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.