One of the fundamental aims of any animal charity will be upholding the ‘5 freedoms’; these are the 5 aspects of animal welfare that determine how animals should be treated. These are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst;
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease;
- Freedom from discomfort;
- Freedom from fear and distress;
- Freedom to express natural behaviour.
It is the last of these, for species to be able to display behaviours that they would in the wild, that has got staff at our Sanctuary in Birmingham thinking of new ways to encourage natural behaviours in their 21 lovely donkeys.
In the wild donkeys are social, inquisitive and active animals who will investigate new tastes, sounds and smells with a deal of caution, but also with interest. We wanted to peak the donkeys' natural inquisitiveness with new and interesting smells - and so we decided to spice things up! Using new smells as a form of sensory enrichment is a common tactic with zoos, wildlife collections and animal sanctuaries and so, after a bit of research, we decided to use something we knew the donkeys had never smelt before… paprika!
Grooms Georgie and Andy spread small amounts of paprika on the ground, as well as on branches and fence posts surrounding the donkeys’ fields. Standing back and eager to see what the donkeys would do, they watched as the 21 boys showed them more positive behaviour than they were even expecting to see. The donkeys’ curious nature was instantly apparent, with the boys calmly walking up to the areas where the paprika had been spread. Sniffing, nuzzling and pawing the ground, the donkeys interacted with each other and showed no signs of food aggression, which can occasionally accompany enrichment associated with food in large groups. The donkeys stretched their upper lip, a typical response to processing new smells, and the boys rubbed up against each other’s noses, a lovely display of social interaction. And, nicest to watch of all, some of the donkeys wanted to get down and have a roll in it!
It was lovely to see the enrichment encouraging wild-type behaviour - foraging, inquisitiveness, sociality and movement over a large area. After this spicy success, the team are looking forward to developing new ways to ensure the donkeys have the freedom to express their natural behaviour.