The Behavioral Husbandry Program provides keepers with a dynamic new set of tools to help promote the well-being of animals in their care.

Zoos traditionally have monitored the health, nutrition, and demographics of their animal populations in order to provide optimal daily care. Our Behavioral Husbandry Program adds another key component: behavioral husbandry. Using environmental enrichment and operant conditioning techniques, keepers create opportunities for the animals to interact with their surroundings as they would in the wild, while also getting them involved and active in their own care.

Through positive reinforcement, operant conditioning helps create valuable behaviors in animals, and reduces or eliminates undesirable ones. For example, animals have learned to get on scales to be weighed, to take medicine, and to stay still during lab tests. Some even learn to tolerate the taking of blood.

Enriched Experiences
Behavioral husbandry offers a range of benefits for animals and guests alike. Something as simple as building a play structure for sloth bears can provide the animals with vital stimulation and offer an opportunity to practice a favorite exercise—climbing. Meanwhile, it also enhances guests’ visits: seeing a sloth bear in motion provides a more memorable experience than watching one at rest.

Behavioral observation, training, and enrichment are vital to the well-being and management of the animals in our care. Through the establishment of the Behavioral Husbandry Program and by incorporating these activities into daily animal management, Brookfield Zoo Chicago has positioned itself as a leader in the field of animal care.

Helping Animals Help Themselves
Veterinarians and keepers often face dilemmas when it comes to providing ongoing health maintenance to the animals in their care. While people generally can be induced to tolerate the taking of a blood sample or a physical exam, animals generally cannot.

But animals can be taught a wide range of cooperative behaviors that could one day prove life-saving. These include everything from presenting a limb for a blood sample to presenting an infant who may need medical care to a keeper.