While the rest of the world awaits the arrival of the newest Animal Adventure resident, a FIRST® LEGO® League team in California has been cooking up ways to keep giraffes, otters, penguins, and wolves happy and busy in captivity.

Coach Brian and Team 17746 The Naturalists developed enrichment activities for selected animal residents of their local Six Flags, and he shares his team’s Project experience in today’s blog.


Our team was lucky enough to partner with Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California, for our ANIMAL ALLIESSM Project.  Our youth team members had the opportunity to develop enrichment items for four of the park’s resident animals – giraffes, otters, penguins, and wolves. We visited the park and the trainers took us around to the enclosures and discussed the challenges and requirements of animals in captivity.

Animal enrichment within a zoo is a way for trainers to encourage and stimulate natural behaviors in our animal ambassadors through sight, smell, taste, touch, and interaction. In a zoo setting, it is as important to provide mentally and physically enriching activities for the animals as it is to provide nutritious, well-balanced diets.

Without sensory stimulation and engaging activities, captive animals may become “bored” and “tired” of their surroundings, and may develop negative behaviors. Enrichment can help reduce those possibilities by changing their environment, encouraging the animals’ natural behaviors, and providing different experiences for their senses.

Our youth team members designed various enrichments within those parameters and presented them to the trainers at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Once the enrichments were selected, they had to be approved by veterinarians and meet USDA guidelines.  We had some materials donated and spent a few days building, then we delivered the enrichments to the park.  The trainers were so gracious that they let the team be present when they introduced the animals to their new toys!

For the giraffes, we built a PVC tree feeder:


The otters received a play board with several interactive toys:


The penguins are enjoying a wind-powered disco ball:


For the wolves, the item we designed was already produced by a company in Australia, (and we already had a lot of work planned for the other enrichments) so we ordered and donated a treat ball connected to a bungee cord.


As part of this, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is re-doubling their efforts in educational outreach. They created a new Enrichment Team within their trainers, and our team has been invited back to help with a new reptile show they are developing.  The trainers were so impressed with some of our designs that they are sharing them on trainer forums.

This was a really incredible experience for the students; they were able to design, build, and put their solutions into production.

Note: The Naturalists are coached by Brian and Kelly, and are sponsored by Hickman Charter School in Hickman, California. Caleb, Katie, Levi, Logan, Noah, and Theron are the team’s youth members.

Do you have an ANIMAL ALLIES Project story to share? Tweet us @firstlegoleague or email fll-media@firstinspires.org to tell us about it!