Experiments in Enrichment

Savage, the sweet caracal
Enrichment must be provided at least once a week to every animal at CPT. Enrichment simply means stimulating an animal's senses to diversify life in captivity. This can be through introducing new smells, new toys, different ways of presenting food, or mimicking life in the wild. Yesterday, I tested an idea to all the cats in my areas (I also have bunturongs, and have not yet done a project with them). We use a lot of paper mache at CPT: the flour/water combination makes a sticky paste we use to create hollow balls or structures that cats can tear apart for multiple reasons. I tried to recall my days as a fourth-grader when I was a master paper-mache sculptor, but I think I've moved on from that time in my life... ie I am really terrible with paper mache. My Great Idea was to take toilet paper rolls and manufacture the shape of a bird- complete with wings- and cover it in paper mache that I had added copious amounts of cinnamon to (the small cats enjoy cinnamon). When I was done, I had a nicely constructed paper roll bird thing that was covered in newspaper and caked in what appeared to be pancake batter.

We moved on to Idea Two.

Once I had distanced myself from the paper mache goop as far as possible, I cut toilet paper rolls in half and folded the bottoms to make a cup. I then took natural yarn- hemp I suppose- and tied long bits of it to a stick to make a sort of fishing pole. Then I went fishing. I took large chunks of raw chicken and put them in the paper cups I had made and dangled them into each small cat enclosure to gage a reaction. When cats would catch wind of the chicken, a variety of hilarious reactions ensued (Let me note that I wasn't teasing the cats- they got the chicken once they 'captured' it, but I did want to enjoy the process if they seemed interested):

Morgan the ocelot was very active in leaping up the fence and taking his chicken. I had little time to even move it around before he had taken the paper cup in his paws. His pen mate, Renee, has three legs from a snake bite infection resulting in amputation of the front right leg. She gets around great, however. I only moved the "bait" around a little bit so she could snap at it with her jaws before letting her catch and devour it. When it was Renee's turn, Morgan wailed and growled with impatience until I let him kill some more chicken.

Renee has three legs as the result of an infected snake bite, but she gets around great.

Savage the caracal had the second best reaction. This sweet girl came over and watched me struggle to get it on the roof of her enclosure (being short is a disadvantage in itself, but when you are guarding your legs from caracal claws, it gets a bit tricky). A true lady, Savage waited at my feet until she saw the little creature coming down from the roof of her enclosure. She jumped up to bat at the chicken-in-a-cup bait with her enormous paws (which is exactly how they kill birds in the wild). I raised the cup up like a pinata as she became obsessed with taking swings at it. I dropped it to the ground, swung it around, let her lick it, and frantically tried to save it from her, but she is one precise cat. Savage finally hooked it with a one-paw-sucker-punch and pinned it to the ground, and I couldn't lift it on the string using two hands... these cats are strong! Savage was very pleased with herself until she realized that the hemp string was hooked into her extended claw and she couldn't get it off. She ran about in circles, climbed a tree, and finally got it off. She immediately came back for more, however, so I didn't feel guilty.

The Wobbly Sisters were surprisingly crafty. I was ready to go easy on them since they have horrible balance, but Nenya came onto her back legs and onto the fence for that chicken. Scylla was particularly keen on chewing the paper cups, which had some cinnamon on them from the pancake batter incident. I narrowly missed getting "tagged" by one of them- meaning a cat snaked her paw out at my hand for some chicken. Don't mess with those girls.

I will note that the entire time this was happening that Fenimore the tiger was in his enclosure next door stalking me from the grass.

PJ is another ocelot, and he was so lazy that he stretched himself out of his den box and leaned onto the fence to strike like a cobra for the chicken. He did not want to play games, but I made him stretch as much as possible for some more.

Julio (above) is a special ocelot. I think he must be a wise shaaman, as he always sits and looks off into the distance before looking you in the eye with a very keen and disinterested look. He is so cool, and I feel kind of uncool when he ignores me. However, he knew what my MO was as I walked towards him and he ran to greet me at the fence. It was a race to get the chicken cup into the fence and my hand away from it as Julio launched himself up six feet to snatch the chicken as well as the cup. No preparation, no build up, just up. These cats are amazing! Julio dropped to the ground and calmly waited for me to repeat the process, then again burst to life to seize the meat. I moved around his enclosure to change it up a little, but this cat is too smart and too quick for me to keep up with safely.

The Best Response, however, came from Petee, my crazy ocelot friend. Petee is quite the devilish little thing, with amazingly huge paws to scale and an attitude that just wreaks of wild. I've mentioned before that Petee can jump from the ground to a hanging upside down position to pull his food through the fence in no time whatsoever (all the cats can do this, but Petee acts on this more frequently). I have to admit that Petee may not have been too impressed with my carefully calculated fishpole idea, as it took him about two seconds to rip the idea to shreds. I didn't have a prayer, as I couldn't even lower the meat into the enclosure fast enough. However, Petee did seem very interested in the string after he was done stuffing his snout with chicken. Experimentally, I swung the string about my feet a little (and by 'about' I mean a good ten inches away from said feet so I wouldn't get up close and personal with those claws) and I thought Petee was going to go crazy. In typical house cat fashion, his only concern was capturing and killing The Mysterious String Thing that was now racing around his enclosure. After fifteen minutes of dashing, biting, jumping, slashing, lightening-fast death grabs, and a few close encounters with losing my fingers, both Petee and I were exhausted and out of breath. However, this cat is in far better shape than I, so I believe that I left a bit more tuckered out than he did. Who would have known that a killer ocelot wanted to chase a bit of string so much?