For more than a decade, one of the most memorable and recognizable faces on our Big Cat Trail has been an amazing black jaguar named Orson. Practically a San Diego Zoo mascot, Orson is known and loved by not only our Zoo community but also by anyone who has had the privilege to gaze upon this majestic animal. Many of our Zoo members include a visit with Orson in his Big Cat Trail exhibit as part of their regular route through the Zoo. Well, for many of our members, their routes are about to change!
This past week, Orson’s world just grew a whole lot bigger with a move up to the brand-new jaguar exhibit in Elephant Odyssey. His new home includes ample climbing structures, a large pool stocked with live fish for the taking, a cave featuring a toasty “hot rock,” and a larger exhibit footprint than his previous space. The always level-headed Orson took the move in stride, and after a little apprehension he began exploring his new surroundings. His inquisitive nature had him learning about the properties of glass in the viewing windows, something that he had not experienced in his previous exhibit, and wading into the large pool on his very first day. The bus road behind the exhibit also became an early source of entertainment as Orson began stalking the vehicles that passed by his new home.
The previous jaguar housed in this exhibit, a two-year-old female named Nindiri, had also left a lot of female Jaguar smells to investigate (read Jaguar: Meet Nindiri). The work of covering up those smells with his own scent began almost immediately. The move provides a high degree of enrichment as it is likely that Orson, an older cat with a touch of arthritis, will enjoy the more direct sun of Elephant Odyssey’s jaguar exhibit, particularly during the cooler winter months.
This first move is actually a part of a bigger plan to provide a little more excitement in the lives of both of our jaguars. Both the Elephant Odyssey exhibit and their Big Cat Trail home serve as nice accommodations, offering up something different at each part of the Zoo. Therefore, in the name of providing the best for both of our jaguars, the ultimate goal will be to put in place a kind of regular rotation that will allow both cats to enjoy both exhibits, thereby expanding the territories for both of them. The frequency of moves and seasonality of the changes will be dictated by our cats, but the hope is that both cats get the most out of their exhibits by experiencing them intermittently, much like wild jaguars can experience portions of their range at different times throughout the year.
For now, though, I would like to invite all of you devoted Orson fans to come up to Elephant Odyssey to visit an old friend and get your “Orson fix.” Watch him enjoy his change of scenery and possibly get a new perspective on a San Diego Zoo staple. And as we move forward, keep an eye out for some upcoming moves between our jaguar exhibits as we strive to provide the most fulfilling and enriching life for both of our beautiful jaguar ambassadors.
Jacob Shanks is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, The Pride of Elephant Odyssey.