ContextA jam session is an event where musicians improvise together; a gamejam is designed to create space and time for participants to work in teams and rapidly prototype game designs, sharing a common theme and constraints; a zoojam is an opportunity for people to work on the design of novel enrichment opportunities for zoo-housed animals and corresponding activities that enhance the experience of their visitors.
Many zoos worldwide are searching for different ways to enrich the lives of captive animals to ensure their physical and psychological welfare. Zoos have an important role in preserving and researching species, as well as educating the public about wild animals and their behaviour.
Enabling captive animals to experience their natural predatory and avoidance behaviours is an interesting challenge for zoos, which is why we have chosen this as the focus of our workshop. While a variety of enrichment has been introduced to predatory species in order to encourage them to exhibit their natural behaviour patterns, aspects of the hunt are difficult to emulate without a live prey. This has particular significance for pack animals such as wild canids and felids, for whom hunting together may be an important social activity as well as providing exercise, cognitive stimulation and ultimately food.
Predators in zoos are not generally fed live prey because this is detrimental to the welfare of the hunted animal and generally considered by zoos to be a cause for public ethical concern. As a consequence, a number of zoos have installed mechanical devices to deliver food in a manner which promotes hunting behaviours. Digital technology has the potential to extend the welfare impact of such environmental enrichment, by allowing greater complexity and unpredictability, and responding to animals’ evolving needs.
As part of a parallel investigation, we will consider how to offer zoo visitors gaming experiences that map conceptually to the enrichment experiences offered to the animals, albeit with an alternative interface. The purpose of this is to further the zoo mission to educate the public about the animals in their care, inspire visitors' respect for animals, as well as stimulate interest in the exhibits and increase public awareness.