Wednesday, August 11, 2010

They've got the munchies

At the Alaska Zoo we called them Behavioral Enrichment Tools but they could have just as easily gone by another name: toys.

Entertainment. 

Stimuli.

Popsicles made with frozen fish for the seals, honey drizzled down a tree stump in the black bear's den, human scents rubbed on a rock in the snow leopard exhibit. 

Zoos, research centers, and rescue shelters face a dilemma: how do they keep caged animals, particularly those with vast natural territories, from suffering from extreme boredom? This isn't a minor problem. Animals, just like humans, can develop severe and crippling physical and psychological traumas from long stretches in captivity. I quite clearly remember the polar bear at the Oregon Zoo that took three steps forward and three steps back, for hours at a time. Or the elephant (at the Honolulu Zoo?) that stood in one place and crossed and uncrossed its back legs, over and over again. 

It is only recently that caregivers have made significant headway in addressing some of these challenges.  

Stepping off the soapbox now...

The girls haven't had a chance to go outside much lately, thanks to a neighbor's cat that has suddenly discovered their coop. This is no friendly pussy cat, either. It's a predator. All it has to do is stalk by the run and suddenly our girls are in a tizzy, running around the enclosure, feathers flying everywhere. I'm amazed that we haven't yet experienced any broken legs or bent wings. We've certainly lost enough feathers to assemble a few down pillows.

Not exactly the kind of enrichment I'm looking for. 

In lieu of a free-ranging existence, I usually provide the girls with a handful of tasty weeds that are poked, stem-first, through the mesh of the coop every morning. This is a challenge: they must draw the plants through the mesh by the stem before reaching the tasty goodness at the other end. Nothing is free in life, ladies. You gotta work for that reward. 

Now, what should I do about that cat? Any suggestions?




4 comments:

  1. Does it have a collar and tags?

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  2. catch it if it has no tags. If you have a fenced backyard, there are ways to deter a cat on the fence (zip ties, tacks, even deer netting if done right). If it has tags, I still say treat it the same way-- but maybe look up the laws in your area and send the cat home with a message tied to its neck that says "I have been pestering farm animals. It's against the law."

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  3. I don't think it has tags, but it's hard to know for sure. It's semi-feral and is pretty scared of humans. I'm actually not positive which neighbor across the street it actually belongs to.

    I did look up the laws in Seattle and was surprised to learn that you can only complain/take action if the feline has 'done damage to your property'. Seattle has such strict leash laws for dogs I thought they'd be equally strict about regulating felines. Do you suppose 'traumatic stress' to property's occupants (in this case, the chickens) could be described as 'damage'?

    I'm not anti-cat in general, but I would prefer to not have them in my yard.

    Otherwise, I was thinking a supersoaker might provide the inducement for this feline to look elsewhere for it's fiendish delights. :)

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  4. Super soaker is an excellent idea! The scare tactic might be just enough to keep it away...unless the cat gets used to the water & realizes it does no harm. If my hubby were any closer to Seattle, I'm sure he'd gladly volunteer to bring over a BB gun to give the cat a quick pop in the rear...that would probably be a surefire way to keep curious kitty from exploring anymore! Maybe check out the many chicken websites (especially their message boards)? I imagine there are people that have come up with creative & efficient ways to keep predators away, especially cats, while still allowing their chickens to free range. Keep us updated! Our chickens are only free range when we're home & we have cats in our neighborhoods too, but I think the chain link fence might be a deterrent, as it's not easy to hop over (& three large dogs probably help).

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