Mirrors reflect wild world at Werribee Open Range Zoo

18 August 2022

The animals at Werribee Open Range Zoo are being introduced to their own reflection this week, with one important purpose – to stimulate their natural wild behaviours.

The thought-provoking activity, that involves zookeepers placing mirrors in animal habitats, is part of the Zoo’s multifaceted approach to provide the highest quality welfare for the animals in its care.

Werribee Open Range Zoo Australian Natives Coordinator, Jacinda Goodwin said mirrors have been introduced to Koalas, Orange-bellied parrots, Vervet monkeys, Slender tailed meerkats and Leopard tortoises to challenge their critical thinking and encourage beneficial social interactions.

“In the wild, animals would come across their own reflections when looking into a large body of water, so the mirrors are one of the methods we can use to replicate that experience at the Zoo,” Ms Goodwin said.

“There are some species, such as the Vervet monkeys, that have the cognitive ability to look in the mirror and recognise their own reflection,” Ms Goodwin said. “This can be a great challenge for the monkeys; they don’t automatically recognise their reflection as themselves. Like a good brain teaser, we observe them investing considerable time into
trying to work out who the other monkey is.

“Other animals, like Koalas and Orange-bellied parrots, may perceive their reflection as another member of their species, so the reflections can stimulate social behaviours, such as investigation, vocalising or flocking.

“For other species, we may see a territorial response to perceiving another animal in their habitat through their reflection. This is a natural behaviour that they would exhibit in the wild when territories overlap, and in some social species, who live in mobs or packs, these experiences can encourage valuable group cohesion behaviours.”

Every animal in the care of Zoos Victoria’s three properties is given the opportunity to learn and encounter new and challenges with a variety of enriching experiences offered daily.

Zoos Victoria Animal Behaviour Specialist, Sue Jaensch said each experience is carefully and strategically designed, taking into account variables such as species, personality and age, to ensure it is engaging for its recipients.

“Zookeepers make sure that the animals have the choice to participate and monitor their reaction, adjusting the activity for the individual if they need to,” Ms Jaensch said. “They use their knowledge of species and the individuals they work with to continually enhance the lives of the animals in their care.”