The presentation of new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of the animals.
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We investigated what bobcats did in their natural environment and then brainstormed ways to try to encourage and recreate those behaviors in their enclosures here.
From our research, we were able to target a number of behaviors that we wanted to encourage with our bobcats. These included grooming, water play, sunning, climbing and denning.
Kathy Carlstead, Ph.D. and Research Associate of the Honolulu Zoo points out that by using different enrichment techniques animals can be stimulated to investigate and explore their surroundings. This can be accomplished by presenting novel food items (or presenting food in different ways), as well as novel objects and smells. The presentation of new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of the animals. The volunteers at WildLife on Easy Street formed a committee to focus on the development of appropriate enrichment for the animals in our care. The committee decided to focus our enrichment on trying to encourage an increase in natural behaviors in our captive cats.
Being a sanctuary to approximately 170 cats and over 200 animals total, we had to decide exactly where to start. As a committee we determined the easiest way to approach our task was one species at a time. We started with our bobcats for a number of reasons. We are home to a significant number of them (over 30) at a wide range of ages. Also, they represented a variety of backgrounds. Some were pets, some came from fur farms, some were hand-raised and some came from the wild.
For our study of bobcats and enrichment, we used the SPIDER model, which was presented by staff from Disney's Animal Kingdom at a recent conference attended by some of our volunteers. SPIDER stands for Setting Goals, developing a Plan, Implementation, Documentation, Evaluation, and Readjustment. This presented a simple and organized system for us to follow.
The committee then used a list of questions to research bobcat behavior in the wild. These questions related to their hunting techniques and prey, territories and markings, threats, interactions with other animals as well as other observations. We also reviewed the histories of our current bobcat population and examined their enclosures. We investigated what bobcats did in their natural environment and then brainstormed ways to try to encourage and recreate those behaviors in their enclosures here.
From our research, we were able to target a number of behaviors that we wanted to encourage with our bobcats. These included grooming, water play, sunning, climbing and denning. When the committee developed ideas to recreate these behaviors, the ideas were then submitted to our staff and veterinarian for further approval. (It is important to consider individual health issues for each cat when determining the appropriateness of different types of enrichment.) These steps covered the goal setting and planning part of our model. Next came the fun part, the implementation!
For grooming, we used scents that we could spray into their enclosures. We used star anise and vanilla steeped in water. We then put the scented water into squirt guns and sprayed logs and trees in the bobcat habitats. (Just a note: the star anise was much more popular than the vanilla.) The bobcats would usually find the scent and either roll around or rub against the area we had sprayed. We found that when multiple bobcats were housed in the same enclosure, they would often start to groom each other as well. This was probably one of our more successful enrichment goals and it was fun to watch the responses of the cats. They loved it!
During our research, we discovered that bobcats sometimes spend time in the water. We purchased a galvanized tub that was large enough for the bobcats to play in, but small enough to be easily moved from cage to cage. The tub was placed inside an enclosure and was filled with a few inches of water. We found that some of our bobcats really enjoyed splashing around and investigating the water.
We also wanted to find ways to encourage our bobcats to sun themselves and climb, which were other natural behaviors that we studied. This involved examining our current enclosures. We had to determine which cages naturally had rocks and logs in sunny spots or trees for climbing and if or how we could improve or change the others. We used scented treats in the higher spots of their enclosures to encourage them to climb. The bobcats seemed to enjoy this as well. We did note, however, that on our types of cage wire, the cats that were clawed sometimes had difficulty climbing the cage itself. We restricted any treats on the cage itself to cats that were declawed.
Our research also revealed that bobcats often create temporary dens. To encourage this behavior, we placed large boxes in their enclosures. The boxes had holes in them large enough for the cats to enter. The results of this were mixed. Some of our bobcats loved them (although they did not necessarily use them for dens) and some of them were not interested.
After each implementation of enrichment, we evaluated our successes and failures, determined what changes we needed to make and sometimes tried again (the readjustment part of the model). The adjustments we made were noted above.
As far as documentation, we decided the easiest way for us to record our enrichment was to make a list of all of our animals. When one of our volunteers gives an animal enrichment, the date and type of enrichment is logged on the list. The lists are updated monthly.
The enrichment committee at WildLife on Easy Street has found this model to be helpful in organizing, researching and documenting our progress. We have learned so much more about our animals through this process and with that knowledge, feel like we can give them better care while they are with us. We hope you can use some of the information we have shared here. For more information about enrichment or WildLife on Easy Street, you can visit the web site at www.wildlifeoneasystreet.com.
Many thanks to Carolyne Clendinen of Big Cat Rescue/Wildlife on Easy Street, for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2003 by Carolyne Clendinen, and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.