With the workaholics among us on “holiday”, we ended up spending New Year’s Eve at Prague Zoo. Why? Because they have tigers! We spend most of our time researching and investigating facilities in Thailand, which generally do not have the same higher welfare standards as facilities or zoos in the western world. With that in mind we thought it would be interesting to have a look to see what standards are offered in Eastern Europe, hoping for something a little more positive.
At the outset we should say that Prague Zoo is undergoing a fair bit of improvement at the moment, with a number of exhibits closed because of this. Additionally, the areas were looking a little sparse simply because it was winter, so we won’t hold that against them!
Prague Zoo holds three tiger subspecies, the Malayan, Sumatran and the Amur. The first two of these were held in a Feline Pavilion complex, which had a number of outdoor enclosures in a large circle. In the centre was an enclosed area in which visitors could walk and see the parts of the interior of the cages, all in warmth and comfort.
Malayan and Sumatran Pavilion
The Sumatran and Malayan tigers each had one large outdoor enclosure to which they had free access. No one was out in the Malayan enclosure but a male Sumatran was pacing around his area. The areas were decently sized given the space constraints within the zoo. Each had grass and earthy substrate as well as a large concreted area that presumably would normally hold water to form a deep moat. Considering the weather conditions and the constant below freezing temperatures we had already endured in Prague, it seemed pertinent to assume that the moats were empty simply because of the cold winter months – health and safety of the animals being exercised here.
The outside - There were a number of trees dotted about the enclosure and some large multi-levelled wooden platforms that the tigers could jump up and lounge about on. However, there wasn’t much enrichment around, barring one Boomer ball style toy. The male Sumatran paced the entire time and there were clear pacing trails throughout the enclosure leading us to the conclusion that the environment and enrichment was not providing for the needs of the tigers. However, the pacing could have been due to imminent feeding as a number of the other cats in the area were also pacing and looking in the same direction.
Whilst the outside areas were acceptable, especially if compared with enclosures we usually see in Thailand, comparing them to what we commonly see in the Western world, they fell short. The inside display areas were worse.
The inside - These inside areas comprised of small, narrow concrete-floored areas measuring around 3x5m. Some of the other smaller felines faired better in this area with the Clouded Leopard and Jaguarundi both being provided with boxes to hide in, hammocks, areas of wood chips and multiple logs for climbing.
The tigers were not so lucky and had barren areas with only logs attached to the walls and slight raised areas. Though the long logs attached to the walls could be used for scratching and rubbing, the shorter ones on the platform were clearly more for aesthetic purposes. The tigers in these areas also had free access – there appeared to be a third area in between the outdoor and indoor enclosures in which they could hide in, completely away from the public. However, the tigers here were pacing, or, as in the case of one tiger, hiding as much as possible from the public. The frontage of these enclosures was large panes of glass so the tigers could see all the visitors pressed up against it. The glass was soundproofed so the tigers were at least removed from the noise.
The Amur area
The Amur tiger area was located on a hillside and was setup in similar fashion to the other tiger enclosures. There were a number of trees and platforms throughout the enclosure giving the tigers access to height. No moat here, but a large albeit empty pond. The overwhelming impression from this area was that it was too small, however we do not know how many tigers inhabit this area as the keeper was cleaning the area when we visited.
We were able to witness some of the daily enclosure maintenance with the keeper collecting up faeces and also positioning some meat and bones around the area for the tiger to find. Once she was finished, the door to one area was opened but the tiger did not emerge. At least they are given the option of being inside or out. There were no inside viewing areas available to the public for this area.
Overall, the tiger enclosures were a disappointment. The inside areas could have had a lot more done to them to make it more habitable to the tigers – substrate on the floor, toys, hanging objects etc. The only real positive here was that the tigers had the option to move away and hide from the public, though we cannot say what these other areas look like in terms of meeting the tigers’ needs, nor do we know the exact number of tigers sharing any of the given spaces.
However, we did get a possible idea of what these off-limit areas might look like as we passed a section that looked to be a quarantine or
holding area; inaccessible to the public. In the back there was a lone male lion. His area consisted of about 10x5m of barren concrete floor space with a single wooden pallet on the floor in the corner. There was an inside area which we were unable to view but this lack of enrichment or providing any natural environment in an area not viewed by visitors, was a little concerning and leads us to posit that the other off-limit areas might well be of the same standards.
Other animals within the zoo fared much better – there was a great rain forest exhibit and a stunning area for the mountain goats, so we can hope that further improvements to the feline enclosures are coming soon.