Tiger Training

12 August 2015

Tigers In New Training Regime

The tigers at Blair Drummond Safari Park are making strong progress in a new training program devised for them by their keepers, Craig, Sandra and Sam. The two resident Amur tigers, Genghis (17) and Bella(13) are proving very fast learners as the keepers teach them a variety of different behaviors to enable safe and stress free veterinary examinations. The program is designed to allow the keepers to complete health checks on the animals, uncovering any medical problems and to administer veterinary care to the tigers without causing stress.

Sam Clark, who has 7 years’ experience training the parks Californian sea lions has recently moved over to the tiger section to help with the training said;

"Until now, we've only been able to visually inspect our tigers from a few meters distance, or whilst they are anesthetised, both situations are not ideal. Training the tigers to station and present at the protective contact wall enables us, and our vet, the chance to carry out proper health checks and to act swiftly if a remedy is required. We have made great progress and are able to check paws, teeth, eyes and ears almost daily. We are working on the tigers lying down adjacent to the contact wall so that we can take bloods voluntarily from the tail. The majority of training takes two people, one controlling the session commanding and targeting the tiger, the other providing positive reinforcement - typically chunks of tasty horse meat! In time, the second person will act as the vet, handling the tail for a blood draw, for example. The tigers are free to leave a training session whenever they choose, however we find they seem to enjoy and benefit from the mental stimulation. When training using positive reinforcement through a protective contact, you go at the pace of the animal, and although these cats are getting on in life, they are training at a fast pace".

Nearly all the species held at Blair Drummond Safari Park are on training programmes, they include; elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees, sea lions, macaques, birds of prey, giraffe and domestic stock with the pets farm department.

Park Manager Gary Gilmour said;

"All animal are good at hiding any injuries, so it is great we can get close to the animals to get a good look at things and more importantly our vet can too. Usually our vet would have to knock the tiger down to check in its mouth or take a blood draw but, this can be very dangerous to the animal when under and if you can avoid knocking any animals down all the better. Training with the animals provides crucial interaction with their keepers, cognitive skill development and exercise. This is particular important for our tigers because they spend up to 18hours a day sleeping. The training helps to get the tigers active and the animals seem to trust the keepers more when doing the training".

Amur tigers are named for their home, the Amur basin on Russia eastern shore. The species was once called the Siberian tiger, but its name was changed to better reflect its range, Amur tigers are the largest cats in the world, with males being up to 3 metres long and weighing up to 300kg.

The ICUN Red List classes Amur tigers as endangered and there are less than 500 in the wild. The main threats the Amur tiger faces in the wild is habitat destruction and poaching. Blair Drummond Safari Park tiger enrichment talk is daily at 2pm, it you want to learn anything else about these great creatures.