Thursday, 2 July 2015

Operation 'Pen-Pals'

Jasiri and Josie, soon to be together
Our lions, Jasiri and Josie, have been getting used to each other as close neighbours since Christmas. This summer you can help us bring them together for the first time. However, with large territorial predators this is a delicate, challenging operation. 

The male lion, Jasiri arrived from Newquay Zoo just before last Christmas. He moved into the large enclosure next to the female, Josie, following the sad loss of Tasmin our much loved Amur Tiger.

He made himself at home very quickly and started to get to know his new neighbour across the ten meter divide between their enclosures. Even at this considerable distance the delicate process of introduction was underway.

At first, Josie was very cautious and kept her distance. Within a few days she became curious, spending more time observing the new male who by then had begun to make his presence known to her, and anyone within the five kilometer range of his impressive roar.

In the intervening time it has become commonplace to find them each sitting calmly at their respective boundaries, pointedly ignoring the other. And that's a good sign.

It has always been the plan to bring the two together in Josie's enclosure, but this is by no means as simple as it sounds. African Lions, both male and female, are fiercely territorial. Once they have laid claim to a patch of land any interloper can expect a serious challenge. In the wild, encounters such as this are a matter of life and death. Without careful management, it can be the same in captivity.

Jasiri and Josie like to keep an eye on each other

With the Operation 'Pen-Pals' project, we can allow Jasiri and Josie to go through the natural process of integration, during which they will 'negotiate' acceptable terms for cohabitation, whilst keeping the friction and stress to an absolute minimum. 

By building a strong connecting pen between the two enclosures we can effectively bridge the ten meter gap and bring the two lions face-to-face for the first time. Here they will be free to snarl and spit and roar and claw at each other on either side of the security mesh, thereby keeping the physical consequences of such behaviour to a minimum.

By alternating which of the two has sole access to the connecting pen, over time they should also begin the recognise the pen as a 'no man's land' over which neither has exclusive domain.

During this process, which will last as long as the lions deem it necessary, the keepers will be able to closely monitor the way they react to each other. We should expect negotiations to resolve to a tense but largely peaceful detente.

The next stage will see Jasiri and Josie in the connecting pen together. Being a relatively small space compared to the main enclosures, it will afford keeping staff the opportunity to safely intervene from outside the pen if the encounter becomes too physical. This will usually involve nothing more serious than a CO2 fire extinguisher.  

Ultimately, the whole process will end with Jasiri and Josie sharing what is currently Josie's enclosure as cooperative companions.

The Grow for Good team clearing the space for work to begin

But that's not the end of the project. Once the integration is complete Jasiri's enclosure will be free to accommodate another big cat species. We have a number of suitable occupants in mind and conversations with other collections continue. Whoever takes up residence will play a major role in our ongoing conservation work.

What's more, the pen between the two enclosures will also serve as an ideal 'cubbing pen' into the future, enabling us to participate fully in managed breeding programmes for endangered species.

We have diverted some funds from our day-to-day operational budgets to get this important project underway, but we'll need your help to drive it to completion this summer.

By making a contribution, however large or small, you'll be enriching the daily lives of these magnificent animals who, merely by their presence here, have already given great joy to thousands of visitors. You'll also be helping us to further improve our big cat collection and fulfill our ongoing commitment to the conservation of these important species.

You can contribute via our secure donations platform below or, better still, visit the zoo, see Jasiri and Josie and talk to the staff.

Your support is vital, and very much appreciated.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Pole-Dancing Jaguar

Today we gave our Jaguar a bit of enrichment in the form of hanging meat. 

Keepers placed a meaty bone inside a heavy duty cardboard tube then hung it up high on a tree stump. Jaguar are extremely good climbers and by hanging his food in the tree promotes a bit of extra exercise and agility as well as encourage a bit of hunting ingenuity. This also helps him keep fit and use those muscles that do not always get a workout. 

It's also great fun. 

Chincha, or Nico as the keepers have nicknamed him, came to us from Parc de Felis in France in April. When he arrived he was understandably nervous of his new surroundings and charges. It took a few weeks for him to settle but now he is very happy. He can be seen playing up the trees or in the long grass and especially in his moat. He is an excellent swimmer and loves playing with his ball in the water. 

Jaguars are the largest of the South American cats and the third largest cat in the world. Tiger and Lion being the biggest. 

Jaguar can weight up to 114kgs. Chincha weighs around 90kg. They have the most powerful bite force of all the big cats at around 2000psi, compared to Tigers at 1050psi and Lions at 800psi. This means Jaguar can crush the skull of their prey, such as Capybara and Tapir, with a single bite.

The video demonstrates how strong they are and how agile they can be. At one point you can see how he is able to hold his entire body weight by his teeth! 

