Med Charts


Big Cat Rescue’s Communication and Records


White Serval at Big Cat Rescue
White Serval at Big Cat Rescue

The cats at Big Cat Rescue live much longer and healthier lives than do most exotic cats in zoos, sanctuaries or private collections.  A big part of that is because of the record keeping process that is everyone’s job at Big Cat Rescue.

We share our record keeping system with anyone who wants it because we want animals to get the best possible care; no matter where they are.  We share all of our forms, training documents, training videos, charts, policies and processes in one google site template called Sanctuary Template.  It’s free.

All you have to do is have a google account and create a site using google sites.  In the template area, choose to browse the gallery and search the term: Sanctuary Template.  Choose that as your template and you are good to go.

Once you choose Sanctuary Template and click create, your site will be populated with everything we use to run Big Cat Rescue and it has videos embedded along the way to show you how to customize the site to reflect your organization.  It also has tutorial videos for you to share with others in your organization, so that they can quickly begin to implement the site’s resources into caring for the animals at their location.

Some of the charts may reflect that they are password protected, because they were directly shared from Big Cat Rescue’s site, which is password protected, so here are some of the screenshots so you can create your own forms.

This site has an interview I did talking about how we transitioned from paper and word of mouth to written, shared protocols here:


This section deals with the Keeper’s role as an effective communicator in the Sanctuary; different forms of communications, record keeping and Big Cat Rescue phone and radio system.

The Keeper’s role in at Big Cat Rescue involves many different skills; one of the most important of these is the Keeper as communicator. The Keeper is a vital link between the animals in his/her care, and the rest of the Refuge’s operation, directly and indirectly. Communications at and between the different organizational levels in the Sanctuary allow for a flow of information and ideas in both directions, to the benefit of the individual and the Sanctuary as a whole. A good Keeper cultivates good working relationships with other Keepers and all Sanctuary staff and auxiliary personnel.

Kathryn Gale Susan Lockout

Communication is basic to human experience and takes many forms. We communicate through the written and spoken word, through our attitudes and actions, and through our “body language”, dress, gestures and stance. Speech, perhaps the most basic and effective communication, is often the most difficult. The Keeper communicates with his/her animals, other Keepers, various levels of Sanctuary Management and with the public.



The following points should be considered in improving communication skills:

  • Clarify your ideas before communication. Think about your idea or problem and decide the goals and attitudes (yours and the recipient’s). Plan ahead. What is the purpose of the communication? Don’t try to accomplish too much; identify your goals, adapt your language, tone and total approach to a specific objective. Consider the total physical and human setting when you communicate, because the impact of the communication depends on such factors as the timing, setting (social or private) and on past procedures. Consult with others, if appropriate; get consultation and participation to lend insight and objectivity when planning communications. Remember that your tone of voice, expressions, and receptiveness to the responses of others all have impact; be aware of the overtones and the basic content of your message. Try to know the other person’s point of view, interests and needs and try to convey something of help or value to the listener. After communicating, follow up, get feed back. Did you get your message across? Communicate for tomorrow as well as today; plan with the past in mind but with long range interests and plans. “Practice what you preach”. Persuasive communication is not what you say but what you do. 
  • Be a good listener; tune in to others, understand as well as be understood.
  • Use the Code of Honor:

1.   I will focus on what works best to achieve our mission of caring for cats & ending the trade.

2.   I will speak my truth to the best of my ability & listen attentively as others speak theirs, with an end goal of finding solutions that work for all.

3.   I will support my fellow Rescuers early, often & unconditionally.

4.   I will be truthful & responsible for my actions, accepting my role with grace and performing to the best of my ability.

5.   I will deal with complete transparency & proactively work to resolve any conflicts directly with those involved. I will be sensitive to their feelings & in no way belittle or challenge them in front of others.  If no resolution is achieved I will ask that all involved parties meet together with the person(s) who can settle the matter.

6.   If it’s not my story, I won’t tell it.

7.   I will celebrate the good my fellow Rescuers do & show respect by saying please, thank you and job well done.

8.   It is my responsibility to uphold the code & address breaches of the code with my fellow Rescuers directly, privately & respectfully.

9.   I will be mindful of my tone, body language & the fact that we are all on the same path, albeit at different stages, so I will be open & gentle when asked for clarification.

10.I will trust that my fellow Rescuers share my same good intentions and will give the benefit of the doubt or seek their input in a kind and courteous way.


