A Jaguar's Day

Posted at 10:09 am December 3, 2008 by Karen Barnes

Nindiri, the San Diego Zoo’s young female jaguar, spends most of her time in an enclosure behind the main jaguar exhibit in Cat Canyon (see Karen’s previous blog, Jaguars: Meet Nindiri). However, she is often visible beyond the back right corner of the main exhibit.

When she first arrived at the Zoo, she often spent the night in a large, open box, bedded with hay and located at the upper corner of her enclosure. Now that the weather is cooler, she sleeps in a double-walled “dogloo,” which is heavily bedded with hay. At the first check of the day, she knows food is not offered, and she tends to sleep in, so I must approach the sunroom where the dogloo is kept and peer into the dark interior, while a sleepy-eyed cat peers back.

Later in the morning, I return to service the area and rotate Nindiri onto exhibit for part of the day. By this time, she is up and active and very ready for breakfast. I give her a portion of her food in order to take the edge off her never-ending appetite. Despite her eagerness for food, she is a slow eater, and it takes her many seconds to consume even a smallish meatball.

Nindiri is always eager to shift onto the exhibit, but I must also shift our gorgeous, black jaguar, Orson, off exhibit and service (clean and prepare) the exhibit before releasing her into it. A cardboard box placed in the sunroom provides a good distraction for her energies. A training session provides more of her daily diet, another outlet for her energy and mental stimulation.

While we house two jaguars in close proximity, they are never put together. Adult jaguars are solitary in the wild, and Nindiri and Orson are not recommended for breeding, according to the Jaguar Species Survival Plan, which manages jaguars in captivity across North America. This requires a carefully choreographed rotation so the two cannot come into contact.

Behind the back wall of the jaguar exhibit are four bedrooms and a small alcove leading to the exhibit door on the back left-hand side of the exhibit. The sunroom, a small area, has doors leading into the alcove and into the back area, called the garden room, where Nindiri spends most of her time. Orson moves off exhibit into the bedrooms via a door toward the right-hand side of the exhibit and remains in rooms two and three, so there is always a buffer room between the cats. Once the exhibit is serviced, Nindiri is shifted through the alcove and onto exhibit. Orson is then shifted into the garden room until the rotation is reversed later in the day.

Nindiri knows that something will have changed in the exhibit and she quickly explores the area. Usually, she’ll start with a meatball hunt, searching for the small meatballs that were left in different locations each day. Enrichment options are frequently changed, to provide novelty for the animals. If the large, plastic bowl is in the exhibit pond, that is often her next stop. She pulls the bowl out of the pond and around the exhibit; we assume this is a demonstration of the jaguar’s tendency to cache food in the wild. She doesn’t try to take the bowl up into a tree, but often leaves it in the cave. Because Orson has recently exited the exhibit, she will also be experiencing his odors—another enrichment option for both of them. Once she has exhausted the options, she often rests on the lower bench on the right-hand side of the exhibit, or on the flat area just below, watching the world go by.

Late morning or early afternoon, she is shifted into the bedrooms where she will find a snack to keep her busy while Orson is returned to the exhibit. Once she is released into the sunroom and garden room, she may also have another training session with the last of her food. New enrichment options may have been placed in these back areas, so she has something else to do or explore.

And so another day is done.

Karen Barnes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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15 Responses to “A Jaguar's Day”

  1. Margaret says:

    Thanks Karen, sounds like a very busy day for both cats and keepers. Both cats sound like they are beautiful animals, especially if the photos are any small sample. I hope I can make it out to SDZ and WAP in 2009 to view all the gorgeous animals that call it their home.

  2. Lainie says:

    Thank you so much Karen for introducing us to this great cat ! The big cats have always been my favorite, and just love reading the blog entries about them. =)

  3. Emma says:

    So glad to read about how Nindiri is doing. It was sad to see her leave the Brevard Zoo, where she was born, but it sounds like she has a great home in San Diego. I look forward to hearing about her and her new mate one day, plus her new exhibit.

  4. Calvin from Canada says:

    When the jaguars move to Elephant Oddessey in 2009, will the zoo acquire a male jaguar so they can breed?

