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Tennessee Aquarium Highlights Animal Enrichment
Learn How to Care For Your Pet during
Tennessee Week for the Animals

Penguin with snow

Chattanooga, Tenn. (September 6th, 2007) – What do Mr. Potatohead, shaved ice and a paper bag filled with nuts have in common?  All are important tools to help keep an animal’s mind in tip-top condition.

Caring for all of the animals at the Tennessee Aquarium requires much more than feeding restaurant quality food and giving expert veterinary checkups.  It also means providing stimulating activities to enrich their minds as well. “The instant we take an animal into our care we assume complete responsibility for its welfare, both physical and mental,” says Julia Gregory senior educator at the Aquarium.  “And that makes behavioral enrichment every bit as important as nutrition, exercise and checkups.  We need to take care of the mind too.”

September 22nd through the 30th has been designated by Governor Bredesen as Tennessee Week for the Animals to bring further awareness to the love and joy that animals bring to our lives. During this week, educators and husbandry staff members at the Tennessee Aquarium will highlight the importance of animal enrichment activities and how this can relate to anyone with pets at home.

Mr. Potatohead is one of the many toys seen in the habitat of the Giant Pacific Octopus for example.  Octopi are highly intelligent and they love anything new and unusual to investigate or play with. The hyacinth macaws enjoy a spray bottle shower or being given a paper bag with grapes or nuts inside.  Both are enrichment activities the birds can’t get enough of.

Shaved ice serves as enrichment for penguins who love to hop on or peck at piles brought into the exhibit occasionally.  And the snowy treat is also excellent mental stimulation for otters.  “The otters get snow with fish in it and they like that because they like to dig in it to find the treat,” says Senior Aviculturist Amy Graves.  “In the wild, otters dig a lot so this activity matches their natural behavior.”

And it’s not just the animals at the Tennessee Aquarium that require enrichment; any pet at home needs the same mental TLC.  “Enrichment is different for different species.  So you need to know your animal and what’s natural for them,” says Gregory. “Dogs for example need a job. For some breeds this could mean patrolling the fence-line.  For a terrier it might mean creating a dirt pile for them to dig through.”

Cats also require enrichment, especially if someone has just one cat in the home. “A cat needs toys and human interaction.  Without mental stimulation a cat, like any animal, will become less active, gain weight and may become destructive to themselves or their surroundings,” says Gregory.

Birds also need human interaction to stay mentally fit.  “Birds need a partner or someone in the home a lot to interact with them,” says Graves.  Birds also enjoy toys and playtime with humans to keep their minds active.

Here are the top five pet enrichment tips according to Graves and Gregory:

  1. Enrichment needs to be safe.
  2. Enrichment activities need to be supervised
  3. Enrichment needs to be species appropriate
  4. Enrichment needs to be random to be effective
  5. The best form of enrichment is attention from the pet owner

During Tennessee Week for the Animals visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium will be able to learn more about enrichment during the daily penguin keeper talks.


The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $19.95 per adult and $10.95 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

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