groups and academic institutions, such as International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), contribute to ongoing research and conservation initiatives, furthering the organization’s impact on wildlife preservation. The project is  working together with international organizations such as Venezuelan National Foundation of Zoos, the Smithsonian, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


A Beacon of Hope

Vantara serves as a symbol of hope and compassion, drawing attention to the plight of animals often overlooked in today’s busy world. Through its dedication to animal welfare and conservation, Vantara inspires individuals worldwide to take action in support of wildlife protection. Ambani remarked on Vantara’s future plans, “The zoological park will be opened to the public soon, allowing people to witness our efforts in wildlife conservation and the sophisticated care we provide.”

In Conclusion: A Visionary Endeavor

Anant Ambani’s vision for Vantara transcends philanthropy, embodying a commitment to creating a brighter future for all beings. As Vantara continues to expand its impact, it remains a testament to the power of compassion and innovation in the field of animal care and conservation. Otto Environmental salutes this major effort in animal conservation. No matter what size animal care facility you operate, we can support your enclosure and enrichment needs. We can provide your animal care facility with the specialized enrichment products for elephants along with other animals large and small. Browse our website or contact us to discuss your project and animal care needs.

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Animals in the news

Tiger cubs make their debut at Nashville Zoo

The Nashville Zoo staff are celebrating the public debut of three new Sumatran tiger cubs born at the zoo. There are two female cubs, Zara and Kirana and one male cub, Bulan. The cub’s mother, Anne, has been caring for the cubs since they were born. Felix, the cub’s father lives at the zoo but has not been introduced to the cubs for safety reasons. Sumatran tigers prefer a solitary lifestyle in the wild. It is estimated that there remain only 400-600 Sumatran tigers living in the wild. The expansion of palm oil farms has threatened the tiger’s natural habitat.

Photo: Nashville Zoo

Berlin zoo celebrates the birthday the world’s oldest gorilla

The Berlin Zoo is celebrating the 67th birthday of Fatou the gorilla, its oldest resident, perhaps the oldest gorilla in the world. Fatou, a female Western Lowland gorilla, was born in 1957 and arrived at the zoo in in 1959. The way she came to the zoo is almost unbelievable! A sailor had used her to pay for his tab at a bar in Marseille. Somehow the two-year old gorilla was transported across Europe and safely ended up in Zoo Berlin. Veterinarian Andre Schüle said in this video, there is no gorilla older than Fatou in any other zoo, “and we have to assume that there is no animal older than her in the wild,” where animals do not live so long. “Anyone who has ever looked into Fatou’s eyes knows what a remarkable encounter that is,” says Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem. “She really has an impact on people and makes them think, which is why I firmly believe Fatou is a great ambassador for her critically endangered species.”  Fatou lives a peaceful life in her old age. But other younger primates at the zoo really enjoy food puzzles, a proven primate enrichment technique as seen in this video from Tierpark Berlin. Our Primate Enrichment System (PES) makes it easy to provide interesting and effective primate enrichment at your zoo.

Photo: Berlin Zoo

How Zoo animals reacted during total solar eclipse

Zoo staff from around the world reported interesting behaviors during the recent solar eclipse. At the Indiana Zoo just before the eclipse, gibbons started singing and hooting, and the sea lions began vocalizing. But as darkness set in, the animals quieted down as if it were night time. This video shows how the Macaws grew silent. At the Columbus Zoo the elephants exhibited unusual behavior. Some let out chirping sounds. One elephant started thumping her trunk during the darkness. Zoo staff describe their experiences in this video.

Tiny antelope arrives at UK zoo for breeding program

One of the world’s smallest antelope species has arrived at All Things Wild in Honeybourne as part of an international breeding effort to protect the species. The female dik-dik called Twiglet, is originally from Wild Discovery Zoo in Preston. Native to Southern and Eastern Africa, Twiglet is about 10 inches tall. Zoo staff hopes to find a male companion later this year for the breeding program. The zoo’s animal manager Matthew Parker said, “Although many populations of dik-dik antelope remain in good numbers across large parts of Africa, there is emerging evidence to suggest that some localized populations are dwindling.”

