From Pipes to Toys: The Story of The Uncanny Partnership Between Pipelife Latvia and Riga Zoo

15. December 2023 | 6 min read

While Pipelife's corrugated sewage pipes are a common sighting at construction sites across Latvia, you might be surprised to spot them in Riga Zoo. Thanks to a heartwarming collaboration initiated by Pipelife Latvia, the unlikely match of pipes and zoo animals has resulted in durable and entertaining enrichment toys that promote animal welfare. We talked with the representatives from both companies about the origins of this unique collaboration, the importance of play in zoo animals' lives, and the plans for joint projects in the future.

Tiger August in winter at Riga zoo

An Unusual Opportunity

Two years ago, Gundars Fridenbergs, Marketing Manager at Pipelife Latvia, noticed a curious announcement — Riga Zoo was looking for partners that could make enrichment toys for animals. Enrichment programs are widely used in animal sanctuaries, welfare organizations and zoos worldwide to provide entertainment, physical activity and mental stimulation for their dwellers.

As both companies had already established cooperation — recently, Pipelife Latvia had donated drainage pipes for Riga Zoo — Gundars reached out and offered Pipelife products to be repurposed as animal enrichment items.

"At Pipelife, we saw this initiative as an opportunity to contribute to both the local community and the well-being of animals," Gundars recalls. "The high safety, durability and exceptional service life of our products were ideal prerequisites to try redesigning them into toys for Riga Zoo needs."

Pipes for zoo animals
In autumn 2021, Pipelife Latvia made several animal enrichment items from its products, following the designs and recommendations of Riga Zoo specialists. The repurposed pipes were donated to Riga Zoo's animals.

Environmental Enrichment: What Is It?

While modern zoos, animal welfare organizations and sanctuaries ensure high quality of life for animals — without worries about ostracism, territoriality, predators, or shortage of food or water — the comfortable and relaxed lifestyle means that some animals may get bored, and this is where environmental enrichment programs come in.

Enrichment tools offer animals a means for physical activity and mental exercise as well as improve their well-being and encourage them to act on their natural behaviors.

Still, when visitors observe zoo animals frolicking with their toys, few can imagine how much work goes into designing and testing every item. Guna Vītola, Manager of Animal Collection at Riga Zoo, explains that fauna species can have vastly distinct needs and requirements when it comes to enrichment.

"Coming up with an idea is easy, but it is important to know which materials are suitable to create such toys," she says. "First, we carefully examine all materials for their safety, durability and potential uses. Enrichment items are designed to encourage animals to make use of their teeth, claws, tongue, paws and fingers; thus, the size, shape and dimensions of each toy vary and depend on the species."

Antelopes looking for food inside the PP pipe
Eland antelopes appreciate foraging enrichment, imitating searching for food in the wild.
Antelopes looking for food inside the PP pipe
Two Pipelife's corrugated pipes were turned into refillable cylinders with several slots, encouraging elands to roll their toys and seek food in the holes.

Same Pipes, New Purpose

After exploring Pipelife's range of products, it was decided to use corrugated sewage pipes in creating toys for Riga Zoo's herd of eland antelopes and the Amur tiger named August. Elands appreciate foraging enrichment; thus, two pipes were turned into refillable cylinders with several slots encouraging antelopes to seek food in the holes.

"The elands like to roll and lick their toys and look for food inside them — this way, their senses are stimulated by various means," explains Tatjana Ivasenko, Curator of Mammals at Riga Zoo. "Slower feeding, imitating searching for food in the wild, results in calmer animals."

Big cats, on the other hand, need large and durable toys that can withstand some clawing and biting. Therefore, a PP pipe with welded cover plates on both ends was made for August. While the toy was initially intended for rolling around on the ground, August soon discovered that the sealed pipe floats above the water, offering superb pool entertainment.

"The enrichment elements for animals are changed regularly to ensure variety, but we can observe which toys are the most popular," Tatjana adds. "For example, August really enjoys playing with the Pipelife tube; he rolls it downhill and then tries to push it under the water, which poses a fun challenge as the pipe is quite large."

Tiger August playing with Pipelife pipe at Riga zoo
Cats will be cats: the Amur tiger August examines his toy, created from a highly durable corrugated sewage pipe.
Tiger August playing with Pipelife pipe at Riga zoo
The tightly sealed pipe floats above the water, and August enjoys playing with it in the pond.

Continued Collaboration and Future Plans

All toys were tailor-made at Pipelife Latvia's fitting workshop in autumn 2021, following the designs and recommendations of Riga Zoo specialists. The zoo closely cooperates with animal welfare and enrichment specialists across Europe, exchanging experience, solutions and the latest research in the field.

As two years have passed, the originally made toys now bear numerous marks of affection. Thus, Pipelife Latvia plans to collect them for recycling while creating even more enrichment items instead.

"Together with Riga Zoo, we intend to continue exchanging information, developing new toy designs, and raising public awareness in wildlife preservation and animal welfare while enhancing the living environments of the animals," sums up Gundars.

The collaboration between Pipelife Latvia and Riga Zoo serves as a testament to the positive impact that businesses can make. The future cooperation plans promise to bring even more playfulness, joy and mental stimulation to Riga Zoo's inhabitants while fostering their health and well-being.

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