Sakar always gets his beehive. The male sloth bear repeatedly swats at the papier-mache contraption hanging from a bungee cord inside his enclosure, driven by the sweet promise of the mealworms and raisins packed inside.
"It almost ends up like a piñata by the time he tears it down," says Cleveland Metroparks Zoo associate curator of animals Tad Schoffner. "Things explode in all directions, and then he picks up the pieces."
Sakar and other animals, ranging from cockatoos to lions, will be showing off their natural instincts during the zoo's Creature Comforts event Aug. 11. The enrichment demonstrations will involve more than 20 kinds of animals and are scheduled on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Like Sakar's beehive, a few other demonstrations feature elaborate papier-mache creations made by zoo volunteers. For example, Aurora the polar bear stalks an igloo packed with fish while Jack the fossa climbs to the farthest reaches of his enclosure to reach a "lemur" filled with chunk beef.
Another one features huge ice blocks loaded with fruit that elephants can crush in a single step.
"It's our chance to showcase what we do every day of the year," Schoffner says, adding that the zoo's daily animal-enrichment exercises are often less elaborate than what visitors will see Aug. 11. He and his colleagues are constantly looking for new ways to stimulate the animals that live at the zoo.
The easiest, Schoffner says, is using food to encourage foraging. Others involve using scents — ranging from straw from a zebra's holding pen to herbs and spices and even perfume — to transform environments inhabited by critters with a keen sense of smell.
"Visually, the exhibit looks no different than the day before," Schoffner says. "But it's very different to the animal."
While demonstrations featuring large carnivores such as lions and tigers are typically big draws, those involving smaller animals can be very entertaining, too. Schoffner mentions the Batagur turtles in the zoo's Rainforest. All it takes are a few vegetables to spur the slow-movers into action.
"Sometimes it's fun to watch the competition," he says. "You may get a turtle on each end of a carrot, pulling in different directions."