GUWAHATI, April 17 - A new system has been introduced at the Assam State Zoo under which the big cats will have to stay hungry for two days in a bid to make the felines think, keep them mentally active and trigger their natural instincts.
State Zoo DFO Tejas Mariswamy, while talking to The Assam Tribune, said the primary purpose of any modern zoo is always to act as a conservation centre for the endangered species while keeping the scope for research activities open. The key focus, however, is always on the welfare of the animals, which can be achieved by providing the zoo inmates natural living standards. Regulation of animal behaviour through food delivery mechanism can play a vital role. Therefore, the Assam State Zoo has introduced a new diet pattern for its animals, starting this year, he said.
At the State Zoo, big cats like tigers and lions are generally fed six days a week, with beef being their staple diet. �If we compare this with a wild tiger, it is seen that tiger hunts are successful only once in 10 to 20 attempts. An adult tiger can consume up to 40 kg of meat in one meal and it may not kill again for four to five days. A wild tiger also has to steadfastly protect its territory, for which it has to travel around 15 to 20 km every day,� he said adding that absence of these aspects is bound to have a deep impact on the biological faculties of the tiger, making it more like a domestic feline.
Therefore, it is important to control their feeding pattern in such a way that lethargy does not set in, in their mind and body, Mariswamy explained.
Following global trends, the State Zoo has introduced two days� fasting for the big cats. They will be given beef on four days and mutton on one day. The Zoo is also exploring ways to include more variety in their diet.
�The main aim of introducing the two-day fasting is to make the animals think. Thinking is extremely important to keep the animals mentally active. Definitely, a healthy mind always leads to a healthy body,� the DFO said.
Also, being scavengers, vultures, too, generally do not get to eat every day. Therefore, from now on, food will be provided to them every alternative day. Gradually, the Zoo intends to shift to a twice-a-week feeding pattern for the vultures.
With respect to the aquatic birds, which were being fed dead fish, will now be provided with live fingerlings, which have been released in the Zoo pond. The aquatic birds will have to hunt the fish there as they do in the wild. This is a sort of feeding enrichment where the birds are made to exhibit their natural behaviour.
Again, it was observed by the health advisory committee of the Zoo that the herbivores, especially deer, were getting overloaded with protein. Now, their food has been modified in the new diet plan, taking a cue from the Mysore Zoo, which is among the best performing zoos in the country.
In order to stimulate the captive animals� natural instincts, food enrichment activities are also being taken up at the Zoo, wherein food is kept hidden in an enclosure, say inside a bamboo stick or on trees etc., to make the animals use their sensory skills to find the food themselves.
Further, as per the Central Zoo Authority guidelines, the deer will now be made to feed more on natural grass and tree leaves, and fruits and vegetables will be gradually avoided. For quality green grass, the Zoo will use the bigger hydroponic system which is capable of producing over 1,200 kg of fodder grass per day.