CCAD Students Create Toys for Columbus Zoo Animals

Chris Gaitten
The otters check out the cardboard tower. Allen created it for lynxes and watched YouTube videos of cats interacting with different objects to get ideas. She designed the slits hoping the lynxes would rub against them; when the tower went to otters instead, zoo staff used them to hold fish.

Audrey and Wildcat, a pair of North American river otters, come bounding into their habitat oblivious to the students from the Columbus College of Art & Design, who watch expectantly. With urging from a zoo staff member, the otters investigate a cardboard tower made by student Abigail Allen. One of the otters devours the fish sticking through slits in the sides, and someone cheers when the structure topples.

The students are taking a course on animal enrichment design, or crafting interactive objects for wildlife. Basically, otters are the clients, says instructor Charlotte Belland, who created the class last year with help from the staff at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Allen, who also made different enrichment devices for other animals, hopes to become a professional designer of pet products. “When I saw this class existed, I got so excited,” she says.

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A fox snake slithers up a bridgelike structure. Snakes are typically slow to explore new objects, so Belland and staffers were surprised when this one climbed on within minutes. Like all the other items, it was made without tape, glue or staples. (Photo by Amanda Carberry)
A cockatoo plays with a toy. Enrichment, which can be a temporary item or a permanent aspect of the habitat, is a regular part of the zoo’s schedule. It’s planned about once a week for reptiles, whereas cockatoos could have some sort of enrichment as often as three times a day. (Photo by Amanda Carberry)
Two silvered leaf langurs explore one of the more complex contraptions. A cereal treat was put on top to draw them in, and then a door opened to reveal a compartment filled with food from their regular diet, including squash, broccoli, lettuce and cucumber. (Photo by Amanda Carberry)
A young mandrill tears open a set of small objects in the shape of pyramids. The zoo’s curators picked which types of animals would be good for the project, and students created items that could engage multiple species. Colobus monkeys also received the pyramids. (Photo by Amanda Carberry)


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