Communications in the Sanctuary, with respect to the Keeper, depend on two major factors.

  • The policy of the staff and volunteers in providing means for communication within the Refuge’s operation. Can the Keeper exchange ideas and information with co-workers and administrative staff? Can he or she record important observations and data for the Refuge’s permanent record, and be involved with the Refuge’s Volunteers and with Sanctuary visitors? Is the Keeper encouraged to develop as a communicator within his/her own Sanctuary, and with the community and other sanctuaries?
  • The Keeper’s attitude: Even if all the above lines of communications are open, unless there is effort by the individual they are useless. Good working relationships with other staff members don’t just happen, they must be developed through communication. With the right approach and the proper attitude, and by trying hard enough you can communicate successfully.
White Serval Kitten
White Serval Kitten

It sometimes happens that the chain of command communication system breaks down and your communications don’t reach their goal in the form you intended. Keepers should be aware of this and be prepared to pursue a matter until they receive a satisfactory answer, especially where animal health or welfare is at stake. This is part of the Keeper’s responsibility.

If in doubt about any procedure or request communicate with your immediate supervisor.  Communication and information are both important and different. Information can be given with no exchange of ideas or experience, but these become meaningful when transmitted to others, especially when we consider all the practical aspects of Keeping. The communication can be written or verbal.

Verbal: Effective verbal communication at all levels is important in the Sanctuary. As a Keeper, much of the information you will receive from and impart to other Keepers will be presented verbally. Be clear and precise in what you say; don’t be ambiguous, and always qualify your statements. “Let the animal out” isn’t sufficient – which animal, where is it, where does it go, how do you do it? Does the other person understand what you said? Do you understand what you have been told? Ask questions if you aren’t sure. Not only general and specific job knowledge is transmitted verbally, but changes in daily routine too. Talk to your co-workers. Use the two way radio system and staff meetings to make and maintain verbal contact.

Written: A perceptive and alert Keeper is provided with huge amounts of data. This can be of considerable value when recorded in writing. Read and use the Important Updates section of the Intranet site for written communications. Always read the Observation Charts for your area after your days-off, sickness, or any absence, as well as getting verbal updates from co-workers.  Make sure you record information in the Observation Chart so that others can make use of it.




Cat Hospital Logs

The keeping of consistent, factual, accurate records of captive animals is of great importance in the Sanctuary today for a number of reasons.


  • The Refuge’s changing role in the community, with trends towards non invasive research, education and conservation. Sanctuaries can supply scientific information to universities, zoologists, researchers and zoos. New government requirements regarding information that must be made available to them; information such as the acquisition and disposal of endangered or threatened species, animal movement in or out of the country, post-entry quarantine animals or those acquired under permits must be available to the government.
  • Record keeping enables Sanctuary staff to know more about their collection and improve their husbandry, both directly through animal care and by planning ahead.
  • Public relations:  The public are intimately involved in the Sanctuary and often want to know an animal’s age and background. Records can supply this information.
  • Co-operative programs such as ISIS or SSP require meticulous records if their standards are to be met. Records represent knowledge to the Sanctuary, about its collection past and present, patterns, breeding information and medical and other data.



Modern records are more useful and trustworthy than those of the past. Both the contributors and the audience have enlarged. We can produce more and retrieve data at a faster pace, as shown by the advent of computers and special software used in Sanctuary record systems.

Keepers are direct contributors to Sanctuary records, not only in recording factual information such as arrivals and  deaths, but in recording behavioral and nutritional information.

Almost all categories of information are important. Inventory and veterinary data must be recorded; also information on all aspects of an animal’s life and behavior. Taken individually much of this data may seem to be without value, but faithfully recorded over time, may cumulatively reveal patterns or trends which are clear and meaningful. Keepers in their daily work use massive amounts of information gathered by many Sanctuary professionals over many years. Information categories of importance include:
(a) Acquisitions – births (shouldn’t happen at sanctuaries), rescues and rehab.
(b) Dispositions – deaths and release of native wildlife.
(c) Medical records – diagnosis, treatment, prognosis.
(d) Statistics – age, weight, size, longevity, etc.
(e) Necropsy and information on cause of death.
(f) Nutritional and dietary information.
(g) Life history information – adjustment to new cage, non-reproductive behavior.

In order for a record keeping system to be effective, individuals within a species must be identifiable to the person(s) generating the facts and observations. We use a number of methods at the Big Cat Rescue to identify animals and these are discussed fully under ‘Identification and Marking’.

