High-tech toys to improve foraging in rhinos

A Foobler is a toy that dispenses food when your pet plays with it. We want to build one for the San Francisco Zoo's rhinos.

Unfortunately, this project was not successful

What is the context of this research?

The behavioral wellness program at the San Francisco Zoo ensures the phsychological well-being of animal's in the zoo's collection. Researches assess animal wellness and provide enrichment opportunities to improve animal well-being when necessary.

Large herbivores can be difficult to keep active in captivity. The rhinos at the San Francisco Zoo love playing with large balls in their exhibits, making them good candidates for a Foobler.

The original Foobler was designed for dogs and contains multiple food pods linked to a timer which releases food at regular intervals. A bell sounds when food is released, and the dog has to play with the Foobler to get the food out. We want to build a rhino Foobler to encourage our rhinos to 'forage'for themselves instead of waiting for mealtimes.


What is the significance of this project?

Animals need to engage with their environment to maximize their psychological well-being. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this in zoos is to make animal 'work'for their food, which can entail simple things like making them search their enclosure for food instead of putting food in the same place at the same time everyday.

The Foobler prompts pets to investigate and manipulate the toy to get food out.In this way, cats or dogs are prompted to 'work'to obtain their food. Although carnivores and herbivores work differently to obtain food, the psychological need for exploration and foraging is similar across species. We will assess the rhinos' behavior to see how it changes when given a novel, dynamic foraging opportunity compared to scheduled daily feedings.


What are the goals of the project?

With the requested funding, we will be able to:

  • Work with the Foobler team to design and build a rhino-sized Foobler.
  • Assess the rhinos' behavior before and after introducing the Foobler.
  • Keep backers informed on the progress of the design, prototyping, and deploymemnt of the rhino Foobler through online video updates.
  • Keep backers informed on our finding about rhino behaviors before and after introducing the Foobler.
  • Host a symposium at the San Francisco Zoo for Bay Area backers to come meet the WCC and Foobler teams.
  • Organize a webcast of the symposium for backers outside of the San Francisco Bay area.


The behavioral wellness program at the San Francisco Zoo was only recently established, so while we have plenty of ideas about ways to research and assess animal wellness, we don't have funding to build all our ideas. We're asking for backers for the rhino Foobler because we don't have the means to build it otherwise.

Our rhinos are pretty hard on their toys, so we anticipate building and testing several prototypes of the rhino Foobler, refining the design as Gauhati and Boone try them out.

We would like to outfit one of the prototypes with accelerometers and other sensors to measure how hard the rhinos are on their toys. We would also like to buy a decent digital video camera for filiming backers updates and rhino test footage.