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Cleveland's Amur Tigers Have Earned Their Stripes

Connecting people with wildlife goes beyond the thrill of seeing an individual animal; it also teaches personal insight into the species' life as it would be in the wild.

For more than four decades, Amur tigers have earned their stripes helping Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s visitors connect with wildlife. In the company of giraffe, elephants and gorillas, tigers are readily identified as one of the most remarkable creatures in the natural world. Even just a passing glimpse of a tiger produces an instantaneous appreciation of the animal’s power and its predatory nature.

With the opening of Rosebrough Tiger Passage last summer, Zoo visitors can experience closer than ever before the tigers’ beauty and stature.

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The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is home to two Amur tigers: Dasha, born in Cleveland in 2001 and Klechka, a 12-year-old male who was born at the Toledo Zoo. The largest of the big cats, tigers are endangered in the wild. Dasha and Kletchka are two of 138 Amur tigers in 52 AZA accredited zoos in North America.

This particular subspecies of tiger is found almost exclusively in the Amur River region of Russia, with some individuals straying over into China. Tigers are tolerant of a wide range of climates and habitats, only requiring adequate cover, water and prey. The tigers’ charismatic nature ignites a passion in visitors to take personal action to positively impact conservation and secure a future for wildlife.

‘NATURALISTIC’ SURROUNDINGS

Dasha uses the overhead trail at Rosebrough Tiger Passage

In June 2016, Dasha and Klechka moved into Rosebrough Tiger Passage, an exhibit grounded in providing the highest standards of animal care possible. The new exhibit replaces the Amur tigers’ former residence, a 1960s-era exhibit that was — in the words of Neil Armstrong, another ’60s icon — “a giant leap” from the early 19th-century barred cages with sterile concrete floors. Considered modern in their time, 1960s era-exhibits were fashionable due to their “naturalistic” settings.

“Naturalistic” primarily meant the backdrop for the visitor, not necessarily the exhibit space for the animal. Rosebrough Tiger Passage pays homage to naturalism while also incorporating exhibit design advancements. The combination of exhibit space, access and features all enhance Amur tiger behavior and husbandry.

Given the size and territorial nature of tigers, adding exhibit space is a logical goal. In the wild, female tiger territories can be exclusive or can overlap, with territory size dependent on the density and availability of prey. Males’ territory ranges are larger and usually overlap those of several females.

The new exhibit space greatly increases territory for Dasha and Klechka. The old exhibit had 6,500 square feet of space. Rosebrough Tiger Passage has in excess of 15,500 square feet available to the tigers. Square footage is important, but of equal importance is spatial complexity. The exhibit’s four outdoor habitats can be managed as a single unit or partitioned. While zoo keepers will change up the combination of available zones on a regular basis, Rosebrough Tiger Passage was designed to give the tigers as much choice as possible.

CHOICES FOR ENRICHMENT

Dasha gets her feet wet at Rosebrough Tiger Passage

One of the most noticeable features of Rosebrough Tiger Passage is the creation of three-dimensional living areas. A woven wire, cable mesh ceiling affords the tigers unprecedented access to vertical space. For obvious reasons, climbing was one behavior that was discouraged in the previous open-topped exhibit. But a layered environment — one that takes advantage of horizontal and vertical spaces — promotes natural behaviors.

Rosebrough Tiger Passage also maximizes the tigers’ access to as much available space as possible during any 24-hour cycle. Amur tigers are mostly nocturnal, meaning they are inclined to be more active at night. Tigers value access to varied and enriching areas in synchronization with their circadian clocks. Another predominant feature — two overhead elevated pathways — are exciting for visitors and utilitarian for the tigers. Anyone with a house cat will recognize the feline preference for high perspectives. The overhead pathways not only provide unique viewing for visitors but also a way for the tigers to move between their exhibit zones.

Rosebrough Tiger Passage features bodies of water, heated rocks, climbing poles and a training access port. Amur tigers are a water-loving species and their wild habitats are always near bodies of water. Shallow pools and streams may be used to find relief on a hot summer day and are also sources of exercise and environmental enrichment.

Tigers are native to some of the coldest regions of Russia, but the exhibit’s heated rocks help take the chill off winter in Cleveland.

Climbing poles demonstrate the staggering agility of the large cats, and give the cats additional activity to increase muscle development. Lastly, a training access port provides a location where a training reward can be offered through the exhibit barrier. Visitors who are on-site during training sessions may get a first-person view of the techniques keepers use to accomplish cooperative training behaviors.

INSIGHT INTO A SPECIES

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Regular Zoo visitors and long-time members will undoubtedly recognize the transformation of the tigers’ exhibit space, but they may not recognize the intentions under which Rosebrough Tiger Passage was designed. Zoo professionals’ experiences over the last few decades have taught zoo keepers and curators to be more in-tune with not only the physiological needs but also the behavioral needs of species. We also learned that exhibit spaces and opportunities within those spaces should be complex enough to accommodate and encourage natural behaviors. The new needs-based design offers an exciting new way to experience and view tigers and it reflects a positive shift in public perceptions and expectations of the welfare of the species.

Connecting people with wildlife goes beyond the thrill of seeing an individual animal; it also teaches personal insight into the species’ life as it would be in the wild.

Click here to learn more about how your Zoo is helping Amur tigers in the wild.

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