Houston Zoo release sea turtles back to the wild

Houston Zoo staff released green sea turtles into the Gulf of Mexico. The sea turtles were originally rescued from Galveston Bay in January. The turtles were suffering from the freezing water temperatures. Zoo veterinarians treated the turtles for muscle damage due to being tossed around in the frigid waves. Once the turtles returned to good health, senior veterinarian Dr. Joe gave the OK to release the turtles back into the wild. Local news covered the release in this video.

Photo: Houston Zoo

Otto Environmental is committed to supporting your facility’s work in animal care, enrichment, and conservation initiatives. We recognize the tireless work of dedicated animal care professionals to safeguard and preserve the physical and mental health of all animals large and small. We specialize in a variety of animal care products including secure custom enclosures and doors, high-quality enrichment products, and other tools that make your job easier and keep the animals healthy and happy.  If there is anything we can assist with to help you meet your organization’s animal care goals, please do not hesitate to contact us!



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Optimizing Animal Enrichment with Species-Specific Products

Animal enrichment has become a cornerstone of responsible zoo and laboratory animal care.

It goes beyond simply offering distractions; enrichment aims to stimulate natural behaviors, encourage exploration, and provide cognitive challenges. However, the one-size-fits-all approach to enrichment is demonstrably inadequate.  We’ll explore the importance of selecting species-specific enrichment products and how that optimizes animal well-being and better outcomes in research.

Understanding Species-Specific Animal Needs

Animals have unique instincts, physical capabilities, and cognitive abilities. A foraging enrichment puzzle, like our Primate Enrichment System Biscuit Feeder, designed for a highly intelligent chimpanzee will likely leave a gerbil bewildered. Conversely, a simple food-dispensing ball perfect for small animals will pose no challenge to a curious elephant. Species-specific enrichment products cater to these unique needs.  Consider the following:

Biscuit Feeder
Food-Dispensing Ball


Satisfying Natural Behaviors

Foraging, climbing, object manipulation, social interaction – these are all behaviors that vary greatly across species.  Enrichment products should encourage these natural activities.  For instance, a climbing structure for monkeys or stuffing food in forage feeding devices for grazing animals like horses, replicates their natural foraging behaviors and provides variety to their daily routines.

Heavy Duty Hammock
Horseman’s Pride Jolly Hay Ball


Physical Capabilities

A giant inflatable Mega Ball might be a delightful enrichment for an elephant or horse but can be overwhelming for a small primate.  Similarly, a treat dispenser requiring fine motor skills wouldn’t be stimulating for an animal with limited dexterity.  Matching product size, weight, and complexity to the animal’s physical abilities is crucial.

Elephant on Jolly Mega Ball
Equine Jolly Mega Ball
Treat Dispenser


Cognitive Abilities

Species exhibit varying levels of problem-solving skills and curiosity.  Enrichment products should offer an appropriate level of challenge.  Interactive puzzles with varying difficulty levels can stimulate intelligent animals like primates, while simpler food-dispensing toys might be adequate for other species.

Puzzle Feeder
Mazee Puzzle Play


Benefits of Species-Specific Enrichment

By tailoring enrichment to specific needs, we can achieve a range of benefits:

Improved Physical and Mental Well-being

Species-specific enrichment encourages natural behaviors, providing physical and mental stimulation. This can lead to reduced stress levels, a decrease in stereotypical behaviors (pacing, rocking), and an overall improvement in animal welfare.

More Consistent Research Outcomes

Providing laboratory animals like mice and rats with enrichment toys leads to better quality results. The Calm Mouse Model suggest that when mice are under less stress through an enriched environment, research results are more reproduceable and  data is of better quality. Our birch chew blocks  and pine balls are popular rodent enrichment products in laboratory settings. They provide something to chew on and manipulate within the enclosure.

Birch Chew Blocks
Wooden Pine Balls 1"
Pine Balls

Increased Activity Levels

Engaging enrichment encourages movement and exploration, promoting overall physical well-being and reducing the risk of obesity and other health problems associated with inactivity.

Positive Behavioral Expression

Effective enrichment allows animals to express natural behaviors, leading to a more fulfilling captive experience.  Animal caregivers report less stereotypic behavior when their animals are provided with an enriching environment.

Tips For Selecting and Using the Right Products

The range of animal enrichment products is constantly evolving, offering a wide range of species-specific options. Here are some tips for selecting the right products.

