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Approaches to evaluating enrichment

There are different approaches to evaluating enrichment. As the ultimate aim is to improve animal welfare, you will need to identify and assess suitable welfare indicators. Often this is done by recording changes in the animals’ behaviour, though physiological measures are sometimes used (e.g. cortisol levels in faeces as a marker of stress).

In this section we outline three behaviour-based approaches for evaluating enrichment:

  • Simple monitoring of behaviour in the presence and absence of the enrichment using an ethogram.
  • Preference tests to assess which of two or more enrichment items is preferred.
  • Motivation tests that aim to establish how much work the animals will do to access an enrichment item and therefore how much they value it.

The approach that is most suitable for you and your facility, and the types of data you collect, will depend on the aims of your enrichment, what you are able to measure, your skillset and schedule, and the resources available to you.

Conducting a study to gain insight into what animals want can be broken down into distinct steps. To enable you to do this we have provided example study protocols, which can be tailored to your circumstances. We also provide advice on what to consider before you begin, and how to improve the scientific quality of your study.

Additional resources

Protocols and data analysis

Online articles and frameworks

  • An article focusing on evaluating enrichment for zoo animals, which contains information that can also be applied to animals in a research setting.
  • A review article focusing on enrichment for captive animals, which includes sections on using enrichment to improve welfare in captivity and evaluating the success of enrichment. Note that this article was originally published in 1989 and therefore the referenced studies are dated. However, the general information within the article remains relevant.
  • The S.P.I.D.E.R. framework established by Disney's Animal Kingdom to develop, initiate and maintain enrichment and animal training programmes. The components are setting goals, planning, implementing, documenting, evaluating and readjusting.