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'Enrichment is a very important part of animal care': Zoo puts out call to replenish toy chest

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Animals living at Assiniboine Park Zoo are on the hunt for new toys and other enrichment items heading into the holiday season.

“Enrichment is a very important part of animal care,” Sarah Makenbach Giersch, Assiniboine Park Zoo’s animal care supervisor, told CTV News on Thursday. “It’s anything from a training program to new and novel things -- even toys.”

Items like balls, buckets, and hard plastic noodles are used by a variety of species to encourage natural behaviour and promote physical activity.

She said the polar bears particularly love playing with rain barrels.

“It’s one of their favourite toys,” she said. “They like to bounce on top of it and kind of collapse it a little bit.”

Makenbach Giersch said the motion mimics how polar bears would collapse a seal den in the wild.

However, these toys go through some serious wear and tear – especially when you consider who’s playing with them.

“A thousand-pound polar bear might have the capability of putting a lot of damage onto an item,” Makenbach Giersch explained while holding up a hard plastic pole adorned with teeth and claw marks.

While the animal care team does its best to repurpose the toys, Makenbach Giersch said it’s always nice to introduce new toys to the zoo’s residents.

On Giving Tuesday, the zoo put out a call for donations to help replenish its toy chest – but it’s not as easy as walking into a local pet store.

Makenbach Giersch said all enrichment items must go through an approval process -- taking things like materials and food safety into consideration.

“There are a number of companies that create zoo-safe toys and things like that, so we do typically order from them.”

Monetary donations can be made through Assiniboine Park’s website.

“It’s always really nice to get fresh items,” Makenbach Giersch said. “And the animals -- they really appreciate it.”  

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