Topeka Zoo staff demonstrate how their big cats are trained

Published: Apr. 24, 2019 at 4:07 PM CDT
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The Topeka Zoo staff say the great relationship and training they do with their animals, specifically their big cats, played a role in the outcome of Saturday’s attack.

Wednesday morning, Animal Care Supervisor Shanna Simpson showed how they train their big cats.

Simpson was able to get their male lion, Avis, in a separate outdoor cage by calling his name and showing that she had food.

She guided Avis to a corner of the cage where she began feeding him through the fence. At the same time, another staff member was able to take his tail through the cage and take his blood pressure.

"One of the reasons why they are in excellent health is because we are able to non invasively do health checks on them," Simpson explained.

Simpson said they take the animal’s vitals quarterly and it takes a while to build that trust and relationship with the animals.

"You just sit there and you feed the animal, you know you play with the animal, you go and you just hang out with the animal, and they see you and they get to know you, and they learn your mannerisms, and your voice, and what you look like," she explained.

They use similar actions when training their Sumatran tigers.

Simpson says the large cats recognize their own names, food buckets, and the staff themselves. That is what they believe saved Sanjiv’s and Kristyn Hayden-Ortega’s life.

They believe Sanjiv knew to come to the other staff when his name was called.

"He made the decision to leave her and go into our staff, and I think that speaks volumes of our training. You know all of our animals are trained to come to us. They're trained to come inside when we call them. And our staff did that, and they did it quickly, and he chose to come in," Simpson explained.

However, she says no matter how close of a relationship they build with the animals, staff always have to remember that they are wild animals.

"You have to have a fear and a respect for these animals for sure. You know you have to have a very healthy fear of these animals. You have to be aware of what they're capable of," she added.

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