Become Familiar with Enrichment Options

We are continuously developing new enrichment products. Our product pages suggest what kind of animals can benefit from the device. In many cases a wide variety of species find the product fun and engaging. But we also manufacture species-specific products, like our Primate Enrichment System. Browse the website for ideas!

spinners pes system
Spinners – Primate Enrichment System


Monitor Effectiveness

Observe how animals interact with the enrichment products. Are they engaged? Are they successfully manipulating the puzzles or utilizing the features? Rotate and adjust enrichment based on your observations.


Variety is Key

Change enrichment items regularly to maintain novelty and prevent animals from becoming habituated. This keeps them engaged and continues to provide mental and physical stimulation.



Moving beyond generic home-made enrichment tools, species-specific products offer a targeted approach to animal well-being. By catering to the unique needs of each species, we can provide enrichment that is not only stimulating but also promotes natural behaviors, improves cognitive function, and enhances overall animal welfare. Through careful selection and ongoing monitoring, zoo and lab professionals can leverage the power of species-specific enrichment to create a more fulfilling and enriching captive environment for the animals in their care.

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Understanding the Avian Influenza Outbreak in Penguins

In recent times, the world has witnessed a concerning development in the realm of avian health – an outbreak of influenza among penguins.

While these flightless birds are not typically associated with such viral infections, the emergence of avian influenza among penguin populations underscores the complexity of infectious diseases and their potential impacts on diverse species.

Penguins, with their endearing waddle and icy lifestyle, are primarily inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere. They have historically faced threats from predators and habitat loss. However, the introduction of avian influenza into penguin colonies poses a new and significant risk to their well-being. The avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is caused by the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. While various strains of avian influenza exist, the recent outbreak in penguins is believed to be caused by a strain previously unseen in these species. This raises questions about the origin of the virus, its transmission dynamics, and its potential to adapt to new hosts. The virus was first detected in fur and elephant seals on the island of South Georgia. The H5N1 was then detected in brown skuas, kelp gulls and Antarctic terns.

One of the key challenges in understanding the outbreak is the limited historical data on avian influenza in penguins. Unlike domestic poultry or wild waterfowl, which have been extensively studied in the context of influenza, penguins have received comparatively less attention from researchers in this regard. Therefore, unraveling the intricacies of the current outbreak requires interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative approaches.

Initial investigations into the outbreak suggest that migratory birds may have played a role in introducing the virus to penguin colonies. Migratory birds, such as seabirds and waterfowl, are known carriers of influenza viruses and can serve as vectors for transmitting these pathogens over long distances. It seems that the disease is spread through feces. Given the interconnectedness of ecosystems, understanding the movements of migratory birds and their interactions with penguins is crucial for predicting and preventing future outbreaks.

In response to the outbreak, scientists and conservationists are working tirelessly to mitigate its impact and safeguard penguin populations. Dr. Ian Brown, Director of Scientific Services at the UK’s Animal & Plant Health Agency, said:

If avian influenza continues to spread throughout the sub-Antarctic region this could significantly threaten the fragile ecosystem, and potentially put a number of very large populations of seabirds and sea mammals at risk. However, the available genomic surveillance data continues to suggest no widespread mammalian adaptation of the virus and the knowledge gathered from these latest samples will be shared rapidly with international partners to aid their efforts to tackle the disease and inform global risk mitigation.”

In addition to surveillance efforts in the wild, another crucial aspect of combating the avian influenza outbreak in penguins involves quarantine, isolation and biosecurity protocols in research activities. The US National Science Foundation recently issued guidelines for working with and around birds and other animals that could be viral carriers.  We expect avian laboratories play a vital role in studying the virus and understanding its transmission dynamics. To prevent the spread of infection within captive populations and minimize the risk of introducing new strains into the wild, strict quarantine measures are implemented. These measures include rigorous screening of birds entering research facilities, maintaining biosecure environments to prevent cross-contamination, and adhering to protocols for handling potentially infectious materials. By effectively isolating infected individuals and preventing the transmission of the virus within captive populations, researchers can conduct critical studies while minimizing the risk to both penguins and their wild counterparts. Otto Environmental manufactures avian isolation units that are suitable for any kind of bird research work. The large isolette is popular with laboratories working with larger bird species. If you would like to discuss your bird health laboratory needs, please contact us for friendly, knowledgeable assistance. Otto Environmental is dedicated to providing the tools you need to conduct your essential research in the field of animal health and well-being.


Avian Isolation Unit


Avian Isolette