CHEERS TO A HEALTHY NEW YEAR
We at Havasi Wilderness Foundation wish you a very 2016! And in honor of the New Year and the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions we wanted to give you some encouragement from the animal kingdom and tips on keeping your resolutions. Before I graduated from University I never really was interested in making resolutions, because for me the school year was more of a new start than January. But now I find myself like many others trying to figure out how I want this 2016 year to look: healthier, happier, braver, more time outside and in nature. . . And much more! But one of the most common resolutions each year has to do with health. Especially after the holidays filled with sweets, feasts, and celebrations, for many it’s time to get serious and get ready for summer! One cool thing about us is that we can learn a lot about how to keep some of those New Year’s Resolutions we can learn from some awesome zoo keepers and vets.
Many animals suffer from similar health problems that humans do: depression, obesity, anxiety, diabetes, arthritis, heart failure, among many others. Some of these are diet based and exercise related and others are not, but there are some interesting keys to change and to a healthier life that we can learn from animals. For most animal keepers there is a common trend in using “enrichment” for their animals. Enrichment is a more stimulating or an engaging way of feeding or interacting with the animals that allow them some mental or physical exertion in order to get a meal or accomplish something. I know speaking for myself I am not all that different from other animals. . . I am very motivated by food. And using this principle and applying challenges or obstacles to getting the food (or in getting exercise) enrichment helps to keep animals in zoo’s or other facilities healthier and simulates the challenges they’d face in the wild (or their natural life-style).
When I worked at the Natural History Museum, this was super common for the rats and opossum
living at the museum. For our opossum, we would use a cage with lots of room to climb and place food in areas that would require activity to get the food as well a small food maze. This maze would hide the food so the animal would have to smell or find creative ways to get to it. Similarly, finding ways to challenge yourself or to engage yourself in your environment really makes a difference. From the book: Zoobiquity, some zookeepers provided this principle to help some grizzlies get a healthier weight. The zoo-keepers made sure that the bears’ environment was more engaging and dynamic. In the wild, we can see how health can be dependent on socialization, or family groups. Most animals learn and grow and are healthier when they are in groups. Large cats learn their hunting skills as small cubs by playing, and by exercising with others. They rough-house, they play fight, they do it naturally. The inspiration in the animal world is endless!
So don’t be intimidated by your New Year’s Resolution this time around. Remember you aren’t alone in your efforts, plenty other humans and many animals are making similar strides toward a healthier lifestyle. So go for a walk or hike and don’t do it alone. Make it fun, make it challenging, and keep it interesting and occasionally spontaneous! And remember if you get into a rut, don’t give up, find something you are passionate about and some people you like to be with and do it together. We can live on the healthy and wild side and learn from the big cats: and make exercise a game to play. Good luck and Happy New Year!