Big Cat Rescue has an extensive and valuable records system utilizing both a full time Record Keeper and Veterinary records, the latter maintained by Animal Care staff.

All records are kept in the Big Cat Rescue Intranet site and all Keepers are required to log in each day they work to check the Important Updates and to log their observations.

The Sanctuary also maintains a library of great information on this Intranet site and Keepers should make good use of this function to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the Sanctuary and the animals they care for. There are many excellent books, papers, various articles and journals, and a wealth of Internet resources.


Big Cat Rescue keeps a census of animals including their name, species, microchip number, date of birth, date of arrival, age in the current year, sex, neutered or not, and weight.  These charts are in a sortable spreadsheet.  In this same document, on other tabs, we include the ability to sort by Florida’s permit classification, and a page with totals of each species and the animals who have died within the last year, arrived within the last year and those released as part of our bobcat rehab program.

In many animal collections they use shorthand such as “males, females, sex unknown” example: A herd or group of two males and seven females would be simply written as 2.7, while a pair of animals with three unsexed young would be reported as 1.1.3. If there isn’t a male or female being recorded then use a zero, i.e. a single female is written 0.1.



Every cat has their own Observation Chart.  At the top of that cat’s chart is a link to their entire medical history and the Date of Birth for quick reference.  The Observation Chart is a series of drop down lists so that there is consistency in the way issues are reported.  There is a section for notes as well.  Keepers are to report fully and accurately what they see. This information may be used in subsequent years to predict the onset of seasonal diet changes, animal movement or behavior patterns.


Observation Chart

As well as the Observation Chart as an information source, Food Prep maintains a sign up sheet for areas of the sanctuary to be cleaned and diet sheets are laminated and kept in there as well.


Keeping track of medications on hand and making sure those medications are discarded properly when they expire is critical.  This chart can be made as a shared Google Doc for your animal care staff:

discard expired meds

If an animal is to receive supplements or medications it is important that the Animal Care Staff know who dispensed the meds, when and if the cat consumed them.  This looks like a calendar, but was created using Google Docs, so that the caregiver can record their initials by each dose.

Med Charts





The purpose of identifying an animal is to give it individuality within the Sanctuary; identification is an important tool in the day-to-day animal management in the Sanctuary, allowing the Keeper and Animal Care Staff to interact with each animal as an individual.

With certain species and certain Keepers, visually identifying each animal (by appearance alone) may be a consideration, but the possibility of error, staff changes and the lack of permanency where the system is used without adequate marking techniques do not allow for sufficient accuracy and continuity. A system of individual identification that is accurate, permanent and that doesn’t rely solely on personal observation and memory without written aids, serves the Sanctuary as the basis for the kinds of scientific records required for present and future references.


When deciding on a system for identifying animals in the Sanctuary, the following criteria should be considered:
(a) The system should be as free as possible from pain and stress to the animal.
(b) It should afford minimal opportunity for infection of the marked area.
(c) It should not inhibit normal activity, moulting, sloughing or feeding behaviors.
(d) It should give no cause for negative criticism from Sanctuary staff or the public.
(e) It should be easy to use.
(f) It should be adaptable for animals of different sizes and types.
(g) It should be permanent.


With about 100 exotic cats at Big Cat Rescue we use several methods to identify animals.

(a) Passive Identification: Passive identification uses permanent natural differences between animals. Color, size, shape, scars and patterns are all useful aids to differentiate one animal from another in groups, and as a record of the identity of individual animals. Such identifying features can be recorded by description, photography, or drawing. Snow leopards can be identified by the pattern of black markings on their foreheads.
(b) Positive Non-natural Identification: This method includes the use of microchips and/or tattooing. Some of these identifications are visible during the animal’s normal activity while others can’t be seen unless the animal is caught up, and serve only to record the identity of the individual.
(c) Cage signs are on all of the enclosures at Big Cat Rescue and include the cat’s name, date of birth, brief history and information as to whether or not the cat has claws.  Most cats are housed singly, but where there are more than two we may include a sign with photos of spot patterns to discern identities.



One of the most important skills a Keeper can acquire is the ability to accurately observe animals in the Sanctuary and interpret what he is seeing. This ability grows with experience as the Keeper becomes more familiar with the animals themselves. The more you as a Keeper know about the animals, what constitutes their normal appearance and behavior, the easier it becomes to “know” when something is wrong.

