Play Dates: The Cubs Are Always Playing
The Milwaukee County Zoo’s new tiger cubs love jumping on the logs, balls and other toys in their exhibit. “Every day we set up the logs in their exhibit and they love to run into the exhibit and knock them down,” said feline supervisor Neil Dretzka. “We stand the logs in piles to add some variety to the exhibit, and the cubs run out of the back and crash into them. The logs are small and weigh anywhere from 2 to 35 pounds. One day in November 2009 they took a foot-and-a-half-wide chunk of bark off a dead log in their exhibit. The next morning we found about 200 pieces of bark all over their back exhibit.”
Zookeepers waited until November 2009 to add large boomer balls to the cubs’ exhibit. “At first we didn’t put the boomer balls into the exhibit because these toys were heavier than the cubs,” said Dretzka, who was worried about a ball rolling over a cub and injuring it. By mid-November, the cubs were just as big as the balls and could climb and roll them without a problem.
The cubs also love to play with lighter toys like straw. Some days the cubs burst into their exhibit, jump into a pile of straw and scatter it all around. “We used to give them paper bags filled with straw, but they ate the bags,” Dretzka said. ”The cats were supposed to climb in the paper bags and play with the straw. Amba picked up the bag of straw and dropped it in the water. The next morning all we found was 15% of the bag,” Dretzka said. “The rest was eaten.” The cubs also throw and scatter ostrich and vulture feathers.
“One of the new things we’ve added is we’ve put water in their pool,” said Dretzka. “It’s only about 6 inches deep. At first the cubs sat there and stared at it. After a while, mom took a bath and the cubs jumped in as well. We have also given them water in their water bowls but they have learned to play with water so they don’t drink it; they just splash it all out. The kids are always wet and they don’t mind it.” Tigers are one of the few cats that swim and like water.
The cubs’ playful curiosity does get them into trouble. The morning of Dec. 10, 2009, keepers noticed that the cubs’ tongues were torn up and there were blood splotches on the metal door that leads to the outdoor exhibit. “It took us awhile to figure out what it was,” says Neil Dretzka. “Apparently they were doing the equivalent of sticking their tongues to a metal pole in winter. It was 2 degrees out that night. The door was frozen. We found a spot near the bottom of the door, one at nose height and a few above that. They must have been double-daring each other to lick the door.”