The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has entered One Spark with an innovative tiger exhibit.
The exhibit features a fortified trail system allowing tigers to react to their natural instincts of scent-marking and hunting, said Tony Vecchio, executive director of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
He said the new tiger trail will be the most natural habitat that zoos have ever constructed.
Vecchio said that he has seen several zoos build bigger and better exhibits for big cats, but the cats still behave like cats. Anyone who has a house cat knows that cats mostly sleep all day, he said.
In most zoos, a tiger will come out and patrol his exhibit, do a little scent-marking, and, after making sure there is no threat or food, will find a cozy and shady place to sleep all day, Vecchio said. In the wild, tigers are always on the hunt, spending a lot of time patrolling their territory and making sure there are no rivals, he said.
The invention here is two tiger exhibits with lots for the animals to do, Vecchio said.
The tiger trails feature a closed fortified system that winds through the entire exhibit, so when the tigers are put in the trail, they are able to explore and patrol their territory, he said. Rotating the animals from one exhibit to the other will give them a new habitat to scent-mark and sniff other tigers.
In addition, the exhibit is designed to allow other animals such as exotic pigs, or babirusas, to access the trail during the day, Vecchio said. Once the babirusas are back in their own exhibit, the tigers will have access to the trail to smell the prey species, enabling them to display hunting behavior.
Parts of the trail twist around other exhibits to provide olfactory, visual and auditory stimulation, allowing the tigers to display more natural behaviors than they would in other zoo exhibits, he said.
The zoo is going to start off with six to eight tigers, Vecchio said.
“We expect one of the tiger groups will be the very endangered Sumatran tiger, which is a very high conservation priority, and we hope to breed those tigers here,” Vecchio said. “But the other tigers will be rescue tigers, kind of serving the role that the better sanctuaries serve, and we will be able to take animals that need a home and give them a place to be.”
Tigers and wild pigs aren’t the only animals being granted freedom: An underground highway system for otters will allow them crawl through a tube and spend time inside the babirusas exhibit if they wish.
“And, it is not just the tigers, it is the theme in the whole area of the zoo, we are giving the animals more room to move and more choice,” Vecchio said. “You never know exactly where you are going to see the animals when you come to the zoo; they will be deciding that, and they will be making the choices on where they want to be.”