It's a beautiful day at T.I.G.E.R.S. in Myrtle Beach! I hope you all caught the episode on Nat Geo last Friday Night. T.I.G.E.R.S. was featured on an episode of Big Cat Week.
And now, an interesting article I found:
Big Cat Safety, Handling and Training
By Dr. Bhagavan Antle, Director at T.I.G.E.R.S.
These are just some of my observations over the last 24 years as I have trained some 400 big cats and met hundreds more. By big cats, I only mean the Panthera family (lions, tigers, leopard, jaguars and hybrids) all the rest are in a different category and the small cats (including cheetah and pumas) are in a different class. They will kill you, but it is not with the same intent and aggressive behavior. Male lions are 100 times harder to train than tigers.
What is training?
Training is bridging the gap between what you want the animal to do and getting him to do it. It is the language that you use to talk to animals if you want them to do something. A animal is not trained unless it will do basic behaviors regularly and repeatedly without trouble.
Behavior in response to command is a language you create. This language allows you to communicate with big cats. Without this language put in place, you have random communication with the cat and safety is precarious.
Many people try to "train" cats with food. This type of reward system creates a food drive that if used improperly can lead to and create a dangerous response. If you are working a cat outside of a cage like this, when no food is available, you are no longer in control. You can bridge certain behaviors with food, but you must then do them without, to assure the behavior is solid. A trained cat will walk into a strange place and do what you want when you want because you ask it, not because you feed it.
What constitutes a trained big cat?
Being able to have a cat walk over to you after you open the door and lay down at your feet and then allow you to make contact is the beginning of a safe relationship. Having the cat stay in the cage with the door open until you request it to exit is essential to safety.
Trained cats will sit, come, stay, steady, back up, lay down, go to, get on etc... just like a trained obedience dog will. Trained cats will do this regularly and repeatedly, inside or outside of the cage without food rewards. A trained cat will climb onto a seat or table 5 to 10 times in a row without breaking down.
One of the first things our more than 50 lions, tigers, leopards, liger's and jaguars are trained to do, is come out of a door or gate, in response to us calling their name. These animals are in groups of up to 10 or more, they have to wait their turn, and not push past any opening. Most of them have to do this 2 x a day as they are taken in from multi acre habitats, and brought into the main house for care, observation and feeding with full contact with the trainers the whole time.
A cat that you fool around with in a cage or through a cage is not trained. Without solid behaviors that are regular and repeatable you are at risk. The only sure way you know what the animal will do is when it does what you ask repeatedly.
There will be more of this article in future posts.
Myrtle Beach attraction, T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) and the R.S.F. (Rare Species Fund) are based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. For more information, please visit www.myrtlebeachsafari.com.