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.


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.


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!


A Jaguar’s Legacy

We'll miss you, Orson!

We’ll miss you, Orson!

The final day of April was a somber one at the San Diego Zoo, as we had to say goodbye to Orson, our melanistic jaguar. At an extraordinarily advanced age of over 21 years, Orson had developed irreversible geriatric conditions that had begun to impact his quality of life. Fortunately, we can take solace that Orson’s legacy will carry on through the countless people he entertained, amazed, and inspired throughout his life.

Orson had many unique traits that drew people to him. The most obvious was his handsome melanistic coloring that only betrayed his spots when the sunlight hit his coat just right. His most engaging trait was simply that he habitually perched front and center where visitors could see him up close and bask in his impressive roar from mere feet away. Many people also fondly recall the weekly tug-of–war matches Orson had with his keepers. Using a hanging pulley system, Orson would battle a team of keepers, which were several times his weight but only a fraction of his strength, for the rights to a shank of meat. Needless to say, Orson always won!

Orson’s effect on people was obvious from the legions of members who made weekly pilgrimages to visit him to the numerous guests who could clearly remember him despite many years passing between visits. I’m sure that a great number of visitors over the years would agree with a teenager who once told me that seeing Orson was a “life-changing experience.” A visit with Orson clearly enhanced people’s respect for jaguars, wildlife, and our natural world in general.

At times the celebrity status Orson enjoyed could rub off slightly onto his keepers. In my time away from the Zoo, I moonlight as a hockey referee. One night after a game, I was leaving the ice and heard someone yell, “Hey, ref!” from the stands. As a rule of thumb, no one has a compliment to give a referee, so I put my head down and quickened my pace toward the locker room. The voice continued, “Hey, ref! We know you. You take care of Orson.”

It was a privilege to take care of such a charismatic animal who was a legend in his own time. Although we will all miss Orson, his legacy will live on in the people he amazed, the children he inspired, and the hearts he touched.

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Cheers to a Local Legend.


Cheers to a Local Legend

Come with Orson a happy birthday!

Come wish Orson a happy birthday!

Another October comes to the San Diego Zoo, signaling an annual celebration on Big Cat Trail. October 21, 2013, marks the 21st birthday of Orson, our beloved black jaguar. This makes Orson the oldest cat at the Zoo and among the five oldest jaguars in accredited zoos in North America. For comparison’s sake, a 21-year-old jaguar is comparable to a human well over the age of 90. For his special day, we plan on putting a femur bone in a “gift” box, and he’ll get some frozen “blood-sicles.”

Although a little slower and a little grayer than he was in his prime, Orson is still an impressive guy. From local members who make weekly pilgrimages to visit Orson to out-of-towners who haven’t been to the Zoo in a decade but say, “I remember the black jaguar from my last vacation here,” Orson has long been a highlight of any visit to the Zoo.
Although Orson has lived in San Diego long enough to be considered a local, his green eyes and melanistic coat give you the feeling of an exotic creature from far away jungles. In truth, this is not entirely the case—jaguars used to roam the southwestern US with a range including San Diego County! Unfortunately, the last known wild California jaguar was killed near Palm Springs in 1860. Due to habitat loss and hunting, no significant population of jaguars has occurred in the US for about 100 years.

Orson finds a tasty treat.

Orson jumps up to claim his prize.

On very rare occasions, jaguars are still seen in the wild in the US, brief visitors from a population located in northern Mexico. Recently, a single jaguar has been photographed by scientists on multiple occasions in the mountains of southern Arizona. This has caused excitement and growing support to protect habitat in that area in the hopes that jaguars may repatriate the area they once roamed in the not-too-distant past.

Orson’s local legacy can be traced much further back into California’s prehistoric past. Around 80 specimens of Panthera atrox have been discovered a short drive north, at the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Though commonly called the American lion, this extinct cat is probably more accurately referred to as a giant jaguar. This distant ancestor must have been truly impressive, as it was five times larger than Orson! Most people probably think about how huge this cat’s head or teeth must have been, but in true zookeeper fashion, I can only imagine having to rake up five times more poop.

Make sure to stop by and visit Orson, who represents a recent, magnificent, and extraordinarily long chapter in the history of jaguars right in our backyard.

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Don’t Miss the Lynx.






Don’t Miss the Lynx

Come see the Zoo's lynx!

Stoli eyes our photographer.

On the far north end of Big Cat Trail is one of the smallest and most overlooked felines at the San Diego Zoo, the Siberian lynx. Lacking the celebrity of Orson the jaguar, the local familiarity of the cougars, the alluring elusiveness of the snow leopards, or the extreme rarity of the Amur leopards, our lynx still have much to offer to make them a worthwhile visit for cat fans.

At 16 years old, our lynx are definitely considered senior citizens, but, interestingly, they are two of our more active cats! Skyy, the female, has a very playful side. Whether it’s batting around a toy or tossing a rabbit carcass up in the air before eating it, she is probably the one cat you are most likely to see this type of play from. Stoli, the male, is more on the vocal side. Sometimes he gets impatient waiting for his daily meal and starts tromping around his exhibit, yowling in protest.

