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Melbourne Zoo

Big cats earn their stripes ahead of their 9th birthday

12 February 2019

Two of Melbourne Zoo’s most popular residents have been earning their stripes in the training department as they approach their 9th birthday this Saturday (9 February).

Sumatran Tigers Indrah and Hutan have been participating in hand-feeding training as part of their health care.

Carnivores keeper Monique Counihan said keepers used a range of techniques and positive reinforcement to encourage all of the zoo’s big cats to feel comfortable with the close contact necessary for medical examinations.

“Indrah is trained daily in various behaviours that will help her contribute to her medical husbandry,” Ms Counihan said.

“The very first step in a training program is to build a trust relationship between the trainer and the animal.”

Ms Counihan said that these training programs helped solidify the bond between trainer and animal.

“When we’re asking Indrah to complete a behaviour which involves presenting a vulnerable part of her body, such as a mouth open or exposing her belly to us by standing up on her back feet, there has definitely got to be a trust bond between the trainer and the animals,” Ms Counihan said.

Hutan and Indrah were born at Melbourne Zoo in 2010 to mother Binjai. For their birthday this year, the siblings received layered ice block cakes to tear apart, as well as some cardboard toys made by Melbourne Zoo volunteers.

Sumatran Tigers are the smallest of all tigers, their size assisting in the navigation of the dense, tropical forests in Sumatra where they hunt. Sadly, they are also the most endangered of all surviving subspecies of tiger.

“Every tiger is incredibly important,”Ms Counihan said. “In the wild, this species is critically endangered, their numbers are fewer than 300 and dwindling.”

Habitat loss from the clearing of rainforest for palm oil plantations is the single biggest threat to the tiger’s survival in the wild.

Zoos Victoria’s Don’t Palm Us Off campaign continues to advocate for clean labelling of palm oil, which is present in more than 50 per cent of products on Australian supermarket shelves. Clear labelling allows consumers to make informed choices, and support the sustainable production of palm oil, without further loss of rainforest habitat.