Animal enrichment

Animal Enrichment

Enrichment is one of the most important ways the Tennessee Aquarium provides extraordinary animal care.

 “All animals lead very unpredictable lives in the natural world. It’s very normal for them to work for their food and stay alert in their ever-changing world, so we use enrichment items to stimulate their minds and senses.” says Sara Carlson, the Aquarium’s manager of behavioral husbandry and animal encounter programs. 

Whether it’s building a rope swing for the Hyacinth Macaws, providing a tortoise with a tasty new treat, or asking the Giant Pacific Octopus to use its incredible smarts to solve puzzles, enrichment is a full-time job. Our animal husbandry staff work every day to provide Aquarium animals with the most nurturing and engaging environment possible. 

 While enrichment is a very important part of keeping animals healthy and happy, a lot of times, it simply looks like play. For example, it could be the introduction of a new holiday-themed toy...

...or special treats inside ice discovered in an animal's habitat.

Get Involved

The Aquarium’s animal experts have put together an Amazon Wish List of more than 300 enrichment items for these adorably deserving creatures. All of the items have been carefully chosen to meet enrichment goals while being safe for the individual animals. You can shop online for your favorite creatures here.

A special thanks to those who have already donated items from our wishlist (like the bubble machine our penguins enjoyed for the first time below)!

UTC Research

Students from the Psyhcology and Biology departments at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga recently collaborated on an environment enrichment project which resulted in the construction of a special raft for our North American River Otters. Read more about the project here. (Video below by the UTC University Relations department)

Environmental Enrichment Mission and Goal Statement

The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium’s Environmental Enrichment Program is goal-oriented and purpose driven to provide choice and opportunity to all of our animals and encourage natural behaviors. The Tennessee Aquarium shall involve all staff members and volunteers. We strive to maintain the highest standards of animal welfare at all times while also keeping the safety and health of all of our animals and staff in mind. We consider enrichment to be an integral part of our daily husbandry routine.

Enrichment is defined as a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animal’s behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare (1999 AZA Behavior Scientific Advisory Group).

Environmental enrichment can improve or enhance the overall habitat an animal lives in by allowing them the choice to investigate and interact with their surroundings. We are able to enrich the environments of our animals by making daily changes to their living area, be it minimal or significant. Anything added to an animal’s living area can stimulate mental and physical well-being. Stress may also be reduced and provide a better habitat for successful reproduction and overall healthy animals. We will always keep the utmost safety of our animals in mind and maintain clean, fresh enrichment.

While enriching our animals’ lives, we are also enriching our guests’ experience. Enrichment can help us educate our guests about the natural world around them as well as empower them to take similar actions home to their own animal companions.