Plants and Animals

Watch as a Zoo Gives Its Animals Mirrors For Self-Expression and Entertainment

Watch as a Zoo Gives Its Animals Mirrors For Self-Expression and Entertainment

Australia’s Werribee Open Range Zoo is exposing some of its animals to their own reflections during mirror week. The encounter will pique the interest of the animals and offer knowledge to the keepers who are keenly observing how each one reacts to discover variations within and between species.

Zoos (at least the excellent ones) have long since gotten past the idea that all they had to do was keep their animals physically and mentally alive so that visitors would come to see them. Zoos are now worried—possibly even fixated—on offering enrichment, or intellectual stimulation, to keep the animals from becoming bored. They also give the rest of us some fantastic visuals in the process.

Werribee, west of Melbourne, has more room than an inner city zoo, which makes it simpler to keep the animals from getting bored. The zoo has chosen to use the same instrument across five species in order to test the efficacy of the strategy because it still feels that its animals require some further enrichment.

According to a statement from the Zoo, Jacinda Goodwin, “in the natural, animals would encounter their own reflections when looking into a vast body of water, thus the mirrors are one of the strategies we can utilize to duplicate that experience at the Zoo.” Some species, like vervet monkeys, have the cognitive capacity to recognize their own reflection when they look in a mirror.

Even better, it takes the monkeys some time to realize they are staring in the mirror. Like a good brain teaser, Goodwin continued, “we see them spending a lot of time trying to figure out who the other monkey is.” They use their brains while doing this, which prevents boredom for a while.

Goodwin noticed that while some of the monkeys didn’t seem to be able to understand the connection, they still playedfully altered their facial expressions to show amusement.

According to Goodwin, “other animals, including koalas and orange-bellied parrots, may regard their mirror as another member of their species, therefore the reflections might drive social behaviors, such inquiry, vocalization, or flocking.”

The Zoo is especially concerned with maintaining the happiness of its resident population because orange-bellied parrots are among the most endangered birds in the world. “We saw flock members going up to and vocalizing toward their reflection. Since these behaviors are consistent with how they interact with their flock mates, we infer they are perceiving their reflection as a different individual of their species, Goodwin told IFLScience.

While the mirror stimulates the koalas to explore, they don’t seem overly concerned about the potential of an intruder if there isn’t an accompanying unique aroma because they rely as much on smell as they do on sight.

“We don’t leave mirrors in their cages for a long time; we want to be a unique experience, a problem for [the animals] to solve,” said Sue Jaensch, an animal behavior specialist at the Victoria Zoo, to IFLScience. Jaensch stated that the keepers are trying to elicit a specific behavioral response from each animal. If they don’t obtain that, they adjust their future enrichment plans accordingly.

Mirrors could be used by people who are concerned about leaving their pets alone at home, according to Jaensch, but they should first watch the animals’ initial reaction to the mirror to make sure they are not in distress.

Meerkats and leopard tortoises are the other participants in the program. The zoo is primarily recognized, however, for its enormous animals such as giraffes with unique appetites, rhinoceroses, and American bison. Jaensch to IFLScience that the zoo has no current intentions to attempt to interact with these residents in this manner, but if it did, creating mirrors that would withstand a charging rhino might prove to be more difficult than simply making them big enough. She remarked, “We always conduct in-depth safety evaluations. “We always need to be able to remove mirrors safely, and we never install breakable mirrors.”