The Pingtung Rescue Center in Taiwan has been challenging their animals with various tasks to make sure they are physically and mentally active, and to rehabilitate their natural instincts.
Animal keepers in the center have been placing food in various locations, requiring more effort to find it. For Formosan black bears, food is put in tree holes. The bears have to climb in the trees and use their sense of smell to find their next meal. Macaques have their food wrapped in parcels, which they have to take apart.
One explanation for engaging the animals with more challenges, is that it is better for their mental health. A article on the topic published in Taiwan Panorama states, “Once the [animals] are in captivity, it is like putting a person in a prison cell-they easily become anxious and then all kinds of ‘stereotyped behaviors’ appear, and the animals can even engage in self-mutilation.” The food challenges help stimulate mental activity and help rehabilitate the animal’s natural instincts to work to find their food.
The Pingtung Rescue Center rescues animals that were illegally smuggled, sold, and abandoned, from Taiwan and other nations. Some animals come from private zoos or circuses, and other animals come from families who bought the young endangered animal as a cute baby pet, and later abandoned it when it grew older and more unmanageable.
Wild animals evolved to live and move in much larger spaces than they inhabit when they are in captivity. So they need more strenuous activity in order to have a normal and healthy life. Linda Tseng, an animal keeper there said, “This is a new idea we are trying out to make life more fun for them!”
The difficult tasks have also been extended to tigers. Their meat is placed on a pole two meters above ground, so they have to jump to get it. A fifteen-year-old female tiger learned to jump three meters. Previously, she had experienced weakness in her rear legs.
Orangutans at the center have their food placed in baskets, which are on a wheel. The orangutans have to turn a crank to move the wheel, so they can reach the different types of foods in the baskets. They have to exert physical effort in order to eat, rather than simply having food put next to them on the ground everyday.
The center says the health benefits generated by the animal engagement activities has improved their health, and reduced medical expenses for the center.