New Elephant Enrichment Toys Courtesy of Mass Art


Everyone’s favorite elephants Emily and Ruth recently received some new enrichment toys, courtesy of MassArt students.

While working on their designs for the new toys, sculpture, painting, and industrial design students paid several visits to the zoo, where they had the opportunity to meet Emily and Ruth and pitch their design ideas to our staff.

What resulted were Emily and Ruth’s new wooden pinwheel toys, which consist of oak timbers and metal bolts sealed with polyurethane. These pinwheels have special openings to hold the elephants’ favorite snacks, including hay cubes and popcorn.

These new toys were designed to fit Emily and Ruth’s personalities. Emily loves removing nuts and bolts, and Ruth likes manipulating and drumming on objects.

Based on Chinese wooden puzzle toys, the new pinwheel design is intended to mimic elephants’ natural behavior of foraging for food using their trunks and feet. These new toys require Emily and Ruth to use similar efforts to retrieve their snacks.

This intriguing project stems from an untraditional class called Toys for Elephants, which was founded by Professor Rich Brown of MassArt eight years ago.

According to Brown, the class originally responded to hypothetical problems, so working with real elephants is a new experience for them. The class was excited to create something that would entertain the elephants and increase their quality of life.

Here at Buttonwood Park Zoo, we are dedicated to enhancing the experiences of all our animals.

“Part of the challenge with animals in a captive setting is to keep them engaged and give them new and innovative things to experience,” says Shara Crook Martin, our assistant director. “It makes a big difference to have the class create novel items every year.”

Past toys created by the class include Emily and Ruth’s steel toys, trough swing, and tire tower. All the toys include fun treats for them to enjoy if they can successfully maneuver them. We are excited to continue working with MassArt students and see what new designs they can come up with.

These enrichment toys are a great compliment to our newly expanded Asian elephant habitat which, by the way, is just the first step in our exciting new Master Plan. This addition gives Emily and Ruth almost double the space they had before. For more information about our Master Plan and all the fun new additions coming to Buttonwood Park Zoo, click here:

Be sure to pay us a visit to see the new enrichment activities in action!