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10 Tiger Vines for Global Tiger Day

You can be a hero for wildlife by visiting the Zoo or Safari Park, or by joining the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy, which supports our tiger project in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.

For more fun animal videos, follow the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 21 Terrific Tiger Facts.

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Malayan Tigers, A Family Tradition at the San Diego Zoo

Having one offspring of a legendary pair is special. Having THREE is something else altogether. Mek and Paka, a breeding pair of Malayan tigers, are heroes in the fight against extinction. The latest in their long line of offspring, Cinta and Berani, are a pair of 18 month old sub-adult males that just sauntered into the Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. Cinta and Berani, aka “the Boys,” were born January 4th 2014 in a four-cub litter that also included two girls.

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

Brothers Berani & Cinta are inseparable. (photo by Penny Hyde)

The addition of the youthful teenagers has been both joyful and a bit nerve-wracking! One particularly heart pounding moment came in the first few weeks of the boys exploring the recently renovated exhibit. At the end of May, Cinta and Berani were wading in the large pool in the lower exhibit when one decided to try to jump up the wall. Easily clearing 10 feet in a single bound, he gently fell back on his feet in the pool and wandered off to explore something else. Even though there was never a chance he could get out of the exhibit, it was still surprising to see how easily he leapt up a sheer wall. This was a true testament to how athletic and powerful these majestic creatures really are.

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

Brothers Cinta & Berani snuggle up for a cat nap (photo by Deric Wagner)

The exhibit was not the biggest adjustment the boys had to make. Their brother Conner, twice their age and a quarter larger in size, is an imposing and dominant male. Connor made it his mission to scent mark the entire exhibit thoroughly. This marking can last for a month. While the boys are never in the same exhibit as Connor, they know he is around and they had to adjust to seeing and smelling a much larger male. This certainly put the boys in a nervous state, leading to some funny interactions and behaviors early on. Both Berani and Cinta were on high alert the first day they and Connor were out on their exhibits for the first time. They could see Connor through the double fence and never once turned their backs on him the entire day. All the while, Connor just sat on his rock, welcoming the new kids to the block.

Connor sharpening his tetherball skillz. #TigerTetherball (video by Rachel Pollard)

A video posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Once things settled down and all the tigers were getting comfortable with their surroundings, we all moved on to the next phase, exhibit swapping. Both Connor and the boys have now had time in each of the two sections of the redesigned tiger exhibit and they are noticeably calmer as a result. Connor, still a relatively young male himself, continues to show his youthful attitude and exuberance for life. On the first night of Nighttime Zoo, Connor decided to put on a show. He managed to create his own version of The Bellagio water show by ripping up a water line to his drinker. Water sprayed everywhere and one happy tiger got to play in it. The repairs were made the next day and after a short test, Cinta and Berani were swapped into the previously flooded exhibit. They decided to team up and proceeded to tear the water line out of the drinker, just after it got repaired! I guess the boys think imitation is the best form of flattery.

Connor has reclaimed his renovated digs on Tiger Trail in the Lost Forest. #caturday (Pic by Mike Wilson) A photo posted by San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) on

Just two months in with our rambunctious family of brothers, Connor, Cinta and Berani are all adjusting. The family fun and adventure shall continue!

Aimee Goldcamp is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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21 Terrific Tiger Facts

Wild populations of tigers are at an all-time low, but we haven’t lost hope. Understanding tiger behavior and implementing science-based conservation efforts can save these majestic big cats. Get ready for Global Tiger Day on July 29 with these fascinating facts.

There are six subspecies of tiger living today; Amur or Siberian, Bengal or Indian, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran, and South China.

There are six subspecies of tiger living today; Amur or Siberian, Bengal or Indian, Indochinese, Malayan, Sumatran, and South China.

3 tiger subspecies (Bali, Javan, and Caspian) are extinct, and the remaining six are all highly endangered due to poaching and habitat encroachment. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

3 tiger subspecies (Bali, Javan, and Caspian) are extinct, and the remaining six are all highly endangered due to poaching and habitat encroachment.

The earliest tiger fossils date back about two million years. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

The earliest tiger fossils date back about two million years.

In the last 100 years, we have lost 97 percent of wild tigers. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

In the last 100 years, we have lost 97 percent of wild tigers.

At the current rate, all wild tigers could be extinct in 5 years. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts for Global Tiger Day

At the current rate, all wild tigers could be extinct in five years.

