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What Would You Do for Your Bored Rhinoceros?

Because no species is prepared to deal with an absence of environmental unpredictability

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Marianne Hale/San Francisco Zoo

In the workshop area of an outbuilding at the San Francisco Zoo sits a gigantic oval ball of thick, hard plastic. To an untrained eye, it’s an art project or perhaps a freeway barricade, but in fact it’s the prototype of a toy—one made specifically for bored rhinoceroses. When finished, it will contain 24 apples: a rhino’s favorite treat.Patterned after the Foobler toy for dogs, which dispenses treats as dogs play with it, this is a Foobler on steroids—the size and weight of a boulder. It’s the brainchild of Dr. Jason Watters, the zoo’s Vice President of Wellness and Animal Behavior. Possibly the only PhD in the country with this title, Watters believes fervently that zoo animals, who bring such richness to the lives of their visitors, are owed a high-quality life themselves. That means inventing ways for them to not only tolerate their captivity, but to thrive in it physically, mentally, and emotionally. To that end, Watters works tirelessly to create stimulations for various species—from a treat shooter in the anteater environment to the rhino Foobler.At the forefront of the movement to place the high …

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