At the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, caretakers strive to encourage the natural behaviors of the animals in their care through enrichment. Enrichment is the action of improving or enhancing the quality of something. This can be accomplished in a multitude of ways, from introducing unfamiliar scents that encourage an animal’s sense of smell to installing climbing structures that encourage an animal’s climbing skills. Other forms of enrichment encourage natural feeding behaviors, such as pouncing, jumping and stalking. Recently, the Zoo’s carnivore team worked together to install a new form of enrichment for the Zoo’s African lions and African painted dog pack to enjoy – a 12-foot-tall feeding pole, designed specifically for carcass feedings.
Feeding poles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, proving to be a beneficial form of enrichment for several animal species. The objective is to attach food to the pole, presenting a feeding obstacle for the animals to solve. The animals can acquire the food by utilizing their natural hunting abilities. This is also an incredible form of exercise, prompting the animal to utilize muscles that aren’t used regularly. The pole is an enriching strategy for feeding that is prominent in many zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
After experiencing success with a shorter feeding pole, created for the Zoo’s Sumatran tigers in Cat Forest, caretakers took the initiative to create a similar pole for the Zoo’s Lion Overlook habitat. Lion Overlook is home to the Zoo’s lion pride, consisting of 10-year-old male, Hubert, and six-year-old sisters, Dunia and Moto. And since September 2020, Lion Overlook has been the temporary home of the Zoo’s African painted dog pack, comprised of five individuals, while construction on their new habitat, Predator Pass, is being completed.
Because of the scope of the lion habitat and the size of the feeding pole, installation was a lengthy process, consisting of a myriad of logistics to cover. This included digging into the ground, gathering materials such as rock, sand, dirt and concrete, as well as acquiring equipment to haul and lift the pole into the habitat safely. The installation of the 12-foot-tall pole required a team of 10 Zoo employees. Thanks to their incredible teamwork, the lions have already started interacting with the feeding pole.
Both lions and painted dogs hunt cooperatively in their native habitat of Sub-Saharan Africa. In the wild, female lions are the pride’s primary hunters and leaders. When hunting, females work together to prey upon antelopes, zebra, wildebeest and other large animals of the open grassland. Painted dogs live in packs that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. Like lions, painted dogs are social animals. Unlike lions, every individual of the pack, male and female, participates in the hunting. Together, painted dog packs can successfully tackle much larger prey, such as wildebeest. At the Zoo, the lion pride and painted dog pack consume a similar diet of ground meat, bones, and whole prey, such as rabbits; as well as occasional deer and cow carcasses.
The feeding pole contains eyebolts, located at various heights, to attach a carcass to and accommodate the abilities of both the painted dogs and lions. The Zoo’s carnivore care team will begin providing carcasses for the lions and African painted dogs when available.
The Zoo’s Lion Cam, available to watch on the Zoo’s website, provides a real-time look at the popular Lion Overlook habitat. Depending on the day, viewers will have the opportunity to watch the lions and painted dogs explore their habitat. Who knows! You may just witness the lions and painted dogs put their impressive hunting behaviors to the test.
--Tyler Boyd, Curator of Carnivores
Photo: Logan Sullivan