Snow for the Big Cats

Posted at 3:51 pm December 19, 2007 by Kym Nelson

 lion with snowmanThe holiday season brings some new attractions to the Wild Animal Park as we celebrate with the Festival of Lights. The ever-popular Snow Hill is a hit with many guests, especially the little ones, and all that snow gave us the opportunity for a novel enrichment weekend. Thanks to the efforts of the Park’s Education Department and the Conservation Corps (an education program for students) some of the animals at the Park also got to experience the snow! The lions, tigers, and cheetahs were all exposed to a little taste of winter, and their reactions were interesting to observe.

Izu, our male lion at Lion Camp, was the first to frolic in the snow early Saturday morning. The Conservation Corps had built two snowmen in Lion Camp that had been decorated appropriately with meat instead of boring coal. Izu had great fun attacking the “intruders” and continued to bat the large snowballs around several hours later.

Sumatran tiger Delta and her cubs were next on the list to receive this special treat. Not only were the tigers getting snow; it happened to be one of the two days of the week that our tigers receive a large bone as a treat. This gave the Conservation Corps a very mischievous idea: bury the bones in the snow piles! The cubs quickly went to work digging the precious bones free from the snow; the looks on their faces were priceless as they padded off, bone in mouth. Our tigers are no dummies; where food was found once it must certainly be there again, right? Not quite. On Sunday, more snow piles were put out for the cubs, but this time they did not hold a prize. Those cubs flattened the piles quicker than you could say “snowball fight!” Realizing that there was nothing more, the cubs began to investigate the actual snow a little closer but grimaced at the cold.

Blanca, our white tiger, was given a snow pile containing her food. Food, to Blanca, proved to be much more interesting than the snow itself. After digging out every last morsel, she stretched out in front of the snow and enjoyed all the attention being showered on her from our guests. She is such a ham!

Finally the cheetahs were given the opportunity to investigate the snow. Since our three girls love the water, I thought that perhaps they would enjoy the snow or at least chase after the snowballs. Boy, was I wrong! All three girls watched very closely as we rolled a large black tub filled with snow into their exhibit. Keeping their distance, Etana was the first to show her disdain for the new addition to her home. As we dumped the snow out of the barrel, Etana very bravely tried to scare it off with a hiss and a growl; when this didn’t work, she moved to safety under the cover of a fallen tree about 20 feet away. Pombe and Moyo watched us without a shred of enthusiasm as we tossed snowballs past them. Pombe did come over to investigate a few times but decided that getting a little love from her keepers was a much better use of her time! Etana, who is great at holding a grudge, took it very personally that we had littered her home with snow and remained mad at us until a little meat persuasion convinced her that we were still friends.

I guess you can say that our cats are true Californians, preferring the warm to the cold! It was a lot of fun for all, though, and I would like to thank all the people in the Education Department and the Conservation Corps for making this white weekend happen!

Kym Nelson is a keeper at the Wild Animal Park.

Please note: The image used above was taken in December 2004; no images were taken of the recent snow day. We used it here just to give our readers an idea of how much fun a snowman can be!

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4 Responses to “Snow for the Big Cats”

  1. Kris says:

    Yeah, a snow day. I am hoping for pics of the elephants snow day last weekend as well as the cam seemed to be on the fritz… 🙁

    Moderator’s note: We don’t have photos of the elephants’ snow day either–sorry!

  2. Bernice says:

    Wow, thanks for the update! You guys take so much care with the animals to ensure they’re enriched and having fun. 🙂 Sounds like it was a great day for everyone!

  3. Margaret says:

    I am excited for the cats! I was hoping they would get to enjoy the snow too. A lion safari in Ontario Canada has natural snow all winter, and they told me that their cats love to ” play” in the snow, rolling all around and batting at it. Since they have at least 2 months of the white stuff, they get accustomed to it, where as ” true” California cats only get to see it once a year for a couple of days until it melts. Still it is a great annual enrichment for all the animals.

    It will be interesting to see if the new NZP lions are out in their yard if it snows. They have heated ” dens” for them to rest in to get away from the chill and cold. The tigers like to play in it, but soon retreat to their heated ” den” as well.

  4. Marie says:

    Hi Kym. I’m so glad that these cats are provided with such enrichment. It keeps their lives interesting. I really enjoyed your blog. They reacted just as I would have thought they would. I would loved to have watched the cubs, first when they dug out their bones, and then the next day when they went looking again.

    Thank you,