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About Author: Lori Gallo

Posts by Lori Gallo

4

A Day in the Life of a Tiger Keeper

Sumatran tiger Conrad takes in a different view

Ever wonder what the day of a tiger keeper is like? Here at the Safari Park, our day starts early – at 6 a.m.! When we arrive, our first order of business is to bring all of the cats that spent the night outside on exhibit into the eight bedrooms inside the tiger house.

People often think it might be difficult to convince them to come in from their beautiful and spacious exhibits, but the truth is, they usually come running. That’s because they know that once they’re inside, it’s time for breakfast! All of the cats get between 4.5 to 6 lbs. of ground meat daily, and we typically like to divide their diet up into two to three feedings throughout the day. This allows us more opportunity to work with the cats, and it also helps to make their day a bit more interesting. We’ll often use their breakfast to work on some of their trained behaviors, or as a reward for simple desensitization, such as for blood draws, temperatures, or even just for sitting comfortably inside their transport crate. During that first meal of the day, we also take the opportunity to visually inspect them, and make sure all is well.

Sumatran tiger Thomas enjoys a refreshing dip in his private pool in the Safari Park’s new Tiger Trail habitat

Once everyone is satiated, we head out to inspect the exhibits. First, we of course make sure they’re clean and safe for the cats, and then it’s time to add enrichment! Enrichment refers to anything we can incorporate into the tigers’ day to make their lives more fun, interesting, or challenging. On exhibit, that can involve anything from scattering some treats to encourage foraging behavior, to simply spraying various scents on logs, rocks, or substrates. Sometimes we’ll even use products from other animals, such as ocelot bedding, rhino dung, or hair that’s been shed by our camels. This way, their exhibits always offer them something new to explore.

Lori in action at the tiger enrichment wall

Lori in action at the tiger enrichment wall

When the exhibits are ready, it’s time to send some of the cats outside. As another way to keep things interesting, the cats are all rotated daily, between the three exhibits and the eight bedrooms inside. That way, no one is in the same place for two days in a row! The cats that stay inside for the day also have their bedrooms cleaned and well-stocked with enrichment, ranging from heavy-duty tiger toys, to scented paper bags or cardboard boxes. Coming up with novel ways to present these items is always very enriching for us as keepers too! As a keeper, it’s a highlight to watch Delta rolling happily on her rosemary bedding, or one of the boys tackling their favorite “weebil” toy.

Once the rest of our work is done, it’s time for record keeping. Not only do our tigers have twelve different keepers taking care of them, but veterinarians, nutritionists, researchers, and  reproductive physiologists also keep tabs on the cats. For that reason, keeping detailed notes is a very important part of our job. We have record books, training and enrichment logs, and daily reports that help everyone track and monitor necessary information. Throughout the day, the keepers also do various training demonstrations with the tigers on exhibit. This allows our guests to view some of the cats’ husbandry behaviors and have a better understanding of how we interact with them, but it also provides our tigers with the best possible care.

If you’re interested in tiger training, enrichment, or even general husbandry, be sure to come and visit us on Wednesday, July 29th for Global Tiger Day. There will be keeper talks, training demonstrations, and enrichment releases for everyone to enjoy… especially the cats! We hope to see you there.

Lori Hieber is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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Tiger Trail Territory

Teddy patrols his territory.

Teddy patrols his territory.

For our guests at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, as well as our Tiger Cam viewers, it’s not uncommon to see the tigers roaming the perimeter of their yards, or even strolling back and forth across a smaller area. This activity can be attributed to a number of factors, many of which are a clear reflection of life for their wild cousins. In the wild, tigers patrol the perimeter of their territory on a regular basis and can sometimes walk more than 10 miles in one night while hunting. Consequently, we consider it a natural, species-appropriate exercise when they cruise their territorial boundaries, whether it’s to check out the smells left behind by another cat the day before, to remark the borders with their own signature scent, or to just make sure that everything is well within their domain!

The perimeter fencing around Tiger Trail keeps the local mule deer from ever getting into close proximity with the tiger yards. At the former tiger habitat, we’d frequently have deer around the perimeter of the exhibit and on the trail by the catch pen, and all the cats would do was sit and stare…for hours! Our tigers have it pretty good within their yards; they have all their needs met and basically get everything served to them on a platter, so they have no real motivation to “expand their territory.” And while tigers are capable of climbing, they’re pretty inefficient at it, especially once they’re full grown.

Typically, when we see the cats walking back and forth across a smaller area, it’s because something has them particularly inspired. Often, this can be the anticipation of an upcoming training session, especially if one of their keepers is in close proximity. Sometimes, however, their excitement has more to do with the other tigers. For example, when one of our females is in estrus, we’ll often see an increase in activity from them, as well as our adult male, Teddy. Also, as the cats are still acclimating to all of their new human guests, we’ll sometimes see them become a bit more enthusiastic when they catch sight of a particular passer-by (usually one of the smaller ones!). Our guests often, albeit unknowingly, provide a great source of environmental enrichment for the tigers.

