Essential oils as enrichment

Essential oils are pure forces. The use of essential oils as a medicinal and therapeutic source goes way back in time. With pleasure and enthusiasm I work with these oils. Every time they mesmerize me about their brilliant way of working.

Oils can be used internally, however they are known for their effect when inhaled. The scent of an oil can have an influence on the working mechanism of the physical system of an animal. Also, it can have an impact on the mental status of an animal. For example, think about the refreshment the smell of mint can give you, or how calming the scent of lavender can be.

Knowing the therapeutic effect essential oils can have, I started providing enrichment for the animals in the wildlife center. Providing enrichment is essential to keep animals mentally and physically balanced when they are temporarily or indefinitely kept in captivity. Therefore enrichment is an important aspect when taking care of animals. Enrichment is provided in order to entertain animals and reduce/prevent the development of stereotype behavior. In most cases enrichment can stimulate natural behavior since in captivity the ability to show natural behavior is often limited. This is caused by the limitation of the environment.

My curiosity to the reaction of the animals led me to a specific oil: Origanum marjorana, also known as marjoram. This oil has the strength to nullify blockages in the body that are caused by traumas. Since there are many animals in the wildlife center that have a traumatic history, I was wondering how their response would be when I offered them this specific oil. Other oils are already used extensively as enrichment in the center. Especially Lemongrass (helps getting an animal out of his/her apathic state), lavender (calming) and mint (helps broadening the vision). Bella the lioness received lavender and mint quite often. She loves lavender, like most feline do, nevertheless her reaction to the scent of marjoram was something else.

Bella had a wrong diet in her earlier years and therefore her bones deformed. This makes her movement more difficult. Abuse and improper care is her history in a nutshell. On her back you can see a point where the appearance of her spine transforms. It is like a blockage, hindering her natural dynamic flow.

To see the difference in Bella’s reaction I used different oils. Cedar – helps letting go, to ground. Lemon – refreshing, activates the mind. And the marjoram.

I sprinkled the oils on different pieces of bamboo. When the bamboo was placed into her enclosure I watch her from a distance. She started to sniff the pieces, but when she reached the piece of bamboo with marjoram something interesting happened. She broke the bamboo with her mouth and claws and started to roll over the pieces while she was grunting. She was busy with the pieces for several minutes and used her whole body, rubbing against it. Finally she got up, stretched her body and then dropped herself onto the pieces of bamboo. She pinched her eyes and started to make some peaceful snorting noises.

Knowing what the effect of this oil can be….I can only say one thing: she needed it.



  1. Kimmie

    Ik zal ook eens wat meer aan olie gaan snuffelen 🙂

  2. Yvonne

    Hi Alma,
    I am a student at Oxford Brookes studying for an MSc in Primate Conservation. I am concerned about the behavioural abnormalities present in some captive primates, and so I have decided to write my dissertation about various different interventions used by zoos to alleviate these. In the interests of completeness, I would like to include natural therapies.
    I am wondering if you would be willing to help me with this by discussing a specific case study that you have seen and found interesting?

    The questions I am looking to answer are:

    1. What was the background of the primate, particularly the likely source of disturbance? Also, age and gender?

    2. What were the indicators /signs of the problem or how was it diagnosed? Were there any specific problem behaviours or symptoms seen (such as self-injury, hair-plucking, pacing, rocking, head-bobbing, weaving, self-clinging, depressed appetite, regurgitation, excessive aggression etc.)?

    3. How was the decision made to try naturopathy, what was tried, and who made the decision (vet, manager, committee, etc)?

    4. What behavioural changes were seen which you believe were due to the naturopathy, and were there any specific methods of measuring behaviour?

    5. Were other interventions tried which failed (enrichment, informal human interaction, social changes, drugs, training)?
    6. Any other information you would think is important – e.g. advice for others?

    Thanks so much for considering this – I know how busy life is!
    I can be contacted at

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