BARKS from the Guild May 2015

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Stimulation For Psittacines

In the first of a four-part feature, Amy Martin explores the key to transforming a parrot’s life


in captivity through various forms of enrichment

hysical and mental stimulation is vital to every species on the planet. Squid, poison dart frogs, pigs, rats, cats, tortoises, spiders, jaguars, sheep, dogs, ferrets, parrots, you name it, they all need daily stimulation. Enrichment is a fundamental component of responsible, preventative companion parrot care. But how can we ensure the parrots we care for are getting enough?

Zazous with Flat Stanley: Enrichment will enhance a companion parrot’s life in many ways

Vital For Well-Being

Studies have shown that when animals are provided with a stimulating environment, they are less stressed, live longer and are better able to develop problemsolving skills, not to mention that unhealthy behaviors are more likely to be prevented. In the zoo community, this kind of stimulation is referred to as enrichment. Admittedly, that word is thrown around rather loosely in the pet community these days, but most people do have at least a limited understanding of the purpose of enrichment and how to appropriately apply it to an individual animal. Importantly though, many people do not recognize the need for species-specific enrichment.

What Is Enrichment?

Over the years, enrichment has evolved from merely providing animals with basic husbandry needs to simulating an individual species’ natural habitat to encourage choices and elicit natural behaviors. Enrichment is the act or process of increasing intellectual or spiritual resources

Fast Facts: • Behavioral and environmental enrichment are essential components of life in captivity, whether animals live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary or a home. • Enrichment is now considered one of the primary means for addressing concerns about an animal’s physical and psychological welfare. • Enrichment is as integral to an animal’s well-being as comprehensive veterinary care and nutrition. The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) defines enrichment as “the provision of interactive op48

BARKS from the Guild/May 2015

portunities that enhance the lives of animals”. They further explain that “the activity levels of birds in the wild suggest that, under human care, they can benefit from mental and physical stimulation.”

Why Companion Parrots Need Enrichment

Imagine yourself sitting on a wooden chair in a room that is no more than 6 feet by 6 feet. There are no windows. You cannot leave and no one ever visits you.You have no radio, television, phone or internet. Someone offers you the same food in the same bowl every morning and evening.Your physical exercise consist only of shifting your weight in the chair. What do you think would eventually happen to your mind and body after a day, a week, a month and, eventually, a year? What about a lifetime? This kind of mental and physical stagnation is incredibly harmful to all

living creatures. This scenario is all too common for parrots in homes and shelters all over the world. The good news is it can be prevented and we can be the ones to do so.

Providing Enrichment for Parrots Is Crucial to Their Well-Being Do not let those flirtatious faces and colorful feathers fool you. Parrots are not domesticated animals. Cats, dogs and horses have been selectively bred for qualities that enable them to live more harmoniously among humans. Parrots are exotic, and by definition are not a species indigenous to the U.S. Companion parrots have the same instinctual needs as their wild counterparts. A parrot may live in a cage at home with his owner but his mind and body are just as wild as the greenwinged macaw who is flying free in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Parrots bred in captivity have the same instinctive physical and behavioral needs of parrots living in the wild

Putting Together the Parrot Puzzle Pieces If we want to create a healthy, species-specific environment for a captive parrot, we have to ask two very important questions: • What are the natural behaviors of this parrot species