Blackpool Zoo works on a 2 door policy to ensure the safety of the big cats’ keeper so when my dad and I arrived at the lion house, we waited for the doors to be locked.
The Zoo keeper first showed us the indoor housing and room for when the lioness was in cub. We hosed down the floors and mucked out. We learnt about the different social structures at the zoo at this particular time as opposed to the wild due to the passing of the lioness @ 90% weaning stage. Leaving the two males behind, the son was cared for and they have a surprisingly close father-son bond.
The tigers are a male and female pair, but the female has a contraceptive implant due to the controlled breeding programme.
We weighed out their food (4kg of horse meat), whilst discussing the visitors’ perceptions of big cat feeds and the legislation for Zoo licensing. Unless it is a life or death situation I.e an animal won’t eat, a zoo cannot feed live prey. In this rare case, a veterinarian would be on site to review and watch. Many zoos will not feed the horse / hare heads to the lions to prevent distress from spectators during feeding time.
Time for fence feeding! I kept my distance, facing the animals at all time. The keeper called the male tiger over to the panel without electric fencing (which surrounds the enclosure as a safety precaution).
I fed him through the bars with a piece of horse meat on the stick each time, he was well trained. This is handy for vet checks, to see underneath an animal.
As the female wore down her canines during gestation, she is not fence fed to avoid problems to her previous root canal from occurring.
When it came to feeding Wallace the lion, he stood his ground and roared. Due to the hierarchy, the son stayed behind and so the keeper reassured me that they are separated in the paddock so they both get their fair share throughout the day. To mimic their intake in the wild, where their daily feeds fluctuate reflecting the inconsistencies of having to catch their preys, big cats in captivity will have semi-fast days then days where they are fed 16kg.