If helping to enrich the tigers sounds like fun, be sure to visit us on Tuesday, July 29, when we’ll be celebrating Global Tiger Day! We’ll have keeper talks, training demonstrations, and enrichment-building workshops, where you can create real tiger toys and then see them put to use! It will be a day not to be missed for all of our tiger fans. Be sure to come out and show your stripes!

Lori Gallo is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Tigers Adjust to New Home.

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Tigers Adjust to New Home

Tiger JoAnne is ready to meet you!

Tiger JoAnne is ready to meet you!

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three weeks since the grand opening of the Tull Family Tiger Trail at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! In that time, we’ve been more than impressed with how well the cats have acclimated to their new daily routines, as well as to the influx of all of their human guests! Many of the tigers seem to really enjoy making themselves as visible as possible at the glass viewing areas and appear to have a great time watching their spectators (especially the kids). The cats have quickly overcome any of the stage fright they may have first felt during their daily training demonstrations and are now quite happy to show off their skills at the interpretive wall for all those who are willing to watch!

As the cats have become more comfortable, we’ve also started to rotate them more throughout the different exhibits, making sure each of the cats gets to check out the features of each yard at least a couple of times per week. This not only gives them a chance to take advantage of all the great features in each yard but also helps to keep them active and enriched, as they get to check out all of the smells left behind by the cat before them!

When the cats aren’t on exhibit, they are enjoying the cool and comfortable accommodations of their new house. Enrichment toys, bedding, and scents furnish each of the eight rooms and are changed daily to delight their curious natures. The cats are brought into their bedrooms every morning, where we feed them their breakfast and then work on trained behaviors to challenge their minds and encourage problem solving. The tiger house also features a number of features to better allow for routine care, such as desensitization of things like voluntary blood draws, injections, ultrasounds, and crating.

With all of the wonderful elements for the tigers in both the exhibits and the house, we’re certainly able to provide these cats with fun-filled and exciting days! Be sure to watch them daily on Tiger Cam.

Lori Gallo is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Meet the Tigers on Tiger Cam.

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Meet the Tigers on Tiger Cam

Young Conrad and his brother, Thomas, share a yard in the new Tiger Trail.

Young Conrad and his brother, Thomas, share a yard in the new Tiger Trail.

It’s been over a month since we began the process of moving our six Sumatran tigers into their beautiful new home, Tiger Trail, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. By now, all have had ample time to explore and get comfortable in their luxurious exhibits. The cats now get to enjoy three lush yards, complete with pools, streams, waterfalls, and even heated rocks. Thus far, all of the cats seem quite satisfied with their new living arrangement and have really begun to make themselves at home!

Teddy, our new breeding male, came to us last year from the Ft. Wayne Children’s Zoo (see post Meet Ted, Our New Tiger) and just celebrated his 10th birthday last month. So far he’s been spending most of his time in what will eventually be the maternity yard, as we’ve found that this yard seems to be his preference. The ample glass viewing allows him to keep a watchful eye on the tigers in the adjacent exhibit, and, of course on all of his two-legged visitors as well!

Delta, our matriarch, is the undisputed queen of the new castle! We’ll be celebrating her Sweet 16 later on this month, on May 26, 2014. She’s been the mother to 4 litters, or 10 cubs, 4 of which are still here at the Safari Park. A true tigress, she often has a fiery personality but has always been an exceptional mother. She’s developed a strong affection for Teddy, and therefore seems to prefer the yard adjacent to his, which comes complete with a deep pool for underwater viewing. Most often, though, we find Delta lying in the front of the exhibit, where she can not only keep an eye on Teddy but be in close view for all of her human admirers as well.

When Delta is not in the underwater viewing exhibit, you’ll often find her two daughters, Joanne and Majel. The girls will be turning four years old in October, and we’re certainly beginning to see the signs of maturity setting in! Both have also recently taken a new interest in Teddy and enjoy being able to say “hello” from across the path. The girls are easy to tell apart, as Joanne is a bit smaller and has many more spots, or freckles, between her stripes. The two have very different personalities as well; Joanne tends to be more confident and outgoing, while Majel is often more affectionate and sensitive.

The girls’ younger brothers, Thomas and Conrad, just turned three years old in March. Like all brothers, you can often spot the two wrestling or chasing after one another in the waterfall exhibit. While Conrad has always been a bit more of a water-lover than his brother, neither has gotten quite brave enough yet to jump into their new pool. We’re confident that with the warmer months approaching, they’ll soon be taking the plunge!

It’s been so much fun to watch the cats explore their new exhibits, and we’re thrilled that now the rest of you can watch with us on our new Tiger Cam! Tiger Trail opens to Safari Park guests on Saturday, May 24, 2014. Come say hi to our wonderful tigers!

Lori Gallo is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Take a Behind-the-Scenes Safari featuring our tigers!