July 29, 2019
The Carnivore Unit here at the Saint Louis Zoo cares for our Amur tigers, Kalista and Waldemere. Some of our duties to provide for these amazing animals include the obvious cleaning of their habitats and bedrooms as well as feeding an appropriate and healthy diet. But we have many more responsibilities.
We invest time in observing their behavior and condition. We investigate and implement an enrichment program that provides opportunities for them to demonstrate their natural behaviors (like putting scents in their habitats for them to investigate). We also help build voluntary trained behaviors that facilitate better care (like training the tigers to present certain body parts for inspection). We ensure they have comfortable places to rest (cats sleep a lot!), they have opportunities to play (they can be hard on their toys) and that we respect their capabilities as an apex predator (meaning they have no natural predators and are at the top of the food chain). We do all of this with the goal to increase their positive welfare.
It is an honor to care for and get to know these wonderful individual tigers, each with their own personality, and I am grateful each time I hear their distinct "chuff" vocalization to say "hello." - Julie Hartell-DeNardo, Zoological Manager of Carnivores
Happy Global Tiger Day! We are excited to celebrate this important day with our community, raising awareness for tiger conservation and sharing how we care for the Zoo's Amur tigers, Kalista and Waldemere. It is a privilege to be a part of their animal care team and get to know them individually. One of my favorite opportunities as a keeper is to watch them grow up and to care for them through all their life stages: as rambunctious youngsters, elegant adults and noble seniors. For example, Kalista was born at the Philadelphia Zoo in 2001, then two years later, she moved to the Saint Louis Zoo on a Tiger Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation. It was amazing to watch her mature into a stunning adult, meet her first mate and eventually become a very successful mother. We are committed to Kalista and Waldemere's specific, lifelong care to ensure enriching and comforting lives now and well into their golden years. - Carrie Felsher, Carnivore Keeper
Our Amur tigers Kalista and Waldemere are 18 years old and 16 years old, respectively. While we do have two tigers, you'll only see one tiger in the habitat at a time. While one tiger is in the habitat, the other is inside in the dedicated tiger bedrooms. The tigers' inside space is equipped with resting places, toys and an air conditioner/heater. The keepers work near there, too! The tigers can watch us work throughout the day and socialize with us while we are on the move. Tigers are a solitary species in the wild, and we try to replicate that here at the Zoo. We rotate our tigers twice a day so that they get equal opportunities to be outside. In general, one goes outside during the day, and the other goes outside overnight. We swap this schedule once a week as well so that both individuals experience the same amount of daytime/nighttime. This means that if you come to Big Cat Country in the morning, you will see one tiger, but if you come back at the end of the day, you might see the other one! - Jackie McGarrahan, Carnivore Keeper
In the Carnivore Unit, we regularly catch our tigers by the tail...well, sort of. Actually, Kalista and Waldemere allow us to safely handle their tails during training for blood draws. As our tigers are both older animals, it is advantageous to be able to regularly run bloodwork on them in order to monitor their health. Both tigers are trained to enter a training chute. In the chute, a tiger can eat their meat while Carnivore Unit trainers and/or veterinary staff can pull their tail safely through the side in order to access a vein to draw blood. This training is built on the basis of positive reinforcement training and operant conditioning. The tigers always choose to enter the chute, and they can choose to leave or remove their tail from the trainer's hands at any time. Fortunately, the tigers are always eager to participate in training sessions, and we are able to regularly practice this behavior. This is just one way we are able to provide the Saint Louis Zoo's tigers with the best possible care. - Carolyn Kelly, Carnivore Keeper
As a carnivore keeper here at the Saint Louis Zoo, I have an incredible opportunity to interact and work with an amazing species, the Amur tiger. Both of our tigers, Kalista and Waldemere (Waldo), have very different personalities. Kalista, our female tigress, is extremely engaged with keeper staff, very social with everyone she meets (even strangers) and she will greet most anyone with a tiger-specific vocalization called a "chuff" (greeting behavior). Waldo, on the other hand, is the big handsome male who tends to be more independent socially. He likes to do his own thing, and we keepers take on the challenge to create interesting enrichment that he will explore. One thing that really spikes his interest is our female tiger's scent that he immediately picks up the second he goes outside. Tigers will open their mouths wide, curl their lips back and show their teeth. This is performed over a site, scent or substance of particular interest to the animal, and this goes on for quite a few seconds. This behavior is known as the Flehmen response. So next time you see one of the tigers with their mouth wide open and showing their teeth, you know they have picked up a scent that has caught their interest. - Travis Shields, Carnivore Keeper
Amur tigers are one of 18 species (42 total individuals) that we get the privilege of caring for in the Carnivore Unit. Each individual animal has unique requirements, but there is one thing that we as keepers are always striving for—happy, healthy and active animals. One of a keeper's best tools in accomplishing this is the process of providing enrichment. Enrichment can be defined as any opportunity that improves or enhances the animals' environment within the context of their biology and natural history. This means that we are tasked with understanding the behavior and biology of each of our 42 animals and can tailor our enrichment programs off of that information. For instance, some of the biggest instinctual drivers for tigers include scent marking and stalking/ambushing. Through our enrichment program, we are able to provide a lot of different scents that the tigers are attracted to, such as hair and bedding from prey species, colognes and perfumes, and spices and herbs. We also provide large items that the tigers can stalk and attack, such as large barrels, boomer balls and burlap bags full of bedding. These items are often paired with a scent that attracts them. Seeing our animals interacting with enrichment opportunities that we provide them can be one of the most rewarding experiences as their caretakers. Animals showing a wide range of natural behaviors is a sign of good welfare, but it also gives visitors an opportunity to see our animals being who they truly are—wild animals. - Nate Aalund, Carnivore Keeper