Tigers are ambush hunters, with only about 1 in 10 hunts resulting in a meal. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers are ambush hunters, with only about 1 in 10 hunts resulting in a meal.

Tigers have the largest canines of any big cat species, reaching 2.5 to 3 inches long. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers have the largest canines of any big cat species, reaching 2.5 to 3 inches long.

A tiger's tongue is covered with small, hard, hooked bumps called papillae—making it a perfect scraper to rasp off fur, feathers, and meat from bones. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

A tiger’s tongue is covered with small, hard, hooked bumps called papillae—making it a perfect scraper to rasp off fur, feathers, and meat from bones.

Tigers can take down prey 5 times their own weight. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

They can take down prey five times their own weight.

A tiger can cover a distance of up to 33 feet in one leap. | 21 Tiger Day Facts

A tiger can cover a distance of up to 33 feet in one leap.

Tigers are solitary cats, unless a female is raising cubs. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers are solitary cats, unless a female is raising cubs.

A tiger’s night vision is six times better than that of a human. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

A tiger’s night vision is six times better than that of a human.

Female tigers are about 20% smaller and lighter than males. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Female tigers are about 20-percent smaller and lighter than males.

A tiger’s confrontational roar contains energy in the infrasonic range, below human hearing, which helps the sound carry over long distances. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

A tiger’s confrontational roar contains energy in the infrasonic range, below human hearing, which helps the sound carry over long distances.

Each tiger has a unique stripe pattern, most include more than 100 stripes. Researchers observing wild tigers can identify individuals by their particular stripes. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Each tiger has a unique stripe pattern, most include more than 100 stripes. Researchers observing wild tigers can identify individuals by their particular stripes.

A tiger's stripes are skin deep. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

A tiger’s stripes are skin deep.

ITigers have white spots on the backs of their ears, which could serve as "false eyes," making the tiger look watchful to predators. These spots may also help communicate with other tigers, especially between a mom and her cubs. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears, which could serve as “false eyes,” making the tiger look watchful to predators. These spots may also help communicate with other tigers, especially between a mom and her cubs.

Tigers can sniff out hidden messages left by other tigers through scent marks. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers can sniff out hidden messages left by other tigers through scent marks.

Tigers have partially webbed toes and their claws can reach 4 inches long. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Tigers have partially webbed toes and their claws can reach 4 inches long.

A tiger's front feet have an extra claw called a dewclaw, which is used specifically for climbing and gripping. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

A tiger’s front feet have an extra claw called a dewclaw, which is used specifically for climbing and gripping.

While most cats avoid it, tigers seek out water to swim and hunt. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

While most cats avoid it, tigers seek out water to swim and hunt.

While most cats avoid it, tigers seek out water to swim and hunt. | 21 Gripping Tiger Facts

Celebrate Global Tiger Day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Tiger Trail on July 29, 2015. Festivities include keeper demonstrations, tiger enrichment, conservation displays, and much more.

Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, How to Build a Pollinator Garden.
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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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Eau de Felid: Large Cat Scent Trial

Izu "wears" some of the scented wood shavings well, doesn't he?

As the year comes to a close, I wanted to update everyone on our scent studies. At the beginning of the year we were accepting donations of cologne and perfume to test preferences for our large felids (see Cologne, Perfume Needed for Cats!).  Thanks to all your donations, we had over 200 different types of perfumes and colognes to choose from for the scent trials. We ran the trials this summer with the lions and tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and tigers at the San Diego Zoo. The trials were a huge success, and we saw differences between perfumes and also different reactions between the tigers and the lions. What was really exciting is that the tigers at the Zoo showed very similar preferences overall to the tigers at the Safari Park. Similar to previous enrichment studies (see Big Cat Preferences, Part 2), it is quite clear that both species have types of scents that they prefer.

We are currently in the process of trying to raise the rest of the money to conduct a chemical analysis on the preferred perfumes. The analysis will help determine the chemical components of preferred perfumes so that we can make a “tiger” scent or “lion” scent with only the components that overlap from the top perfumes. Next year, we hope to then take the created scents to study the effects as enrichment with the lions and tigers. We also hope to do the same with cheetahs and other felid species in our collection.

Providing environmental enrichment for animals helps keep them both physically and psychologically healthy by promoting species-appropriate behavior and providing the animals some control within their environment. Only through good science can we continue to learn about the animals and their enrichment preferences to provide the highest quality of care for animals within the collection.

