Sensory enrichment - Taste
The sense of taste is very important to animals. Tigers are stimulated by offering different tasting food items in addition to the main diet, which should be incorporated into the regular diet. Special food items can be given as extra treats, which is particularly effective when placed inside a new enrichment item that keepers want the tiger to engage with. Popular extra treats that we’ve seen positive results include fish, cheese (but only very small amounts) and eggs.
Tigers also enjoy other novel food items such as coconuts and melons. However, these are usually not eaten, instead tigers enjoy playing with them. Coconuts provide hours of fun - tigers roll them around and crack them open themselves. Alternatively, the coconut can be already opened and then be filled with a treat that the tiger will actually eat.
Watermelons provide similar enrichment value, although the cracking of the watermelon tends to end a lot faster than a coconut! Some tigers will even eat a little bit of the watermelon – it’s essentially water after all. Some facilities give even stronger-smelling items such as durian to tigers, which then doubles up as scent enrichment (see a video of a tiger eating durian here!). Or even other gourds such as pumpkins which can be used to make fun Halloween themed enrichment items.
A variety of food should be given within the tiger’s natural food and nutrition. This means that instead of providing one type of meat such as beef every day, the type of meat and the cut can also be changed daily. Often tigers are given a combination of items throughout a week, including beef bones and chicken necks as well as a variety of other animals including sheep, deer, horse and pig, depending on what is available to the facility . While tigers will predominantly eat boar and deer in the wild, when prey is scarce, they will also eat small birds and mammals.
1. Dierenfeld, E.S., Bush, M., Phillips, L. and Montali, R. (1994). Nutrition, Food Preparation and Feeding. In: Management and Conservation of Captive Tigers, Panthera tigris. Eds. Tilson,R. Brady, G., Traylor-Holzer,K. and Armstrong, D. Minnesota Zoo: Apple Valley, Minnesota.