Burlap for Enrichment

Enrichment is a term we use for something that enhances the quality of our lives. Can something as simple as burlap make our lives better by producing opportunities to create, solve problems, or feel enthusiasm and happiness? A fabric with texture gives a unique feel and look that can inspire art, the natural durability makes it functional and abundant in our environment, the myriad of uses gives us the unlimited potential for invention. Often, we learn about ourselves while studying other animals and zoological parks have been using burlap for the daily enrichment of different animal species for years.


Satu is an orangutan at the San Diego Zoo and a couple of years ago was part of the effort for zookeepers to find ways to increase the physical and mental capabilities of captive animals. Enrichment in zoos involves anything you can give an animal that might stimulate curiosity and interest for any length of time. Satu found he enjoyed putting a piece of burlap over his head. His roommates, Indah and Karen liked to completely cover themselves in burlap while lying in a hammock and clutching a burlap bags with their feet while somersaulting. The choice to try burlap is not random.

Animals on exhibit are limited to items that are natural in appearance and hard to destroy. Orangutans and other apes are intelligent, strong, and creative. It is important that things being introduced to their enclosures cannot hurt them, be easily destroyed, or used as a tool for mischief. Other objects that fit this category are pinecones, palm fronds, gourds, and bamboo. They resemble matter and smells found in their natural habitat to bring out positive, normal behaviors. Burlap and palm fronds both act as tools for rain and sun protection. They also need strong materials to build a nest or bed every night. Burlap, straw, and cardboard work very well.

The material needs to mimic a natural function or purpose and kindle an instinct. At the Los Angeles Zoo, a lion lived to a ripe old age of 23 with surprises left in cardboard boxes containing things like burlap bags filled with straw bedding from an antelope exhibit. The smell of the natural prey captured his interest and the straw and burlap retained a scent encouraging play by rubbing, rolling and biting the toy, and inviting other lions to the game.

When it comes to zoos, much money is spent on saving species from extinction, veterinary care, and elaborate exhibits. By comparison, investing in organic materials to stimulate activity and happiness, is extremely inexpensive but carries a great benefit. Boredom is the biggest issue for these animals and enrichment is vital. A textured, tough, natural, and inexpensive fabric like burlap becomes a way to amuse, puzzle, distract and challenge the mind.blog2-bear

Between burlap prints and product designs, the look and feel of textured burlap embellishments on clothing, furniture, bags, shoes, and other functional merchandise, it is clear that burlap enriches the human world and spirit as well.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 29th, 2016 at 2:50 pm and is filed under Burlap.

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