Enrichment & Recycling
North Carolina Zoological Park
Ashboro, North Carolina
I was introduced to the world of animal enrichment when one of our lion keepers mentioned to me that it would be great to have a papier mâche zebra for our lions to “kill”. Time did not allow me to ask questions about the comment at that moment; but some months later she mentioned it again and I started to ask questions: “What would it prove? How could it be made? What things could be used? Where would it be built?
Another of our volunteers, Ernie Wilkinson and I decided we would take on the challenge of building a papier mâche zebra. We soon learned that there did not seem to be any instructions out there to do what we wanted to do. So we approached the keeper in charge of animal enrichment for his ideas. Following a few “meetings” we learned what we could and could not use to build the animal. The list of acceptable items we could use, as determined by our animal
staff is as follows: Flour (all-purpose); water; newspaper (soy based ink); white copy paper; non-corrugated cardboard and water-based tempera paint.
I have a spare basement room with access to water so this is the place we chose to start our project. We located an empty refrigerator box for the beginning of our first animal. It was important to remove any staples and tape that remained in and on the box. Carpet tubes were perfect for the legs and neck. A soft-drink (12-pack) box was used as the head. I don’t know how much newspaper we used on that first animal! We tried very hard to eliminate all the square edges and succeeded only minimally. What we ended up with, once the stripes were added, was a zebra on steroids! (We did make a hole in the back of the zebra so the keepers could add some “treats”. We eventually learned that this step was not necessary.)
Having a place to work where the project does not have to be moved during construction, we feel, is important. Building an animal involves more than one step, so drying time between steps is necessary. We start by securing the legs to the body. Then the neck and head are added. This is also the time to start adding more newspaper to create the look we want. Since covering newspaper with water colored paint doesn’t work well, the next step is covering everything with white copy paper. And finally it must be painted.
Along the way, we have learned better ways to make animals by trial and error. We have even made smaller animals (zoological term is “LBT”: Little Brown Things) for cougars, wild dogs and even a papier mâche bird for our caracal. The most interesting thing we have made to date was an ostrich using real ostrich feathers. The real challenge was figuring out how to make a two-legged large animal to stand securely.
The papier mâche animals led us to another papier mâche project: Easter Eggs!
This was really quite easy, after making the animals. All we needed were large balloons, a clothesline for hanging so they would dry, some newspaper strips, flour, water and white copy paper. The fun part of this project is painting the eggs after they dry. You can use your creative side. The important thing is to remember to remove the balloons once the papier mâche dries.
Making papier mâche enrichment animals is a good way to recycle newspaper, cardboard and used copy paper (Please note, copy paper with print on both sides will not work. Neither will paper that has pen ink on it: it can’t be painted over without ‘bleeding through’.).
It has been fun to see how much we can create. It has also been awesome watching the animals responding to the “intruders” in their exhibits.
Good luck with your papier mâche projects!