By Stephanie Butzer
While it is the season of pumpkin spice lattes, something different was flavoring the atmosphere at the Conservators’ Center last Saturday.
On Nov. 2, the Center kicked off the second annual Pumpkin Prowl. The nonprofit organization rescues wildlife, preserves endangered species and provides educational tours ranging from personalized photo tours to general facility tours. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, pumpkins filled with scents and meat were placed in almost every animal enclosure.
“Just like us, animals need things to keep them lively and keep themselves excited about their daily life,” said Wildlife Educator Jesse Anderson, who created enrichment ideas for the animals. “It’s exciting to be able to provide them with new and interesting things and get them excited about things but it’s really important for the animal to maintain that interesting benefit between its daily life and having new things enriching its life or brought into its life.”
Pumpkins became a successful and seasonal way for animals like lions, tigers, binturongs to have sensory enrichment. Anderson said major parts of designing the enrichment included taking into account the animal’s personality and deciding how to creatively place the fruits around the enclosures. He focused on two types of enrichment when planning the Pumpkin Prowl: physical and sensory enrichment.
“The physical enrichment are the pumpkins hanging and swinging and things that are in precarious places so that if they knock them down, they will start rolling,” Anderson said. “With the young, playful cats we will use more of the physical enrichment, whereas with some of the animals that are a little bit older, they really like the sensory enrichment.”
The event was limited to the Center’s volunteer force before last year, when they decided to open the facility to visitors who would watch the animals tumble, crush and stick their faces in pumpkins, all of which were donated by multiple pumpkin farms.
“We decided it would be a great opportunity for the public to see how we work with our animals and how we enrich their lives,” said Julia Wagner, senior director of administration at the Center. “The animals had a great time running around, throwing pumpkins everywhere and this year we opened it up for two days, which has been so far very successful.”
The next and last Pumpkin Prowl will be Nov. 9 and Wagner said the Center is expecting just as many people as the first event. As the weather gets colder, the animals become more active so the Center looks into doing big events such as this during the cooler months.
“This is a great event for families and for adults,” Wagner said. “We really work to make our large events like this friendly to all different types of people, whether it be a family with small children, a young couple, whether it be friends wanting something to go do so we offer food trucks, beer and it’s a really great opportunity to get out and enjoy the weather.”
Dania Ermentrout came to the Center for the first time for the Pumpkin Prowl event. She said her favorite part of the experience was the lions rolling around with the pumpkins.
“I really wasn’t sure how all the different animals would react to the stimulation, but it was funny how some of them just wanted [the pumpkins] filled with meat and the other ones thought it was just this really amusing play toy,” Ermentrout said.
She said being so close to the animals became an intimate experience for her and her 4-year-old son, Asher, who continuously claimed the New Guinea Singing Dogs were the best animals at the Center because they were his friends.
“I felt like the animals are much more active and you can see them interact with their environments more,” Ermentrout said.
The Pumpkin Prowl was a walkabout event, where visitors were welcome to explore the facility at their own pace. Meanwhile, guides answered questions, helped people learn more about the Center’s mission and animals and ensured both animals and people were safe at all times.
The Conservators’ Center will have a similar event, called the Tree Toss, Jan. 4 and Jan. 11. In the past, substituting pine trees for pumpkins caused just as much excitement.
“We are, each year, adding more and more events to the calendar,” Wagner said. “We want to ensure that somebody who wants to come visit our animals has a lot of unique ways to do that throughout the year because visitors are the main source of what is funding our operations here at this point. Coming and participating at the Pumpkin Prowl is a direct connect to helping us connect to the animals.”