Music Keeps The Mind Sharp — Even If You're An Animal In A Zoo

Smithsonian's National Zoo let its mammalian maestros play some musical instruments; it's a sensory experience they'd never get in the wild.
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Music Keeps The Mind Sharp — Even If You're An Animal In A Zoo

sloth bear wouldn't usually play the harmonica, but at a zoo, the experience stimulates her senses and mind.

Enrichment is any practice where zookeepers give animals something new — from perches to toys to exotic foods and scents. The idea is to encourage captive animals to keep their wild behaviors sharp or give them a mental challenge, some exercise or just an interesting toy to investigate.

"We want our animals to be as natural as possible," said Smithsonian zookeeper Jenny Spotten. "We want to encourage natural behaviors as much as possible."

At Smithsonian's National Zoo, keepers recently gave residents musical instruments. Animals definitely wouldn't find those in the wild, but they are unique to look at, to touch — and to listen to.

It's a bit avant-garde, yes, but a jam session can have real health benefits. Enrichment reduces stress, and makes zoo residents less likely to pick up unnatural behaviors, like pacing or swimming in circles.

And you have to admit that it's fun to listen to.