Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Behind the scenes with the big cats

Behind the scenes with our Amur Tigers
One of the experiences we offer here at Dartmoor Zoo is being a Big Cat Keeper for the day, providing people with a chance to work alongside the keepers in the daily routine for the big cats. It’s an all-day, hands-on experience getting as close to the big cats as is possible to get without being eaten!

The day starts at 8am in the Jaguar Restaurant where participants meet the keepers they’ll be spending the day with. It’s a chance to have a cuppa and go through all the important health and safety briefing that is necessary for getting behind the scenes with the big carnivores.

Then it’s off to the keeper’s yard to prepare food for the morning feed. Most of the cats are fed every other day to approximate their natural feeding habits in the wild where not every hunt would be successful making daily feeding rare. In the wild, once a kill has been made they would eat until they are fit to burst then rest for two to three days conserving energy for the next hunt. Lions are known for sleeping around 20 out of 24 hours!

The morning round can take around two hours making sure all the animals are in their enclosures, they are healthy and showing normal behaviour. At each enclosure the keepers give the participants all the background information on the animals from a keeper’s point of view. They learn all about the individual animal’s personality and to how they would live in the wild.

One thing to bear in mind when doing an experience like this is that it’s quite common to come into contact with poo, which can be a bit stinky! Also, dealing with large carnivores means dealing with large amounts of raw meat and, when the feeding is done, lots of bones.

The highlight of the day is assisting with the big cat talk for members of the public to watch in the afternoon. Participants help the keepers put out the cats’ meat, clean their enclosure, (that’s where the poo and bones comes into it) then stand back and enjoy the public talk by the Presentation Team.

At the end of a long, often tiring day, you get to take home a certificate to say you did a Big Cat Experience at Dartmoor Zoo, as well as lots of photos and memories of getting up close and personal with our amazing cats. Oh, and don’t forget the lovely keepers!

This is one of our most popular experiences and it never fails to impress. You can find out more about our Big Cat Keeper for a Day experience and see what visitors have to say about it here.

Kate Stone
Senior Keeper




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