Often this knowledge is in the form of an instinct or a feeling for something undefined; at other times cues may be more obvious, such as swollen limbs or lack of appetite, etc. The Keeper must learn to make his mind receptive to the information provided by his senses. The more receptive your mind is to this data, the easier you will find it becoming available to the conscious mind. Quite often your subconscious may register small changes in color or locomotion etc., that will trigger the feeling that something isn’t normal about your animal. Learn to trust your instincts.

Try to develop your “critical eye”. It is almost like a sixth sense; try to really see what you are looking at and train yourself to observe and absorb details. Keeping is one of several professions in which observation, retention and interpretation of information play an important part. It is imperative that you do not let your skilled knowledge blind you to other possibilities or interpretations.

Wherever possible a Keeper should know his/her animals individually, by their natural distinguishing differences as well as by scars, cuts, marks, disabilities, lost digits, etc.

Remember that the animal’s environment, objects in it, and how the animal uses it can all tell you things about your animal. Fresh secretions indicate that the animal may be marking. The condition of the feces can be an excellent barometer of the animal’s general condition.

Use all your senses, when observing, to give you a good composite picture of the shape your animal is in. Know what a healthy specimen looks like, learn to recognize stance or posture, eye shine, coat condition and smell. Be aware of fences, buildings, etc. and don’t take them for granted – train yourself to notice holes in fences, loose wire, etc. Report all damage on the Maintenance Observation Chart.

Animal Keeping is a dynamic learning situation. Every encounter with Sanctuary animals can provide the Keeper with a wealth of information, if he can learn to truly observe and interpret what his senses convey to him.



  • Observe your animals
  • Record what you see
  • Report what you see
  • Communicate
  • Follow-up (feedback)




Whenever the Keeper is looking at an animal he should be observing the following:


  • The animal’s condition: overall coat or feather condition, eye shine, manner of standing and walking, state of claws, weight; any cuts or injuries, discharges, etc.
  • The animal’s behavior: normal for the species and the individual, or out of the ordinary?
  • The animal’s stool and urine: normal?
  • The animal’s food and water intake: normal?
  • Are all the animal’s in the group present?
  • Having asked and answered these questions, the Keeper can then ask himself why? to each answer. Has an animal stopped eating because it is sick or stressed? There should be a reason why the animal is different from normal, and the alert Keeper must be satisfied that he/she can explain everything about the animal he sees. 


Remember that the animals in the Sanctuary are the Keeper’s greatest teachers.


Once an observation has been made it should be recorded so that other Sanctuary staff can benefit from it. Note taking is a very important tool in observation; there are other methods of recording information, such as tape recording, video tape, movie and still photography but basic written records of observations are the most important.

The Keeper should always record the time and date that the observation was made. For proper behavioral studies, check sheets of certain behaviors are often made up. Keepers using abbreviations or special terms should always include an explanation so that others reading the observation notes can understand what is meant.

When describing animal behavior or interaction there are many categories which can be used to define the animal’s actions.

Social Behavior: Structure: dominance, submission

Compatibility: intra-species (within a species) or inter-species (among species).

Environment:territorial marking or protection; the animal’s use of the display space, the effect of the environment on the animal and vice versa.

Cyclic Behavior: seasonal or daily changes – sleep, rest and play cycles, etc.

Maintenance Behavior:

Feeding: social structure of the feeding group, food preferences, etc.

Grooming: self and social grooming, interaction with the exhibit.

Communications: vocal, visual, olfactory and physical contact with others in their group.

Elimination: fecal deposition, coprophagy, urine marking.

Locomotion: methods, sleep/rest position, aquatic, aerial, arboreal, terrestrial; flight; other methods.

Agonistic Behavior

Threat: bluffing, attack.

Thresholds: changes in critical and personal distances, etc.

Communications: vocal, postural.

Cyclic Behavior: aggression during feeding

Social Structure: group interaction, or solitary. Male/Female: interaction

Other Behaviors

Stress: boredom, pacing, other nervous behaviors.

Displacement behavior: problems or stress manifested in other behaviors.

Intra/Inter species: relationships with other animals.

Spatial occupation: use of various parts and levels of the exhibit.



Keep your descriptions accurate – only record what you see, not what you think you see.

Use your senses; listen to your animals, even when you can’t see them. Knowing what sounds they normally make and what the sounds mean, can alert you to problems, even when you are out of sight of your animals.

