Its 3:30pm and dinner time for the big cats. The crowd begins to gather outside the glass and inside you can see the tigers pacing back and forth, tails twitching. The heads of the crowd move as one; mesmerized by the toing and froing of the great beasts. Such restless movements are almost synonymous with the proud creatures in front of us.
But, it really shouldn’t be.
Pacing, along with other activities such as head shaking and chewing each other’s tails, are all stereotypical behaviours. These behaviours are an indicator of poor animal welfare; a coping mechanism for fear or boredom.
And, what is even more concerning is that a recent study found that the captive tigers spent 23% of their daylight hours acting out these stereotypical behaviours.
These behaviours peak between two times every day; between 10am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm.
And the fact that there are these peaks (see graph above) is a big problem. Why? Because it shows that these behaviours are direct consequence of human interaction. Take the second peak for example; the highest point in stereotypic activity occurs during feeding time (3:30pm to 4pm).
So why does this matter? Well, it means that human routines are the cause of stress, fear and everything else stereotypical behaviours represent.
But there is good news! If we are aware that our actions are causing these behaviours we can change our ways and therefore better the welfare of the tigers.
So can it be fixed?
Yes! There are lot of different things zoos can do to keep their tigers happy and interested in the world around them. Some of these include; keeping live fish in ponds, cardboard boxes and most importantly, having variation in the tigers daily routines. All of these things keep both the tigers and people more interested, a win/win situation!
Yeah, but what can we do?
As a member of the general public there isn’t really much you do in the way of making a tiger’s environment as interesting as possible. I would NOT recommend throwing boxes or fish over the fence. Please don’t do this. That is a terrible idea.
However, what you can do, is go to your local zoo. Support your zoo. Donate to your zoo.
This way, zoos have that extra money to make life interesting for the animals. After all, they want the animals to be happy and healthy too.
Those extra profits can also be put to good use in breeding and conservation programs which have protected multiple species from extinction.
People forget that zoos do a huge amount of work towards protecting the environment and educating the public and so my final word is; go to the zoo. Have a great time. Support a good cause. And most of all donate to those programs zoos run to help conserve animals.
After all, we want to see tigers in the wild, not just in a cage.