Published 1/11/2013 in Features : ColumnsUnless you've just redecorated or renovated, when you walk through your house you see the same old things and you know exactly what everything is used for. Or do you? Let a zookeeper walk through your house and you may find that many items have different uses. An empty milk jug or water cooler jug can become a puzzle feeder for a wide variety of species, from capuchin monkeys to giraffes, with the simple addition of a few holes.
Cardboard in all shapes and sizes offers a myriad of opportunities for entertainment. Empty cereal boxes with the addition of some hay or shredded paper and a few goodies create a treasure hunt for a spider monkey. Round cardboard oatmeal containers or breakfast pastry boxes find second lives as perfect dwellings for hedgehogs. Cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls or the rolls from wrapping paper can become treasure troves of goodies or just something different to chew on, look through or hide in, depending on the species using it. Large boxes, cardboard tubes and a little creativity can be combined to create creatures that can be stalked and pounced on by leopards and jaguars.
Monkeys and many birds find the reflection in non-breakable mirrors intriguing. Pinwheels catch the attention of lions, monkeys and birds alike. An anteater loves almost nothing more than licking and following a trail of vinegar. Emus and rheas often pick at large shiny silver spoons hung as a mobile. A pill bottle containing a few dried kernels of corn secured by a child-proof cap makes a great noisemaker for a ferret or a small parrot.
But it's not all fun and games when it comes to repurposing ordinary items for zoo use. A wire planter basket makes a good foundation for a bird nest. Dwarf lemurs enjoy catching a nap in a vine ball. PVC pipe, depending on its size, can become a maze or a secure hiding location for any number of appropriately sized species. An old-fashioned feather duster can simulate a mother bird to a young rhea chick.
The top from a two-liter bottle makes a great funnel, but it also can become an anesthesia cone in a pinch. A pillow case is an excellent transportation container for a snake (be sure to knot it at the top), or when moistened with warm water it becomes a snake sauna of sorts to help the snake shed. Foam egg crate material makes excellent padding at the top of a shipping crate for birds.
A stocking cap with the top cut off or a sock with the toe cut out can become the perfect blindfold for an addax or an ostrich during a stressful situation or a veterinary procedure. Duct tape can be used to secure the pouch on a kangaroo and give a joey a little more time to mature before it comes out. Human pregnancy tests can be used on orangutans to give staff an alert as to whether or not the female is pregnant. Wardrobe boxes used for moving shirts and pants also can hold flamingos on a cross country trip (with a lining of bubble wrap for some extra comfort, please).
Necessity is the mother of invention. Little kids play more with the box than the expensive toy that came in it. Whichever train of thought inspires our repurposing of items, we're pretty good at it. Besides redirecting the purpose of an item, we're good at redirecting how you're day is going also. Are you feeling cooped up or just having a bad day? Visit the zoo and let us turn your day around.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.
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