Thursday, August 25, 2016

Xhuuya the Raven

Our puzzle-solving corvid friend!
Photo by Erin Koski
I mention Xhuuya the raven a lot when discussing puzzle toys and how they can be used for enrichment for more than just dogs. Xhuuya is an educational ambassador for Luzonica: Birds of the World. This educational outreach program is run by my photographer friend, the same person behind pretty much all oft he really good pictures here at The Dog Geek. I spent a lot of time with Xhuuya when she was a baby, and coming up with new toys and puzzles for her is an endless project..

Her name is pronounced "Hoo-ya", and comes from the mythology of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest. In the mythology of many Native American cultures, the raven plays the role of the trickster. In some, the raven is considered a creator. In Haida mythology, the raven is both a trickster and a creator, and one of raven's names is Xhuuya.

Ravens are crazy, scary smart. Keeping one legally in California involves a stack of paperwork that includes permits on the city, state, and federal level. It also involves coming up with enrichment activities to keep that raven busy in captivity.

Dog food puzzle toys can be used for ravens
Photo by Erin Koski
There's not actually a market for raven puzzle toys. Food toys for birds and intended for large parrots. Some of these work for Xhuuya, but there's not a huge variety out there, and most are too easy for her to take apart. Some dog puzzle toys also work incredibly well, and it is this perspective that has led me to add the "versatility" rating to my puzzle toy reviews.

Xhuuya solves puzzles in a very different way than my dogs. She has a long pointy beak that can reach way down into narrow spaces. While the dogs essentially have meat grinders on their faces, Xhuuya effectively has a screwdriver. She can pry things open, and even unscrew them.

So what sort of puzzles work best for a raven? The Cycle Dog 3 Play Hippo is a favorite, along with the Planet Dog Snoop. Most of our JW Pet puzzle toys were borrowed from Xhuuya. Busy Buddy's Twist & Treat is another toy that works well. Unlike dogs, ravens tend to poop all over their toys, so washability is a huge consideration. Unlike parrots, ravens do not tend to shred things for fun, so they can have soft and flexible toys.
Outward Hound raven problem solving treat spinner
Photo by Erin Koski

 Considering whether or not a toy will work for Xhuuya has led me to consider other species as well. Can a toy be pushed around by a guinea pig? Can it be picked up and tossed by a rabbit? Is it hard enough plastic to keep a rat from just chewing through it to get to the food? Would a goat be able to use a toy without breaking it? How about a horse?

Environmental enrichment is important for every captive species. Xhuuya presents an extreme challenge, and I hope that by discussing our experiences with puzzle toys, I can inspire some other pet owners and zookeepers to consider what they can do to keep their charges busy.

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