Picasso or Panda? Budding Animal Artists Emerge at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

In this photo: giant panda Tian Tian

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Zoo


Sans berets, smocks or palettes, the animals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo are getting their paws dirty with non-toxic, water-based paint and creating one-of-a-kind works of art. Painting is one among many activities that fall under Animal Enrichment—a program that provides physically and mentally stimulating activities and environments for the Zoo’s residents. The animals have the opportunity not only to choose how to behave, but also to use their natural abilities and behaviors in new and exciting ways.


Enrichment is an integral part of the daily care of the species in the Zoo’s collection. Keepers and curators carefully study animal behavior and determine what kinds of enrichment are appropriate for each species and, occasionally, individual animals. Keepers have a number of novel options for enrichment. They may alter an exhibit; train an animal; introduce new smells, sounds, foods, and objects; or enlist an animal in a research project, such as a study about foraging skills or cognitive research. Adding a variety of engaging activities helps keepers ensure the Zoo’s animals have a high quality of life.


Though the subjects of the animals’ paintings remain mysterious, the ways visitors can support the Zoo’s enrichment program are as clear as a starry, starry night. Drop off any size canvas, art paper, paint brush or non-toxic, water-based paint at the Visitor Center for the animal care staff to distribute. Animal keepers are collecting gifts for the animals this holiday season. Browse the list of needed items on the Enrichment Giving Tree section of the Zoo’s website or the Enrichment page of the Zoo’s online store.


Art produced by many of the Zoo’s mammal and bird residents will be available for purchase at the National Capital chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) Art Show, which will take place spring 2012.


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Taken on November 20, 2011