    Moderator’s note: Yes, a new male jaguar will join Nindiri in Elephant Odyssey.

  5. max says:

    i love nindiri

  6. Gary Bonanno says:

    We have a bet going on; Do jaguars climb trees?

    Karen responds: Yes, jaguars do climb trees. And FYI, we have a forked branch in the exhibit, which our jags both like to rest on, watching the world go by.

  7. Taylor says:

    I went to SDZ last month and got to Cat Canyon in the early morning so no one was really around. Nindiri was out and she was first sitting on the bench described in the blog, but then she ran up to the front of the exhibit and was watching me. It was really amazing to watch her and Karen you have an amazing job! I can’t wait until Nindiri moves into the new Elephant Odyssey as it should be an amazing new exhibit to an already incredible zoo.

  8. Taylor says:

    Karen are you the lead Jaguar keeper? Also, do you take care of the Snow Leopards? If so, would it be possible to do a blog on them?



    Moderator’s note: Yes, Karen takes care of the Zoo’s snow leopards. She promises to write a post about them soon.

  9. Taylor says:

    When is Nindiri moving to the new Elephant Odyssey enclosure?

    Karen responds: She moved on Tuesday, May 19. On the ride between the two areas, she looked out of the crate with interest, sometimes raising herself higher for a better view.

    She’s settling in nicely. Her new keepers came to visit her many times while she was still in Cat Canyon prior to the move so she would have familiar faces in her new home.

  10. Taylor says:

    Karen, will you be taking care of Nindiri?

    Moderator’s note: Nindiri has a different set of keepers now that she has been moved to Elephant Odyssey.

  11. Taylor says:

    Glad she is doing well in her new home. What is her new home like? Does it have features that were unavailable to her in the Cat Canyon enclosure?

    Karen responds: For now, she’s in the bedrooms and in an area where she can be seen through glass. The actual exhibits are not yet completed. There will be two: one on top of the building, visible to the tour buses, and the main exhibit with lots of branches to climb on and a shallower, long water element with a fish launcher, so fish can be released into the pond area. She’ll like fishing! She can also see more animals, like the elephants, so that will be a big change for her.

  12. Taylor says:

    I can always count on you Karen to respond! The new enclosure sounds really awesome, and what an enriching experience for her to be able to hunt live fish! I am sure she will enjoy that a lot. If there are fish in the pool, I am assuming the pool will be larger than the one in Cat Canyon, and thus she will probably be able to go in the water for swimming. I am sure she will enjoy watching the new animals. Have you guys found a male to breed with her yet?

    Karen responds: I do not know the status of a mate for Nindiri. I don’t know if we’re waiting for the Species Survival Plan to select a mate (based on the genetic value of each cat) or if the mate has been selected and we’re waiting to sort out the details with the sending institution.

    As for the water element in the new jaguar exhibit, I like it a lot. It’s longer with a shallower end and less-turbulent water. I think it would be more attractive to a jaguar. Nindiri has fished for live fish in a 50-gallon Rubbermaid tub containing just a few inches of water. The fun with the fish launcher is that she’ll never know when it will be activated, so she’ll have to learn to check the stream as she makes her rounds!

  13. Sharon Eckles says:

    When will I be able to see Nindiri in her new habitat? I missed her at Cat Canyon / I did not see any one in the new enclosure on opening nite of Elephant Odyssey.

  14. Nelson Jenkins says:

    @ Sharon Eckles (#13): Nindiri is down there; I think she spends most of her time in the big outdoor enclosure, but I’ve caught a glimpse of her in the glass one early in the morning. She’s very social and jumped up on the glass several times trying to get a better look at me! Still, she’s not yet accustomed to her new outdoor enclosure, and I’ve watched her take some big risks climbing up on some not-so-stable branches, only to take a short tumble and expertly grab onto another branch. Even so, it’s pretty clear that she’s gloating over her big new enclosure, and I’m sure Orson would be jealous!

  15. jerran says:

    thx for u guys helping the jaguars so that they will not exticte thx again and bye