When resting, they use their natural camouflage to hide in plain sight. Often, especially on warm summer days, the lynx lounge under the large honeysuckle in their exhibit, only a few feet from the visitor path. They blend in so well that many people miss seeing them, despite the fact that the lynx are literally right in front of them! On your next visit, take the time to look carefully—the lynx are probably closer than you think. Their trademark ear tufts often give them away.

Because of a combination of their smaller stature and extremely secretive behavior, small cats like the lynx draw much less attention than their larger cousins, but they face much of the same threats to their survival. Siberian lynx populations are still relatively wide spread throughout their range, but they are still regularly hunted for their fur. In Europe, lynx are much rarer, with only isolated pockets existing where they used to be widespread. Fortunately, some countries in Europe have had successful reintroduction programs. Spain has its own unique species known as the Spanish or Iberian lynx. Isolated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains, this cat evolved separately from the rest of the Old World lynx populations. With a population of only 300, the Iberian lynx has the unfortunate distinction of being considered Europe’s most endangered carnivore and the most endangered cat species on Earth. Habitat loss and eradication of their favorite prey, the rabbit, has caused this species to plummet drastically over the last century. The few remaining populations are intensively managed by the Spanish government to ensure their continued survival.

Here in North America, we also have our own species of lynx. The Canadian lynx is widespread in Alaska and Canada but has been exterminated from most of its natural range throughout the continental US. Early this year, excitement for the potential recovery of the animal was stirred when pictures of a pair of lynx were taken in southern Colorado. The more familiar bobcat is technically classified as a lynx and is widespread across the US, sometimes even adapting to life in heavily urbanized areas. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to have a bobcat cross my path in Peñasquitos Canyon right here in San Diego!

Make sure you stop by and spend some time enjoying the antics of Stoli and Skyy and gain a whole new appreciation of small cats.

Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Orson: Two Decades as Jaguar Ambassador.


Meet Ted, Our New Tiger

Ted stands for a treat during his quarantine period.

Ted stands for a treat from Karla during his quarantine period.

The Harter Veterinary Medical Center at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is also the quarantine site for many animals that come into our collection. We currently have an eight-year-old male Sumatran tiger, affectionately called Teddy, who has been with us for the mandatory 30-day quarantine period. During this period we collect samples, run tests, and do physical exams to ensure the health of incoming animals.

Teddy came to us from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoological Garden, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He weighs about 240 pounds (109 kilograms) and has a striking coat of black stripes on a deep orange background, unique to the tiger. He is a very calm and affectionate animal. The keepers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo have done a wonderful job with Teddy’s training, and he arrived with many learned behaviors that will make our ability to work with him in a new setting much easier.

Some of these behaviors are to sit, lay, roll-over, stand, shift from pen to pen, hold position, and show his right or left paw. The keepers who will be taking care of him in his new home at the Safari Park’s tiger exhibit have been visiting him daily to form the bond and relationship so essential in working with animals of his caliber. He will be joining his new family soon and may be visible on exhibit sometime this month.

Karla Michelson is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Clouded Leopards: Best of Luck!

Riki stars in a new video for kids (see below)!

Riki stars in a new video for kids!

Be sure to read Janet’s previous post, Clouded Leopards: Settling In and Getting Wild.

Quarantine was over, and it was time for the nursery staff to say good luck to clouded leopard brothers Haui and Rikki. On January 12, 2013, the boys made the final move forward and graduated into their new life at the San Diego Zoo’s Backstage Pass program. Although we will have a chance to visit them in the main Zoo, we knew our special time of care here in the nursery was over. From the beginning, we knew that Haui and Rikki would be staying with us only for a short while, but it was still sad to see them go. We knew we would miss them even before they left! These boys brought a lot of life and fun into our unit, and the place would seem empty without them.

On the last day the leopards were with us, we took a minute to look back. When Haui arrived in the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit on December 1, he weighed a little over 10 pounds (4.7 kilograms) and Rikki weighed around 13 pounds (5.8 kilograms). When they left us their weights were 19 and 21 pounds (8.6 and 9.5 kilograms) respectively. When we looked back on a video taken upon their arrival, they looked so small!

Since that day, Haui and Rikki have been kept very busy at Backstage Pass. The boys have met lots of people as part of their training to keep them friendly and active. Additionally, the two are now part of the Backstage Pass presentations, are doing well on their collars and leashes, and have even been on TV.

The role of ambassador animals in our collection is to spread the word about conservation and to show the public how important, beautiful, and worthy animals are. It would be hard to find two animals more able to get that point across. These days, a look at the boys just about takes your breath away. They are quite simply gorgeous.

