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.


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.


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.


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.