Less than a month since its grand opening, Tiger Forest at Zoo Knoxville is a hit with visitors and with the tigers that live there.
"Both of the tigers have adjusted really well and they are being able to spend all day out on the habitat now," said Petty Grieve, the Tiger Forest curator.
It is more than an exhibit; it is a habitat designed to promote enrichment for the zoo's three tigers - Bashir, Tanvir and Arya.
On Monday, it was Bashir's turn to enjoy the north habitat at Tiger Forest and he made the most of it. That included savoring his breakfast in a bag.
That meal is enrichment, something that encourages animals to act in a natural way.
We know that tigers love to hunt and eat and sleep and swim. So by putting their regular diet in a bag it encourages them to open up that bag like they would a prey animal and destroy it in order to get to the meat inside," Grieve said.
The space replicates what the Malayan tigers would have encountered in their natural habitat.
"It's not just flat. There are some undulating hills in here. We have deep pools for them. We know tigers love to swim. We have big limbs and logs for them to scratch and sharpen their claws on and then in the north habitat we also have an old temple ruin that is very common that you would see in Malaysia," Grieve said.
The south habitat is completely separate from the north habitat. It still needs a few finishing touches, but should open in the next week or so with a viewing area for visitors called a tree house.
"What they'll see more than likely is a tiger acclimating to this habitat," she said.
The tiger in the south habitat will be Tanvir while Bashir and Arya will continue to rotate through the north habitat.
That's where a training wall is visible just past the glass. The trainer works with Bashir to teach him to extend his paw and open his mouth and even stand up to show his belly. Those are all behaviors that would help with health check ups, for example.
You can see a lot from behind the glass but the part visitors can't see is a crucial part of the Tiger Forest habitat.
"The holding area is great," Grieve said. "We designed that to be able to breed Malayan tigers and participate in the species survival plan. I really love that there are training walls so the visitors can see what behaviors we train the animals to do. And the underwater viewing pools might actually be my favorite part of both habitats."
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