The trainers tell us that the boys are faring well. Rikki is still calm and relaxed and will study a new situation before jumping in. Mr. Howard (Haui) is still active and adventurous, willing to investigate and welcome new experiences. The trainers are pleased and proud of the progress the boys have made.
Caring for these two special animals was a rare treat for our staff. We will always remember our time with the boys, and we feel lucky to have been a small part of their introduction to our collection at San Diego Zoo Global. Who knows the impact these two beautiful guys will make on conservation? Haui and Rikki will spread bread on the water; who knows what will come back!

Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

The boys recently participated in a video for our San Diego Zoo Kids website. They did great!


Clouded Leopards: Settling In and Getting Wild

leopard-cubHaui and Rikki have settled in and spread themselves out here in the NACU. Their day centers on food, nap and wild fun at playtime.

Somehow along the way, we gave Rikki a nickname which has stuck. This frequently happens here in the nursery. Rikki‘s second name is now Rolli (named after the slightly pudgy and always hungry puppy in the movie 101 Dalmatians). We’re having a lot of fun with these boys and trying to stay ahead of them by providing fun things to do.

We house the two boys in a large room which they have full run of. In the center of the room is a climbing structure for play. This elevated perching affords repeated attempts at dropping on and surprising your brother – a move that is held in high regard. The room also has a cozy box enclosure which the boys love to relax and sleep on top of. Lately though the two have learned to scale the countertop and from there, they climb all the way to the top of the refrigerator where they survey the landscape or nap in a comical, relaxed heap.

Several times each day it is time for playtime. We move Rikki and Haui to a much larger room (and here we have to keep a vigilant eye on them because there are all kinds of things they can get into) where we provide a variety of fun toys and furniture items. Here, the boys have even more opportunities to really “get down” and play in earnest. Anyone who has watched the scene through the nursery window will agree that things get crazy! There are dramatic leaps, pounces, chases and some rough landings. They love large branches and toys that we drag about so they can practice and perfect their leaps and pounces. The boys love big cardboard boxes too – they make a satisfying noise and enjoyable slide when landed upon. Another big favorite is our office chair which rolls crazily across the floor if one of the guys lands just right.

Haui remains nimble and quick. He constantly hounds his brother by launching carefully planned attacks. When the two wrestle they can be rough, but no one really gets seriously hurt. These battles are fantastic to watch because they attest to the strength, balance, agility and speed of these remarkable cats. Clouded leopards do not purr, but they do make an adorable vocalization called a chuff, which is reserved for a greeting.

On December 19th both boys received their quarantine exams. These exams took place at our Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine. The two were held off food and water in the morning as per our protocol, and then transferred by airline crate to the hospital. Our capable and talented veterinary, wildlife disease, and tech staffs thoroughly examined them. They conducted a number of medical diagnostic tests to make sure both were in perfect health. The boys did very well during the exam, recovered quickly, and passed with flying colors. They returned home to the NACU and we were glad to see that they were playing quietly together early that same afternoon.

To the staff here in the NACU, the quarantine examination signals that the boys will soon be leaving our facility. They will enter the collection at Backstage Pass and begin their training. As we look ahead to the time of their departure, we know that we will miss them.

Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Clouded Leopards: Getting to Know the Boys.


Clouded Leopards: Getting to Know the Boys

Haui-san is not afraid of our photographer!

See previous post, Clouded Leopards: Beautiful Boys Arrive.

In the first days following their arrival in the San Diego Zoo’s nursery, we began to find out a little bit about the individual personality of each of these two clouded leopard cubs. The boys are distinct and different from one another, apparent right from the start. Each boy has a distinct personality all his own, and the two are unmistakable as individuals.

Haui-san, the smaller of the two cubs, is nimble, agile, and steady. He is wonderfully calm in novel situations, accepting new keepers, new toys, and new experiences. Even loud noises and distractions are no problem for Haui. Ever unflappable and reasonable, Haui’s even temper and playful nature won us all over immediately.

Rikki-san, the larger of the two cubs, is noticeably handsome; with rich and beautiful black dots and swirls, his “clouds” are unbelievably complex and gorgeous. Rikki is impressively powerful and strong. Despite his size, Rikki is a little bit more nervous when he encounters new things. Rikki tends to retreat to a corner or take cover when he is unsure. He also is a bit tubby, so he is slower than his brother at play. Handsome Riki is easy to love as he relaxes or plays, very happy to watch his more nimble brother when he is too tired to participate.

Before the boys arrived in the nursery, we selected some toys for them from our enrichment toy box. We realized very soon, however, that most of our choices wouldn’t do for these boys. Many of the toys quickly fell by the wayside as they were chewed up. Little enrichment toys were replaced with larger, more durable ones. A favorite activity is attacking a lure toy, a squeaky toy tied at the end of a strong leash and dragged around. This toy produces some hilarious recreational sessions as each cub fiendishly plots against his brother for possession of the squeaky toy. The cubs jump all over the room, from chairs, cat trees, and boxes, to lunge at the lure. These cubs just love new experiences for play, and our challenge is to keep them busy and engaged and to provide them with plenty of healthy exercise.

Here’s more info about clouded leopards…

Janet Hawes is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo.