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Wildlife Park to hold Enrichment Day event February 18

By Florida's Original NatureCoaster™ Posted on January 31, 2019

Learn about how Animal Enrichment helps the Park’s residents

Guest article by Dave Brown, Volunteer at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and The Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park will hold their first Enrichment Day on Monday, February 18, 2019 beginning at 10:00 A.M. at the park located in Homosassa, Florida.

Visitors may see cardboard boxes, paper bags, newspaper, balls, various toys, shoes, papier mache, or other items in the habitats for each of the animals while walking around the park.  This “mess” is part of the enrichment program for each of the resident park wildlife.  Visitors will also see signs on habitats that state “Please excuse any mess as we introduce items into habitats to enhance and encourage natural behaviors.”

“Enrichment is as good for animal’s mental health as it is for their physical health,” said Wildlife Care Supervisor Tricia Fowler.

The fact is that when animals are put in captivity, no matter how beautiful and natural the environment, their opportunity to use their senses and behave as they would in the wild are limited.  This can lead to stress and boredom for the animals.

To address boredom, “enrichment activities” have been designed for most of the animals in the park.  These activities are geared to safely stimulate the natural behaviors of the animals, to allow them to exercise control or choice over the environment and to enhance their psychological and physiological well-being.

Enrichment Day on February 18 will give visitors the opportunity to better understand enrichment and view enrichment in action.

Enrichment is done 365 days a year at least once a day, and in many situations, twice a day.  All enrichment practices and items are veterinarian approved and are overseen by Park Rangers.

Conducting wildlife enrichment at the State Park requires specialized training. This is not something that you should do at home or at any wildlife park when you visit.  These are wild animals and the Park is not a zoo.

All the wildlife in the park have individual stories about how they came to the park, however they all share the same reason for being here: they are unable to survive in the wild on their own.

Enrichment typically takes place early in the morning and many times the animals have enjoyed their enrichment, such as ice, before the park opens.  The enrichment team sometimes places a scent trail in the enclosure before the animals come out of their night houses.  It’s not unusual to see one of the Florida Panthers or bobcats rolling in something in their habitat.

Enrichment is not restricted to mammals; the birds also get to participate in enrichment.  It is common to see a tennis shoe in with Beauty the golden eagle, ears of corn on the cob in the bald eagle habitat, or see one of the enrichment team members blowing bubbles to the pelicans.

“What a difference I have seen in the animals since we started this program,” said Andrea Junkunc, Park Services Specialist who oversees enrichment at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  “The captive wildlife here has always been enriched, but since this team has been organized, I have seen much improvement in our animal’s mental stimulation and activity level.  I am so proud of this team’s commitment to the wildlife at the park”.

At Enrichment Day, representatives from the Enrichment Team will be stationed at various places in the park to illustrate some of the items that are used by the team.   There will be a map for visitors to follow that will tell them the times and locations of each of the programs.  There will also be interactive games for the guests, a special presentation on enriching your pets at home, and the do’s and don’ts of enrichment.

There is no extra charge for Enrichment Day activities, however regular admission to the State Park applies.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located at 4150 South Suncoast Blvd. in Homosassa, Florida.  For more information, call the park at 352-628-5343.

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