Felid Husbandry

Felid Husbandry and Welfare

The superior health, husbandry and welfare of cats cared for in AZA-accredited zoos are top priorities for the Felid TAG. Felid health and husbandry practices ensure that their physiological, biological, psychological and social needs are addressed. Animal Care Manuals developed by taxon provide a compilation of animal care and management knowledge based on the current science, practice, and technology of felid management to advance excellence in felid care and welfare.

Health

To ensure the highest quality of health of the felids in our care, AZA-accredited zoos conduct preventative medical assessments, including daily observations and data recording, routine weight monitoring, full physical examinations including blood and fecal testing, dental examinations, diet supplementation and vaccinations. These assessments facilitate the early detection and treatment of illnesses and diseases by well-trained animal keepers and wildlife veterinarians.

Trainer conducting tiger training demonstration
A trainer at the Louisville Zoo conducts a tiger training demonstration. Using operant conditioning, the tiger is rewarded with meat for displaying a behavior on cue.  Training animals to perform specific behaviors enables keepers and vets to conduct health assessments and administer medications with causing the undue stress that can result from capture and anesthetization. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Nutrition

Nutrition is an important factor in an animal’s immune function and is an integral component of outstanding animal husbandry practices. Species-specific dietary needs are promoted to ensure excellent felid health and prevent disease.

The Felid TAG produced a Feline Body Conditions Guidelines poster to aid keepers in monitoring and assessment of the health of felids in their care. Download it in English or Spanish.

Reproduction

Reproductive physiology is an important factor that must be considered to ensure the highest standards of animal and population care, health and welfare. Understanding the reproductive physiology of individual species is critical to ensuring high genetic diversity in captive felid populations.

Cheetah resting with her cubs
A female cheetah rests with her cubs born at the Cincinnati Zoo’s cheetah breeding facility. (Photo: David Jenike)

Behavior

In situ and ex situ studies of felid behavior provide valuable information to ensure the welfare of both wild and captive felid populations. Understanding species-specific instinctual behaviors and the ways in which these animals learn allows us to meet the animal’s husbandry, social and behavioral needs while providing a unique opportunity to gain an understanding of its sensory, cognitive and physiologic abilities, which can be applied to conservation strategies.

Enrichment

Providing behavioral enrichment enhances an animal’s environment within the context of its behavioral biology and natural history. Social, cognitive, physical and sensory enrichment techniques are introduced on a varied schedule in a variety of contexts to increase the animal’s behavioral choices, elicit species-specific behaviors and enhance its welfare.

Fishing cat tearing a paper bag
A fishing cat tears into a paper bag filled with straw designed to stimulate its instinctual curiosity and hunting behavior. (Photo: Jillian Fazio)

Felid Husbandry Course

The Felid TAG Husbandry Course was created to fill a pressing need. Knowledge of the husbandry of large and small felids was being lost with the changeover of zoo personnel over the years. With this in mind, the Felid TAG acted to create this course to facilitate the transfer of this knowledge to both management and keeper personnel. The course itself is not static and constantly evolves to accommodate new information and new ways of passing this information along.

Course Specifics

The three-day course takes place each year preceding the annual Felid TAG Conference. The course covers various aspects of husbandry of both large and small felines. These aspects include: natural history, human and animal safety, physical environment, reproduction and behavioral management. Within this framework, other topics are covered including vet care, enrichment, birth and hand rearing and nutrition. The course achieves topic coverage by use of lecture, student participation, and various exercises designed to give a practical application of the knowledge. Students will be expected to complete some pre-course exercises to enhance course experience and will be required to work together during the course to achieve certain goals.

Instructors

Course instructors come from a wide variety of institutions and have many years of felid experience between them. They represent such institutions as Denver Zoo, Nashville Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution. With the knowledge they possess, the area of felid husbandry is covered in detail with the goal of spreading this knowledge and providing the tools for the students to do so as well.

Check back soon for details on how to register for this year’s course to take place June 8 – 11, 2014, as the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.

Resources