African servals, exotic cats as pets

Exotic Feline Care
Habitat Enrichment for Small Cats, by Bart Culver
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Can a private owner of ordinary means possibly create habitat that meets the physical and psychological needs of their animals as well as the zoos? Absolutely.

Often we find that cats show no interest al all in our elaborate and expensive efforts, but are fascinated for hours by something as simple as a cardboard box.

A beautiful habitat is one which contains ample food resources, clear water, shelter from the weather and from larger predators, room to run and climb, varied stimulating structures to explore and the opportunity to breed.







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At the ISZ Conference I asked several AZA zoo directors for a ballpark figure on the cost per ace of habitat at their zoos and they all said the same thing, $1,000,000 an acre! Can a private owner of ordinary means possibly create habitat that meets the physical and psychological needs of their animals as well as the zoos? Absolutely.

First we must realize that much of the cost of zoo habitat goes into providing facilities for the visiting public such as restrooms, restaurants, pavilions, walkways and non-invasive viewing enclosures such as moats and darkened tunnels with glass walls, and lots of landscaping with artificial rocks and waterfalls, etc.

Second, we need to apply a concept I call “animal esthetics”. Basically, this means that what makes a habitat appealing to the human visitors is quite different from what makes it appealing to the animal residents. Private owners of small cats have an excellent opportunity to observe and understand the needs of their cats. Private owners are on duty 24 hours a day. Zoos are closed and the keepers are gone during the time when the animals are most active so the most interesting behaviors go unnoticed. Members of the FCF also enjoy the opportunity to compare notes and learn from a large pool of experience.

Thirdly we must learn to be innovative in providing for the needs we do observe. Often we find that cats show no interest al all in our elaborate and expensive efforts, but are fascinated for hours by something as simple as a cardboard box. Lynn and I are constantly on the lookout for neat rocks, hollow logs, or even a well-branched dead tree. We recently discovered a patch of huge bamboo and we have taken pains to transplant some to our property. We hauled salvage timber to a local sawmill and got back a huge stack of lumber for $64.00 that will make a lot of ramps and catwalks.

Those are the basic principals of cat esthetics: A beautiful habitat is one which contains ample food resources, clear water, shelter from the weather and from larger predators, room to run and climb, varied stimulating structures to explore and the opportunity to breed.

Natural objects with natural smells give excellent stimulus to cats with olfactory glands thousands of times more sensitive then our own. The importance of this cannot be overstated. When I visit my lynxes, bobcats, caracals, servals or geoffroy’s they all go straight for my boots and pant legs to see where I’ve been. If I’ve been butchering a cow, they drool ecstatically. It’s something they can understand. I think someday we may discover a way to communicate with cats through smell. We may even discover a language with millions of words in the form of molecules.

I’m keeping a list of smells and the cats’ reactions to them. Bobcats have the strongest reaction to the greatest variety of smells. They love stinky things. But they also love perfumes. We all have heard that Calvin Kline’s “Obsession” will get a cat in the mood for love. Bobcats are particularly crazy about peppermint. A drop of peppermint oil on a wad of paper makes a great toy. I once visited some people with a bobcat who didn’t live strangers. I put a peppermint candy in my mouth and that bobby instantly loved me. Kissed my face. Gave me a hairdo. The people were amazed. The only smell I found bobcats don’t like is orange oil. I had an all-natural orange air freshener spray that made an excellent bobcat repellent. Smells, especially fragrant plants, are a rich field for experiments in habitat enrichment.

Toys – Cats are basically destroyers of things and they will eventually destroy their toys. Any toy give to a cat should be regarded as temporary and periodically replaced. When balls become deflated, they should be removed before the cat decides to eat the pieces. That’s why I prefer toys made of natural materials like wood, hemp rope, feathers, etc. These substances are much more likely to pass safely through the gut if ingested, then pieces of plastic or rubber.

Entertainment – I hang a bird feeder in each of my cages. The cats have so far caught only a couple of blue jays. The birds are too fast and wary. But bird watching is a good stimulation. We call it cat TV. We also use empty plastic bottles containing a few pebbles, hanging from elastic cord. Kiddie pools with goldfish purchased at a bait shop or small minnows trapped in our creek are great fun to the cats. (do not use catfish fries, the spines beside their mouths are sharp) The trouble with kiddie pools is after the cats have fished out the minnows or goldfish, they quickly become toilets, and you are the janitor. When filling a kiddlie pool, cats will go nuts trying to bite the stream of water. Cats love to “kill” garden hoses, and will instantly bite to kill any garden hose left inside a cage unguarded, wishing they were real.


Many thanks to Bart Culver of NOAH Feline Conservation Center, for allowing the use of this article on ExoticCatz.com.com in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2003 by Bart Culver, 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.







 

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© Jessi Clark-White, 2005
Habitat Enrichment for Small Cats