Tiger behavior in an innovative exhibit

Housing zoo animals in a species-appropriate space where they are able to perform normal activities and make independent choices is considered important for well-being.  To that end, zoo keepers go to great lengths to provide their animals with enrichment items that encourage exploration of a greater diversity of behaviors and that encourage maximal use of space.  Another increasingly-popular option is to design exhibits that provide inherent options for the animal, such as climbing structures, water features, puzzle feeders, and other innovations.  The most recent trend along this vein is a “trail system” that allows animals to move from one exhibit space to another through corridors.  Not only does this provide the option for animals to choose one location over another, but it also increases the space available for them to roam, and it increases the diversity of stimuli that the animal can possibly experience in each of the different settings.

The Jacksonville Zoo has built a new tiger exhibit that capitalizes on a trail system design in which large, traditional exhibit spaces with water features are connected by a system of corridors.  Within the corridors are other features as well, including a bamboo node that brings the tigers close to guests, a fig root system into which the tigers can climb, a bridge from which the tigers can look down on guests and suid species in neighboring exhibits, and a glass floor through which they can see the guests below them.  All these are designed to provide the tigers with some stimulating options in their environment while also providing guests the opportunity for up-close enounters in ways they have not previously experienced.  In this behavioral study, we seek to learn how the tigers, which include a group of three young, male Malayan tigers and a breeding pair of Sumatran tigers, are utilizing this innovative exhibit space.  The goals are to determine the extent to which and how key areas of the exhibit are utilized, and to understand how social situtation might influence exhibit utilization for this typcially solitary species.  The trail system design is gaining popularity in zoos based on its theoretical advantages, but this study will quantify if and why this design is superior to the traditional exhibit space for tigers, and it will provide some of the first data on space use choices among male tigers housed as pairs.

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