Have you started training sessions with Nikita?
Nikita has started training sessions with me, though she is still a bit nervous and guarded. Part of her training is just getting used to our animal care team and desensitizing her to the new environment. All of the husbandry training that we do with our cats is completely voluntary. It is always up to the animal whether they choose to participate or not. If they do, they receive positive reinforcement in the form of a treat—typically a meatball or beef chunk.
The first training we did was with the target buoy; she has to touch her nose to the buoy in order to receive a reward. This lets me get a good look at her body and make sure she has no injuries that our veterinarians need to address.
When she is in estrus, she is super-friendly and the sweetest cat. But she is so interested in playing that she doesn’t want to train. Instead, she will take the beef chunk from me, toss it up in the air and roll around on her back.
Do Nikita and Pavel have favorite enrichment items?
Nikita likes smelly stuff—especially perfumes and spices!
She has three indoor enclosures, one of which has a hammock bed made of firehose. Whenever we spray the hammock with perfume, she will rub her whole body against it to get as much of the scent onto her fur as possible.
In the next enclosure, there is a large log that also serves as enrichment, which we spray with perfume or sprinkle with spices—her favorites being fennel, paprika and sage. On any given day, she will also receive large, heavy-duty boomer balls to stalk, pounce upon or roll around. But, by far, anything scented with perfume is her favorite.
Pavel’s favorite enrichment items are cardboard boxes and bags stuffed with hay shavings—anything he can destroy! The moat is one of Pavel’s preferred places to rest and play, so it stands to reason that toys that float are among his favorites. One such toy is a boomer ball that is tethered to the bench in the moat. He seems to really enjoy wrestling with that and literally making a splash! Another of his favorites is a giant corrugated tube, which he drags into and out of the water. It is a testament to how strong he is. Soaking wet, the tube weighs around 70 pounds!
When Pavel first when out on exhibit, it was 5 degrees below zero and he got into the water in the moat—twice! He stayed outside for two hours, and we watched him explore the whole time.