In 2017, Lincoln Park Zoo staff observed that two resident pygmy hippos spent quite a lot of time sitting, standing, or lying down—and little time foraging for food. In order to simultaneously encourage mental stimulation and reduce their risk of obesity, Animal Care staff set out to motivate the hippos to actively explore their habitat in search of food.
The solution: automated belt feeders that distribute 80 percent of the hippos’ daily diet to different locations at unpredictable times. Using ZooMonitor, a zoo-developed behavioral monitoring tool, the team observed a 15 percent increase in hippo activity levels.
But this work is never done. The hippos, like all the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo, have ever-changing needs and preferences. Today, animal welfare scientists continue to monitor hippo activity, and Animal Care staff still use these feeders to keep the hippos engaged and curious. Through the evaluate-and-enhance cycle, Animal Care staff can evolve their techniques right along with them.