Waikīkī School students design enrichment toys for Honolulu Zoo animals


Students spent the year learning how zoo staff care for the animals and came up with ways to help enrich the animals’ lives.

​Waikīkī School fifth-graders have designed and developed nine enrichment items for animals at the Honolulu Zoo, including puzzle boxes for the primates, a popcorn feeder for the elephants and a back scratcher for the cow.

Through a partnership with the Honolulu Zoological Society, students spent the year learning how zoo staff care for the animals and came up with ways to help enrich the animals’ lives. Students worked with their classroom teachers at Waikīkī School to design plans and experiment with materials, making numerous revisions along the way.

The students also had the opportunity to work with engineering students from Punahou School, who served as mentors and helped the younger students revise their plans and even fabricated some of the materials for the projects.

On Saturday, May 6, the public is invited to visit the Honolulu Zoo when it opens at 10 a.m. to see the animals interact with the student-designed items.

See below for photos and student-written descriptions of the enrichment items they designed.


By Aria and Naya

We created an interactive popcorn barrel for the Asian Elephants. The inside of the barrel is filled with hay. The black pipes on the outside are filled with popcorn. And the white pipe is filled with water. The barrel will be hung 15 feet in the air above the elephants. There is a hole in the bottom of the barrel which is plugged with a weighted ball. With their trunks, the elephants can push the ball out of the way and grab the hay. They can also blow into the black pipes to launch the popcorn out the other end for a yummy snack. And on a baking hot day they can blow into the white pipe to spray a refreshing stream of water out the top.  We hope that this enrichment item will benefit the elephant’s lives and make them better than before. Just one blow into a pipe can bring happiness and joy in an instant.

Golden Lion Tamarin

By Yehonatan, Viviene, Rae and Jaeda

Our nest box has many perks to make the amazing Golden Lion Tamarins a safe, secure home. Inside, hammocks are placed at different levels, so that the Golden Lion Tamarins can have different options to chillax on. The polycarbonate window is for you to peek in and see them relaxing while they can see you too! The sliding door was made for the Golden Lion Tamarins to slip in and out of their new home, while the keepers have the option to close them in, if they need to. The opening latch helps the keepers access the Golden Lion Tamarins’ home, to be able to clean it and make sure the Golden Lion Tamarins are cozy and well. With this amazing nest box, the Golden Lion Tamarins will finally have a marvelous home.

Tiger or Cow

By Souma and Bahnli

MOOOOOOOOO!!!  We made an awesome scratching post for the wonderful cows in the zoo! Did you know that cows can smell from 6 miles away? Cows are large and they are herbivores. The inside of the barrel is completely hollow. The green looking grass, the cat rugs, and the horse brush are used so that the cows can scratch their body and comfort themselves. This barrel will go on a pole with a spring attached, so when the cows interact with the barrel, it will spin, but because of the spring, the barrel will spin back with tension which helps the cow scratch itself. Come see our incredible scratching post in the fascinating cow exhibit! We’re as proud as peacocks because we were able to help the zoo by using our imaginations. When you come to the zoo, go to the cow exhibit and check out the cows interacting with our creation.


By Sayge and Quinn

When you’re hungry go to the Chimpy Vendor! Chimpanzees are very smart, curious, strong and playful creatures. That's why we designed this box, “The Chimpy Vendor,” to feed them in a fun way by making them think and figure out how to get their snacks. Chimps like puzzles and we think they’ll like to play with this box to get an award/snack. In our enrichment item there are 2 levels. The 1st level has a pvc pipe that has knobs on the outside of the box that the chimps spin for a little snack, such as raisins. Then the snacks fall down ramps and fall into cups on the bottom level. Cut into the polycarbonate are circular holes that the chimpanzees can use a stick and poke the cups so they can tip over and the snacks will fall out. Next, the chimps can take that stick and pull the food to holes at the bottom of the box. Did you know that Chimpanzees have 98.7% of our genetic blueprint, so Chimps are much like us! We love this enrichment item, so hope they will love it too!


By Karly and Kairi

People say size matters, but to a meerkat it doesn't! Meerkats are small mammals that are as sharp as a tack. For such a smart creature we made a luxurious place, the KK meer-box! It's a box that looks like a termite mound for them to climb onto the top. On the inside it has two floors. The bottom floor has a food-filled tube they can spin to have tasty treats fall out. The spinner makes for great fun and fills their stomachs. As you go up the ramp at the back of the box, there's a hole the meerkats can climb through to access the cozy and comfortable loft with a view. So come down to the meerkat exhibit to see the luxury home for these intelligent and adorable meerkats.


By Hiyam and Lisa

Did you know that sloths spend most of their lifetime in the trees? When we created the sloth feeder we made a leaf like design since sloths love to munch on leaves. At the bottom of the feeder we placed PVC pipes attached with zip ties so the PVC pipes won’t fall off. And inside of the pipes the keepers can put food so the sloths can climb up the tree, grab the food, and eat it. We also attached clips at the bottom of the PVC pipes to attach more food, so the sloths can pull food off. At the top of the feeder we put ropes to hang them on top of their cage to make it a leaf feeder!

By Romeo and Mia

We made the awesome orangutan PVC feeder. First, the orangutan spins the food-filled pipe at the top of the box, which has holes in it, and food falls out the holes and onto the top floor. If the food doesn't fall through the holes in the floor they can get a stick and use it to slide the food out the square-shaped holes in the front of the box. If the food falls down to the next level, it can fall into different cups. There are little holes in the front of the box so the orangutan can use a stick to tip the cups over and the food falls in one more set of holes and into PVC pipes on the bottom level. There the orangutan can grab the food with their fingers or a stick! Orangutans are intelligent animals. An average IQ of an orangutan is 185, that's extremely smart!!  

By Dasha and Avail

Did you know African Crested Porcupines gnaw on bones to make their jaws stronger? These two fifth graders at Waikīkī Elementary School made snack-time for porcupines with two sandal-wood logs. The zookeepers will put different fruits and veggies inside the holes. What’s so good about our enrichment item is that they can chew not just on the exquisite food in the holes but also on the bark, since they love to chew. One of the logs has holes on the sides so the porcupines can roll it and the food won’t get dirty. The other log will be hanging so that they can spin it to try and get the food. We truly hope the porcupines can enjoy the Snack-time Porcupine. Gee, I still love saying that.

Burmese python

By Ethan and Jaxson 

When you go to the zoo what do you see the Burmese Python doing? Sleeping. We thought the snake might not exercise a lot, so we built a 4 ft box that has 2 boxes on top of each other. It has 4 guava sticks inside the box. We use guava wood because it's very strong. The snake can climb onto the guava sticks and make its way up to the top of the box. This enrichment item helps the snake exercise their body and improve their ability to climb. There will be food at the top of the box, so the snake will be motivated to climb to the top to get the delicious snack. So come see the newly energized Burmese Python snaking its way up our tree.

​Photos courtesy of Waikīkī School.

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