We are privileged to be able to share this very special moment filmed by the keepers at Sydney Zoo which is at the forefront of research into how to care for captive animals to keep them healthy and happy. Enrichment activities are very important for captive wild animals and that includes predators like the cheetah. In the wild, they would need to catch prey to stay alive and they can suffer if they cannot express these hunting instincts in captivity. This footage shows what happens when a robotic dog is released into a cheetah pen!
Robots Providing Enrichment for Big Cats
In this extraordinary scene, we see keeper Brett (the lion and cheetah expert) predict that the lions will not be too keen on the robot dog but that the cheetahs will probably be okay with it. He also describes the robot as ‘cheetah proof’ which is obviously essential for the safety of the robot and the cheetahs! Also, Mauritz (general manager) explains that he is interested to find out if the robot can help with cheetah enrichment. So, what happens when the cheetahs see the robot for the first time?
When the robot is on the other side of the fence, both cheetahs stare at it and one hisses showing that they are feeling threatened. The keepers describe it as a ‘little display of aggression’ and you have probably seen pet cats do the same. The main reason that cats hiss is to display a warning – they are telling a threat to stay away or they will attack. Then, Brett makes history by rolling back the gate and allowing the cheetahs to approach the robot. One cheetah bounds towards the robo dog – almost in a playful way. The robot operator makes the dog turn and run away as an animal would do and the cheetah runs after and leaps around. However, whenever the dog is made to approach the cheetah, it backs off. This makes it potentially very useful for handling cheetahs in dangerous situations and could be important for the safety of zoo keepers. The second cheetah enters the enclosure and acts in exactly the same manner. The big cats are fascinated by the machine and want to follow it around but as soon as it approaches them, they act defensively and back away.
Cat Toys and Enrichment
Domestic cats also enjoy electronic toys. They are very useful for reinforcing a cat’s natural desire to hunt. Most are powered by batteries but some have USB chargers. Just like the robot dog in this vid, you need to be sure that the toy is robust enough to withstand a playful kitty. Thankfully, the dog survived its first encounter with the cheetahs!
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