Sensory enrichment - tactile
Similar to house cats, tigers need to scratch to maintain their claws. Though tigers have sheaths (the skin and fur around the toes) for their claws, it’s important that they are able to clean and sharpen them on a regular basis. Tiger claws retract into these sheaths preventing daily wear on the ground when walking, keeping the claws sharp for hunting
The provision of scratching material also helps to prevent ingrowing claws (ADD PHOTO) which can become a serious problem if left untreated. Ingrown claws can end up growing into the pad of the foot, causing pain when walking. To treat ingrown claws, the tiger may need a surgery to cut the claws or in severe cases, it is necessary to completely remove the claw and first phlange (the first small bone in the toe) . Therefore, providing scratching opportunities is essential for captive tiger welfare.
In the wild, trees are the obvious choice for tigers to use to scratch. That’s because, in addition to being used as a scratch post, scratching on trees is a form of territory marking and an integral part of natural tiger behaviour.
However, in captivity, enclosures have a limited number of trees to scratch which means that they can get over-scratched or even die.
To protect the trees, it is a good idea to wrap them with rope to create a tactile, scratchable surface. It’s not a good idea to wrap young trees though as the rope will need to be constantly adjusted to not strangle the tree! Unfortunately, in many enclosures in Thailand, when trees are present, they are often protected by electric fencing to prevent the tiger from going it near it. Trees look pretty in an enclosure and provide shade, essential for a hot country like Thailand, and facilities do not want the tigers destroying a tree as soon as it has been planted. However, it means that tigers frequently have no opportunity for scratching, that is why we recommend planting more mature trees rather than saplings.
Another great scratching option is to provide large tyres in the enclosure. Laying them on the ground provides the tiger with easy access to a scratchable surface. It is important to make sure that the tyre does not have wires inside as this can damage the claws of the tiger. Tyres can be used for all sorts of other types of enrichment too – more on that in another post!
1). Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (2020). The Truth about Declawing and Defanging: Tiger Tuesday Talk at Turpentine Creek Wildflide. [Online]. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFzUOIRpEAw. [Accessed: Dec 2nd 2020].