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Animal gifts

Here are of some of the stranger Christmas gifts for aquarium animals:

For the parrots: A color rotating disco lamp, $16.79

For the crows and owls: Connect Four, $7.11

For the octopus and fish: Rubber ducky, $5.55

For the penguins: One-gallon container of professional bubble fluid for bubble machines, $25.99

For the river otters: Mango wood indestructa ball, $24.38

For the reptiles and amphibians: 17.5-inch Reptile hammock, $6.75

The Christmas wish list for the animals at the Tennessee Aquarium looks an awful lot like that for a human child.

For penguins, it's sand castle molds.

The river otters are in need of remote-controlled cars to chase. Why leave all that fun to dogs?

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Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga tile

For parrots, how about a DVD player?

"They can watch something on the DVD," explained Sara Carlson, manager of behavioral husbandry. "They actually make bird-sitter videos the same way they make cat-sitter videos and dog-sitter videos. You can play nature documentaries for them, things where they can hear different natural sounds they might not encounter here at the aquarium."

The goal of the shopping list, which is online at amazon.com, is to increase enrichment for the animals at the aquarium.

Enrichment is the animals' mental stimulation. Out in the wild, their environment is constantly changing, which provides challenges they need to critically think about to solve.

In an exhibit, animals don't get that kind of stimulation. Carlson is in charge of enrichment at the aquarium, and making sure the animals stay mentally healthy.

"It's anything we do to make the animals lives a bit more exciting," she said.

Just like humans, if animals get bored for long periods of time, it can affect their physical health. That's why enrichment is considered part of the process for taking care of animals.

"It's really considered an integral part of animal welfare," she said.

Carlson decided to pursue the Christmas gift initiative after seeing it work for other establishments in the country. The aquarium wanted to involve the public and provide things it otherwise couldn't afford.

So Carlson went looking through amazon.com one day and came up with a wish list of about 300 items it's asking the public to buy and donate.

"As a nonprofit organization, budgets are sometimes tight for some of the extras," said Thom Benson, aquarium spokesman.

Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at ehoopfer @timesfreepress.com or @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.

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