American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK)

American Association of Zoo Keepers at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Enriching the Lives of Zoo Animals.

The American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. (AAZK) is an international, non-profit organization with local chapters throughout the world comprised of dedicated animal care professionals and related persons interested in promoting animal keeping and animal care as a profession.

AAZK serves as a focal point of current information and techniques available to the professional Zoo Keeper. The field keeper is the frontline individual responsible for the daily care and feeding of animals. The role AAZK plays in today’s modern zoos and aquariums is educating the professional keeper and offering them a venue to exchange important information about their profession in the fields of animal husbandry, environmental enrichment, and reproductive success to name a few.

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Local Chapter Info

Our local AAZK chapter at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has many active members from various departments of the Zoo who are dedicated to improving the animals’ quality of life, as well as helping to protect their wild counterparts’. They do that through fundraising and awareness at events and through social media.

Animal Enrichment—AAZK provides funds for animal enrichment, which is very important in the care of animals. It helps promote natural behaviors and a better quality of life for the animals by providing novelty, activity and interest in a variety of ways depending on the species. For example, AAZK helps provide paint for Lucky, our painting elephant. We also provide novelty foods to put into cannolis, a cardboard tube filled with treats. These are just a couple of examples of enrichment that AAZK provides for the animals.

Conservation—AAZK also plays a major role in conservation. The organization provides assistance to species survival in the wild. Our funds purchase acres of rainforest, set up sanctuaries and help provide funding for conservation efforts around the world.


Conservation Action

AAZK plays a major role in conservation. The organization provides assistance to species survival in the wild. Over the years, funds have helped purchase acres of rainforest, set up sanctuaries, as well as helping provide funding for conservation efforts around the world.

Below are a few projects that AAZK of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is proud to assist with:
Vulpro (a non-profit organization in South African whose aim is to be the leading vulture conservation programme for advancing knowledge, awareness, and innovation in the conservation of African vulture populations for the benefit and well-being of society.)

Kalaweit (a non-profit organization in South-east Asia whose mission is to aid the conservation of gibbons and their habitat in Indonesia)

International Rhino Foundation, Action for Cheetah, and Lewa Conservancy receive support through the Bowling for Rhinos (BFR) national event. Since BFR’s inception in 1990, AAZK chapters across the country have raised over $3.5 million to protect the world’s remaining 25,000 rhinos in both Africa and Asia. To learn more about BFR visit the upcoming events listings on this webpage which will list it when it’s close to the event, AAZK’s national BFR website,, and others which include:,, and

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Animal Enrichment

Animal Enrichment at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

by Dina Bredahl

Area Supervisor – Primate World, Monkey Pavilion & Conservation Barn

Enrichment of exotic animal species in zoos is important for several reasons. Ideally it exercises the mind and body of the animal. These animals have to work hard to survive in the wild. Many animals have to graze, browse, hunt or forage for food for many hours every day. This often involves being physically active and mentally challenged for a large portion of their waking hours. We try to simulate this in captivity as often as possible.

  • If an animal is given a special feeder that requires tool use or manipulation in order to access the “treats,” this is more challenging, time consuming and rewarding than simply putting the treat in a food bowl.
  • If we freeze pineapples and cantaloupes for the bears, it keeps them busy as they gnaw and dig at them.
  • All the primates like bobbing for apples or other fruits.
  • Large rawhide bones keep the lions busy for long periods, while blood-sicles are fun for the tigers.
  • The otters get fresh oysters or clams to spur on their feeding instincts.
  • Many animals will work for food-rewards by doing trained behaviors that can assist with veterinary procedures.
  • Many animals, such as goats, apes, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, and bears, enjoy getting browse.  Browse consists of tree branches cut from non-toxic trees. Most animals eat the leaves, and some even eat the bark as well.
  • Paper mache piñatas are fun for the animals, whether or not “treats” are hidden inside.
  • For tree-dwelling species, such as orangutans, an ice treat (which is frozen kool-aid with nuts, fruit and berries inside) on top of their enclosure or skylight keeps them active and arboreal for hours.

There are other ways to provide enrichment that do not involve food. An overfed animal is not a healthy animal!

  • Scent enrichment is a great way to temporarily change an animal’s environment… the better the animal’s sense of smell, the more effective this is. Lemurs do a lot of scent marking in the wild, so they react to perfume sprayed on their trees. The wolves show a lot of interest in buck urine. The komodo dragon gets very active when vanilla extract is sprayed in her exhibit. When the lions receive a big pile of elephant feces in their enclosure, they will actually roll in it. In the wild they do this to mask their own scent, so prey species don’t smell a lion approaching (they smell an elephant!).
  • We “recycle” a lot of animal materials. The primates enjoy playing with colorful bird feathers and the feline species will hunt down patches of goat hair or snake sheds hidden in their exhibit. By changing an animal’s environment, they are stimulated to explore and use their senses. Simply turning on a sprinkler or playing tropical bird calls can be very enriching.
  • Another non-food type of enrichment is “toys”. This can vary widely; boomer balls and other sturdy plastic products come in all shapes and sizes. A new log can be loads of fun for the mangabeys or bears to debark and find insects. A milk crate can keep the orangutans busy for hours.we have observed them using milk crates as stools and hats; they will stuff their entire bodies in crates; and they have even hauled large quantities of mulch from outdoors to indoors using a milk crate. Grain bags are fun to rip up or use as an umbrella.
  • Finally, it is very enriching to change an animal’s perch, trees, or rope. The apes use their firehose hammocks and hanging barrels all the time, and many animals enjoy sunning or climbing on a hanging platform.

Every enrichment idea is first submitted as a written proposal, which is submitted for the approval of the animal management and veterinary staff to make sure that the item or idea is safe for the animals.

Aside from safety factors, animal enrichment ideas are only limited by a lack of imagination!


Zookeeping Links

Contact Us

American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc.
4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road
Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80906  USA

Phone: 719-424-7833
Fax: 719-633-2254
E-mail: [email protected]