A personal view
In an ideal world all tigers would live in the wild and I would hope, there would be a way for people to see them. But of course this isn't an ideal world and Sumatran tigers in particular are staring down the barrel of a gun.
The tigers in our zoo are part of an international breeding programme as an insurance policy against extinction, and of course this also allows us to show off Sumatran tigers to our visitors. Seeing tigers in the wild is incredibly difficult and beyond most people’s reach, so zoos are very important places to see these wonderful big cats. I want the tigers in my zoo to have the best possible quality of life, so my approach is to give them as much stimulation as possible.
At Australia Zoo I have a hands-on relationship with 11 tigers, which allows me to go into their enclosures and interact with them. I believe my tigers are not stressed and frustrated - So much so I can carry out health checks and I can even take samples of blood when necessary. The tiger team spend many years building up this trusting relationship and it is based on mutual respect, skilled husbandry and consistent training. We never push our tigers to do things they don't want to do, and I know our cats enjoy the company of the handlers and they seek out our attention. The tigers show many signs of contentment, from verbal cues like Prusten chuffing (a greeting and reassurance noise), to head rubs with us.
One of the greatest benefits, in my view, from our husbandry approach is we're able to take our cats out of their enclosures and give them daily walks on leashes in the hundreds of acres of private bush-land we have at the zoo. I believe this physical stimulation is hugely important, but even more so is the mental stimulation. I can't put into words how beneficial it is for our tigers.
We are able to have this hands-on relationship with our cats because we carefully hand raise them from around 3 to 4 weeks old. These animals will never live in the wild and we have every expectation they will live a full life in captivity for over 20 years. Being as adjusted as possible to a whole life in captivity is what drives me. Tigers are also very adaptable. In the wild they lose cubs all the time and they get on and carry on. They have to. And this is exactly what Kaitlin did when I took on the maternal duties for Spot and Stripe. We kept a very close eye on Kaitlin and Spot and Stripe are also doing fantastically well.
Today Spot and Stripe have adapted to life in the tiger compound brilliantly, and we're very proud of our youngest members of the family. Kaitlin is also flourishing. We are also very proud of the amount of money our tigers have raised to directly help save their wild cousins in Sumatra. Over the last ten years our cats have helped us raise over a million pounds which have paid for patrols that are bravely stopping poachers from killing these magnificent animals.
Wild tigers are alive today because of Spot and Stripe and all the other tigers that continue to delight and thrill our visitors. It’s about saving tigers in the wild, and I won’t stop, while there’s a breath in my body.