An odd business: Toymaker caters to fun-loving animal customers

Kap, a polar bear, plays with specially tough bear balls at Neumuenster Zoo in Germany. (File photo, 12.04.2016.)


Natendorf, Germany / DPA

Two polar bears, Nanuq and Sprinter, play in their zoo enclosure: Using their powerful teeth and enormous claws, they press a white ball under the water and then let it shoot up again to the surface.
The bears, both males weighing around 500 kilograms and measuring 3 metres in length, are comparable to teenaged human boys horsing around. But the ball antics are more than just a game. They add to the animals’ quality of life in captivity, say experts.
“We want to stimulate all their senses with ’enrichment’,” says Hanover Zoo spokesman Sebastian Baer. “They’ve also got to make a bit of effort with feeding, as they would in nature.”
Other zoos in Germany are using the balls for their bears too.
“The toy has to be able to withstand a lot of force,” says Verena Kaspari, a biologist who is the chief executive at Neumuenster Zoo. “It can’t break because the animals could hurt themselves on it.
“People didn’t use to set much store by enrichment,” she adds. “But it’s got more important to pay attention to the animals’ well-being.”
Zoos are looking increasingly at improving the animals’ lives, which should also help their physical fitness.
In Germany, only one company, Zooprofis, makes toys suitable for zoo animals, including the ball beloved of Nanuq and Sprinter.
The business is headed up by 47-year-old Daniel Goosmann, who trained in business and forestry as well as in zoo-animal husbandry.
He got the idea for his company 10 years ago.
“I was managing a wildlife park and then I made myself self-employed.
“I wanted to make something that professional animal keepers need, but which wasn’t available then.”
He began with nets to
restrain zoo animals.
“Then we developed more things, tongs for poisonous snakes, leads with poles for dogs, a net that you can fire at animals that are running away.”
Zooprofis makes a variety of equipment to safely catch animals on the loose. Goosmann’s patient doberman dog is often used as a guinea pig.
“Police, army, vets and fire services are customers,” says Goosmann.
The army, for example, recently ordered some tools to help them catch snakes.
But the company’s biggest business is toys for big animals such as bears and elephants.
“Polar bears in particular try to break everything at first and then they try to play,” says Goosmann.
“Lions and tigers are also very strong, their bite is incredibly powerful.”
“At the moment we’re the only company in Europe specialising in zoos,” he adds, only answering questions about his turnover and profits with a mischievous smile.
There are only two similar businesses in the world, in the United States and in Australia.
“We only produce equipment with the most robust materials you can get,” he says.
The products are developed in close cooperation with other specialised companies.
“We don’t produce here, rather we modify.”
In Natendorf, enormous balls lie packed into crates awaiting distribution around the world.
One box is open; the ball inside has a diameter of 70 centimetres and weighs 30 kilograms.
“That’s a polar-bear ball,” says Goosmann. “Our customers are mainly zoos, and mostly in Europe. But we’ve also delivered to Thailand, Japan and the US.”
The balls can get bigger though: “The elephant balls are a bit bigger,” says Goosmann.
“For Vienna we made a feeding ball which lay on the bottom of the pool and gradually released fish for the bears to dive for.”
“We work to relieve the boredom of zoo animals,” says Goosmann.
“I have a lot of fun – and my animal customers do too.”

Daniel Goosmann, owner of  Zooprofis, holds one of the toughened balls that are provided to polar bears to play with. (File photo, 04.04.2016, in Wessenstedt, Germany.)

Nanuq, a 500-kilogram polar bear, sports with a bear ball in Hanover Zoo. (File photo, 03.04.2014.)



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