Running the Cheetahs

Cheetah chasing a lure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Copyright Cincinnati Zoo.

Enrichment is a term that you will often hear about in reference to animals in accredited zoos and aquariums, but what does it actually mean? 

AZA’s Behavior Advisory Group (BAG) has defined enrichment as a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animal’s behavioral biology and natural history.   Changes are made to the animal’s environment that increase their choices and encourage species-appropriate behavior – the end result being enhanced animal welfare.  Enrichment in the daily husbandry practices of animals at AZA accredited zoos and aquariums in required by AZA Accreditation Standards.  

There are various types of enrichment. These include environmental enrichment devices, habitat enrichment, sensory enrichment, food enrichment, social groupings and behavioral conditioning.  In this post, I thought I explore an example of sensory enrichment from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.  

In 2007 the Zoo converted a portion of their education parking lot into a running yard for a cheetah encounter. The Cheetah Encounter was the first public cheetah running show in any AZA facility. In 2010, the facility underwent renovation.  The newly remodeled area consists of a football field sized yard and an upgraded 650 seat bleacher area for visitors to enjoy the speed and agility of a cheetah.  In its first year, the cheetahs ran for approximately 50,000 zoo visitors.  Last year, with increased seated capacity, an estimated 85,000 visitors were able to experience a cheetah run.

The cheetahs run using a sophisticated machine – a lure coursing wheel traditionally used to exercise saluki dogs.  In the wild, cheetah prey is unpredictable and this has led to a real challenge:  The cheetah are often seen predicting where the lure will turn and attempting to cut off the run pattern set up daily by the trainers.  The challenge that the trainers face is changing the lure course so that the cheetah do not begin to predict the runs or get bored by running in the same pattern.  Learning from the first two years of encounters, the trainers built the second yard with better strategies.  Mounds, grasses and release areas were strategically placed to try to prevent the cheetah from cutting off the lure pattern and forcing them to be honest when chasing the lure. 

Cheetah chasing lure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Copyright Connie Lemperle.

With a bit of hard work and some inventive thinking, the staff at the Zoo has created an enrichment program for the cheetahs that reaches out and touches thousands of people, and also improves the lives of these wonderful cats.  

Tim Lewthwaite

This entry was posted in cheetah, Enrichment, Exhibits, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Running the Cheetahs

  1. ladyofthezoos says:

    By far the most exciting enrichment I’ve seen used at a zoo!

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