3 Apr 2017

Today (9th September) our family of five Sumatran tigers moved into their new home in Islands at Chester Zoo. The process from start to finish has taken over four years – so after all the planning, designing and building it’s great to see Fabi, Kirani and their three cubs stepping into their new enclosure.

Our tigers are currently off show to the public to enable them time to settle into their new environment – they need this time to explore the space and get used to their new surroundings, but we will be sure to keep you updated with how they’re getting on.

To give you a sense of what the new enclosure is like and the processes we’ve gone through to get to this stage, we asked Chester Zoo’s assistant curator of mammals, Nick Davis, to tell us more.

“Believe it or not the process of building the tiger enclosure started four years ago! In 2011 we started working closely with the architects to put the plans into place for Islands. We discussed key specifics of the tiger enclosure and provided them with a very large brief – how big it should be, how many enclosures we required, what indoor housing we needed, etc. – then we had to work out the relationship between these spaces and how they needed to link together. We went through every tiny detail.

“But the most important thing we needed to discuss was containment – tigers can jump over seven metres and can climb five metres. So it’s critical to ensure these animals are kept safely within their enclosure. It’s important to get this right during the early stages of planning as once the building work started it would have been hard to then change it.

“The architects worked closely with our curators and team managers especially as, like with any construction project, when it comes to building something as large and as complex as a tiger enclosure, the designs you have on paper may have to change when you’re physically doing it. So, maintaining that relationship with the contractor and having regular site visits was a key part of the process.

“We also worked very closely with our estates department, in particular project liaison Chloe Helm, who worked extremely hard to ensure that what was built on site reflected the signed off drawings and met all the requirements of the animals.

“It’s not a method you can rush or would want to rush!

When our visitors see the new tiger enclosure they’ll notice it’s considerably bigger than their previous home – they now have over 2000sq metres of space. There are a number of viewing areas throughout; each viewing point will show another aspect of the enclosure.

“Tigers like height as it gives them that security, so the tiger tunnel which visitors walk through creates a hill in the middle of the enclosure providing them with that elevation. There are also a couple of platforms similar to those in their old enclosure which they can climb onto.

“You’ll also see a deeper pool and a stream in this enclosure, so visitors could potentially spot the tigers taking a dip! Other features include two feeding poles; keepers can place meat on top of them so the tigers then work for their food, as they would in the wild. They use all their muscles during this exercise so it’s a great way to keep them fit.

“But there’s also plenty to their new enclosure that you won’t see! We have an additional off show space, which we didn’t have in the old enclosure, which provides us with an extra area should we have to separate animals or need to do any work in the main enclosure. We’ve also installed more CCTV cameras, both inside the house and outside, so our keepers can monitor them. Animals always behave differently when the keepers are there so to have these cameras means we can monitor them without distracting them.”

“Now everything has been signed off and the tigers have moved into their new enclosure, there’s another process we now need to go through to get them used to their new space – a settling in period.

“We’ll leave them in their house for a certain amount of time allowing them to get comfortable in this space. Then they’ll have access to the outside off show area – which also provides the team with the opportunity to get used to the new procedures.

“When we’re sure the tigers are happy with going in and out of the house we’ll then let them have access to the main enclosure. And again, there’s a period of acclimatisation – so the tigers are used to every bit of the area. 

We don’t know how they’re going to react to it. It’s a case of our keepers monitoring them and see how well they settle into their new enclosure. We can’t rush any of this process and we need to ensure they have their time and space to get used to it.

It hasn’t been an easy process and it’s been a great team effort, but to now step back, see it all complete and the tigers moved in, it’s amazing!

Over the past few months our carnivore team have been working hard to prepare the tigers for their big move and as soon as they’ve settled in and ready for visitors we’ll let you know. Keep an eye on our blog for an update from the carnivore team and the process of how they moved our beautiful tiger family.