Among monkeys, there are dominant animals and those that are further down in the hierarchy of the group. Exactly such primates are happy when the food in the Augsburg Zoo is distributed with a so-called litter scoop. “The food is distributed across the entire enclosure. Then there is no risk of the dominant animals getting everything,” says curator Thomas Lipp. A throwing shovel costs 40 euros; donors can order it via the zoo’s Christmas wish list and send it directly to the zoo.
The Augsburg Zoo has been presenting for Christmas for a few years now a wish list of toys and equipment for the animals together. Other zoos in Germany have already come up with the idea. The Augsburg people have already received some throwing shovels, not just for their primates, but bungee ropes, scratching brushes and scent balls for big cats have also been delivered. “The response is very good. We think it’s nice that so many people want to do something good for the animals,” says Lipp.
The scent ball, for example, is a toy that you cannot buy in normal pet stores. The keepers put different scents into the balls; they work with cinnamon, for example, and often with feces – especially from prey animals. “This allows the big cats to live out their hunting instinct,” says Lipp. Experts call this “enrichment”. In the wild, animals are busy all day long, for example searching for food. In the zoo, the food is delivered free of charge, but the keepers there have to ensure that the animals in the enclosure are kept busy. Lipp explains that a lot of things, especially in big cats, come from the olfactory cells. The play balls can be attached with a bungee cord, which can withstand even strong cats, bears or elephants. The animals then occupy themselves with it for a while before their interest wanes again. “That’s why we alternate with the toys so the animals don’t get bored.”
Secateurs or garden waste bags are also on the wish list, not just utensils that are intended directly for the animals. The claw knife sharpener is suitable for manicures and pedicures of hoofed animals, scratching brushes like dwarf goats, cattle, antelopes and also giraffes. There are also expensive devices on the list, such as a professional landing net that costs 700 euros. “Many zoo animals are stronger than a normal pet, so special equipment made of sturdy material is needed to capture them for the vet, for example,” says Lipp. But there are also inexpensive requests: a small water basin for the local fire salamanders costs 14 euros.
A favorite trick of keepers is to hide food. Normal cardboard rolls or packages wrapped in wrapping paper are sufficient. The animals then have to make an effort to get the food. Tennis balls can be easily cut open to hide pellets or sunflower seeds that chimpanzees can finger, for example. Especially for primates like chimpanzees, the keepers come up with more elaborate games to ask the animals puzzles. Lipp gives the example of so-called poking boxes, in which the animals can push food back and forth with a wooden stick and thus get it out of the box. Some of the Augsburg chimpanzees are much more skilled at this than others.
Of course, the animals in the zoo don’t realize that Christmas is coming. One or two warmth-loving animals only long for summer to return in the icy cold and snowfall. However, there are certainly animals such as chimpanzees or the goats in the petting zoo with whom keepers are more close and therefore have a more intimate relationship than with aloof zoo animals. At the festival, these animals not only receive scratching brushes or tennis balls with hidden food – but also one or two more cuddles.