I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, and a happy new year!

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Big Cat Preferences

Hmmm. Sweet or salty?

Do you have a sweet tooth, or do you prefer treats like pretzels? Just as people have individual preferences, so do animals. Here at the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research we are interested in determining individual preferences for some of our animals. Specifically, we are involved in a study examining enrichment preferences for our larger species of felids (lions, tigers, and cheetahs).

Why is this important? Providing environmental enrichment for animals helps keep them both physically and psychologically healthy by promoting species-appropriate behavior and providing the animals some control within their environment. Through assessment of enrichment preferences, we can determine not only what the animals prefer, but also how those enrichment items affect their behavior. Currently, we have eight different objects (for example, gourds and Boomer Balls®) and eight different scents (for example, mint and lavender) that we are assessing to figure out individual and species differences. This will allow us to provide the highest quality of care for the felids at both the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park by providing preferred items to animals and also items that promote species-typical behavior.

A young cheetah with a Boomer ball.

The assessment preferences involve pairing up the different items (for example, Boomer Ball versus a cardboard box) and looking at different measures such as time until they interact with each object and total duration of time each animal interacted with both objects. Over time, with enough trials we will be able to determine preferences for each of the cats in the collection. As of now, thanks to the hard work of our dedicated animal care staff, we have successfully completed all of the enrichment assessment trials with our lions and are working to finish the rest of the trials with the tigers and cheetahs. After we have completed the trials, I will update everyone with some of the preferences we are observing with our wonderful felid collection.

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Read more about enrichment in the post Enrichment: Fun for Everyone.

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Tiger Cubs at the Wild Animal Park

Delta's three newest cubs

Delta's three newest cubs

The tiger keepers at the Wild Animal Park are so excited to share the news of our newest little additions. On November 13, our female Sumatran tiger, Delta, gave birth to three cubs! Damai is the little girl and her name means “peace” in Indonesian; her two brothers are Kucing, meaning “cat,” and Harimau Kayu, meaning “tiger woods.”

This is Delta’s second litter (see Kym’s blog, Tiger Cubs Find a New Home), and she is proving to be a seasoned professional at mothering. After careful behavioral observations by her keepers, combined with hormone analysis by our researchers, Delta was bred to male Utan on July 31 and August 1. The average gestation for a Sumatran tiger is 104 days and Delta stayed close to this expected timeline, giving birth on day 105. For several days leading up to the birth, Delta was kept inside the tiger house, and keepers stayed with her 24 hours a day, monitoring her for any signs of labor via a camera system so as not to disturb her. She was provided with a den box filled with soft bedding hay as well as some extra heaters for warmth. Delta decided our efforts were satisfactory and chose to have her cubs in the box as we had hoped.

Sumatran tiger cubs are very small at birth, weighing only 2 to 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.3 kilograms) and their eyes remain closed for the first 7 to 10 days. We monitored the cubs and Delta for the first few days without interference. This allowed Delta to become comfortable with the cubs and regain her appetite. For the first several days, Delta was so occupied with being a mother that she did not leave the cubs alone while she ate. On November 19, the keepers separated Delta from her cubs for the first time, and we were able to physically meet the cubs. While Delta was eating in an adjacent room, we were able to sex the cubs and get weights on them all. The walls on the den box are about 12 inches (30 centimeters) high, and for the first several weeks sufficed as a barrier to the cubs, but they have since found their way out!

At one month of age, all of the cubs are mobile and climb freely in and out of the den box. Harimau Kayu is the most agile of the cubs and the most adventurous! He was the first out of the den and has explored the entire bedroom on increasingly steady legs. Damai has definitely taken after her mother: from one week of age she has had a ferocious temperament. She is definitely a little tiger! Kucing is our little rock: he stays close to his mom and his siblings, never straying too far on his own. They are growing at a steady rate of about 1.5 pounds (0.6 kilograms) per week; Damai is the smallest at 10.1 pounds (4.59 kilograms), followed by Kucing at 10.5 pounds (4.77 kilograms) and Harimau Kayu, the largest, at 10.6 pounds (4.83 kilograms).

The cubs are still far too small to go out into the exhibit and will remain in the safety and comfort of the house for the next couple of months. I will be sure to keep you posted on their progress!

Kym Nelson is a senior keeper at the Wild Animal Park.

Read Kym’s previous blog, A Strange New World for Kamau the Lion.