Monday, 11 May 2015

The arrival of Chincha the Jaguar

Chincha looking very sophisticated
It's always an exciting time when we welcome a new animal to Dartmoor Zoo, and the arrival of Chincha the Jaguar was no different!

After the very sad passing of Sovereign - Dartmoor Zoo's infamous escapee - everyone at the zoo was keen to ensure that his memory lived on, and that we continued to support the incredibly important conservation of the Jaguar.

Jaguars are classified as Near Threatened, and can still be found in the wild in the southern parts of the Americas, where their numbers are unfortunately in decline. Their decrease in numbers is mainly due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat, as well as a significant number being killed by humans. 

As an animal protected by the CITES agreement (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which was drawn up to ensure that international trade in plants and animals doesn't threaten their survival, trade in Jaguars or their parts is prohibited, but they are seen as a threat by some farmers and ranchers who take matters into their own hands.

In an effort to improve numbers there are breeding programmes in place at various zoos in conjunction with education and release projects. Chincha will hopefully become part of one of these programmes in the future as we work towards becoming a member of EAZA - the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

Chincha is a 2 and a half year old male and came to us from Le Parc Des Felins in France. After much planning he finally arrived with us on 22nd April. You can see a video of the arrival here:

He was understandably a little bit shy for the first week or so as he got used to his new surroundings, but he's well over that now and he's been very adventurous as he explores his enclosure. Although Jaguars are built for swimming, Sovereign hated the water, but Chincha loves it and was testing out the pool for the first time when we captured the below footage:
So, we are all thrilled to welcome Chincha and are extremely excited about what the future will hold for him. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Vervet enrichment goes viral!

Jay the Vervet with another enrichment example

At Dartmoor Zoo we are always trying to come up with new ways to provide enrichment for the animals that live here. Enrichment is fantastic to stimulate the animals, and promotes the use of natural behaviours and problem solving.

Most people have seen the viral video of the dog playing with a bottle that spins, and when upside-down a treat is released. If you haven't it's one to watch!
Image from

It's a great example of a DIY toy that keeps dogs entertained for hours!

One day one of our fantastic volunteers came into the zoo with a modified version made by his dad, and we just had to try it out!

Here's the video of what happened when Kiki and Jay, DZP's resident Vervet monkeys got their hands on it!

Curator Colin Northcott filmed their reaction. They right away knew that there was a problem to be solved and they absolutely loved it. Kiki went straight up to it and immediately started spinning it. It has left Colin wondering who is smarter, Kiki or Jay? Jay watched Kiki, copied her a little, but mostly waited for her to do the work and he took the spoils!

We're really pleased to say that the video has gone viral, and zoos all around the world have contacted Colin saying that they're going to give it a go with their animals, including zoos in Toronto, Denmark, Florida and Hungary! A great example of how social media and the internet help zoo professionals communicate and share ideas

We'll try it out with some of our other animals too, and keep you posted on how it goes...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tagging a Lechwe calf

Head Keeper Mike Downman tagging a Lechwe calf
Just like agricultural animals, zoo animals have to be identifiable. One method of identifying an animal is by tagging them with a brightly coloured ear tag. This is especially good for animals such as the Lechwe as they can easily be seen from a distance.

We've added a video which you can watch below to see the process. It is a very quick and painless procedure and also gives us an opportunity to give the calf a health check and determine its sex.

For safety reasons the Lechwe calf is first separated from its mother. You can hear it calling to her through the procedure, which only takes around 3 minutes so they aren't apart for long. The calf's natural response is to lay low, hoping to avoid being seen by any potential predators. This allows us to capture him very easily as he makes to attempt to avoid being captured. Their mothers will often leave them for hours, they lie in the overgrowth, hiding from predators, as it would be too dangerous for them to wander around in the open. At 10 days old they tend to join the main herd in the open when they are less vulnerable.

After we've caught him, and you need at least 2 people to do this, one will hold him while the tag is prepared by the other. In the video's case Curator Colin Northcott has this task. The tag itself is a two sided soft disc containing a unique number. Like an earring it has a pin on one side and a catch on the other and clicks shut when they come together. One in it won't fall out.

In the video you can see Colin checking the ear before inserting the tag. This is essential because the ear has 3 veins running through it which have to be avoided. Once happy at the location he quickly and firmly squeezes the applicator together. The animal is so young that he doesn't feel anything. The other ear is then done as a back-up in case at some pint the animal loses one. It might look large to you at this point, but as the animal grows it looks much more in proportion. 

The ears are checked for bleeding, then the animals is given a quick check and is sexed and it's time to release him to re-join mum. 3 minutes and all done.