A one-metre tall model alpaca made out of papier mache and cardboard and covered with off-cuts of alpaca fleece was fed to the tigers at Paignton Zoo.
Paignton Zoo big cat keepers Helen Neighbour and Lucy Manning got the idea after they went llama trekking on Dartmoor.
Lucy said: “We got talking to the owner of Dartmoor Llama Walks, and said it would be good to have some fleece. She let us have some pieces after the alpacas were shorn.
“The model alpaca is great environmental enrichment for our Sumatran tigers and a bit of fun for our visitors. The look of this unusual object in the tigers’ paddock and the unfamiliar smell of the fleece really got the animals interested.”
Adult Sumatran tiger Banda and 18-month old cubs Aryo and Surya certainly made short work of the model. Helen said: “It took me about four hours to complete the model and it was all over in a matter of minutes, but it was totally worth it!”
Zoos use environmental enrichment to encourage natural feeding and foraging behaviours, stimulate mental and physical activity and provoke curiosity using unusual objects and situations.
Enrichment can range from puzzle feeders and wind chimes to unusual scents and cardboard boxes with food hidden inside. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park has won awards for its enrichment work, hosting a regional conference on the subject in 2006 and a major international conference in 2009.