Learn to be observant. Know what the public are doing, what animals on site (both caged and uncaged i.e. squirrels, groundhogs, nesting birds, etc.) are doing. Watch the weather and think about your animals. Listen to weather reports. (Some storms with thunder and lightning can be dangerous to animals, especially in open fields; there is the danger of the animal’s panicking, and running into fences etc. and also the chance of being struck by lightning.) Use your common sense.

Don’t take your animals for granted; there are always reasons for activity or inactivity; make sure you know why your stock are behaving in a certain manner.

Observe first, then interpret. Observations should be made all day, every day while you are working, as part of your normal routine. In this way animals can be observed in different behaviors – playing, eating, sleeping, etc. Keep a notebook with you at all times to record your observations – don’t rely on memory.

Share your observations with colleagues who share an interest or who can learn from your skills. Others may be able to apply your observations to their animals or problems in ways you cannot appreciate. Often simple observations have far reaching implications. Remember that you may not be there when some treatment is needed and others should know what and how you are interpreting data or observations.



Ethology, the biology of behavior, is the objective study of animals and man from a biological point of view with emphasis on species typical behavior, its adaptiveness (function) and evolution (Heymer, Ethological Dictionary). Another definition of ethology is the study of an organism’s reaction to its environment. Ethology has been regarded as a science and systematically studied for less than 100 years.

Animal behavior is very important to the Keeper in the Sanctuary, and any study of behavior assists the Keeper in doing a better job. Only by knowing the animals can they be properly cared for.

Some of the early animal behavior studies were based on comparative psychology which inevitably led to anthropomorphism by attributing human characteristics to the animal and interpreting its behavior in terms of human behavior. Other approaches interpreted animals as automatic machines. The modern scientists like Tinbergen, Lorenz, von Frisch, Hediger, Mech and other focus on the animal as an individual of a species and then search for that species’ typical behavior patterns, without any reference necessarily to human behaviors.

Ethology is a young science with many differing approaches and opinions. For the purpose of managing and caring for Sanctuary animal collections, a knowledge of certain basic principles is essential.


A Keeper must be able to recognize typical or normal behavior patterns in a species, in order to “read” the animal, and to notice abnormal behaviors. Take the time to observe your animals at various times. A good Keeper knows what their animals are doing when they are not there to observe. Different species very often have different typical behavior, even when taxonomically closely related. For example, except for prides of related lions, most cats are solitary and prefer to live alone.  In some cases, where cats have been raised together, they may be content to stay together…at least until dinner time.

Species should be studied and treated as individuals first; grouping together by common characteristics may then follow.


Unconditioned reflexes are automatic, innate (unlearned) reactions, such as the closing of the eyelids when some object approaches the eyes, or quickly pulling a limb back from a hot surface.

Conditioned reflexes are indirect reactions associated with experience or knowledge. There are many examples of this reflex in Sanctuary animals, especially with feeding routines, where animals are conditioned to expect food in a particular place at a certain time.


Instinctual behavior is an innate “programmed” behavior pattern. Animals are born with these patterns and follow them without conscious knowledge of their purpose. In order to sustain life and assure the survival of the species, these instinctive behavior patterns are inherited and specific for each species. Some animals’ behavioral repertoire is largely instinctive, with very little learning (as in snakes) whereas other animals such as primates learn most of their behavior during their lifetime.

The knowledge of instinctive behavior patterns and their sequences are very important to the Keeper; Keepers who can interpret these patterns and utilize them in their work with Sanctuary animals can make their job easier, safer, less stressful for the animals and more successful in every way.


The central nervous system has a selective innate mechanism, triggered by stimuli having meaning to a particular species. The key or sign stimuli and the response they engender, fit together like a lock and key. The animal is “programmed” to respond in a certain way to certain stimuli. Stimuli are species specific; only a particular set of stimuli is of significance to each species, to which it responds with typical reactions. “Releasers” are animal structures which send out or give off key stimuli.


Reproductive behavior is very complex and may involve a long chain of important steps. it is an effective way of controlling hybridization in nature. Where species are geographically out of contact in a natural wild state, sign stimuli (for reproductive activity) may not vary enough to produce this barrier to interbreeding.


Man’s primary means of communication is vocal, but in animals, motion, pose and coloration are all important communication forms. The Keeper must rely on close observation to interpret an animal’s intention or mental state. Without the specific knowledge of the species under observation, the layman or inexperienced Keeper is likely to interpret animal behavior in human terms. This does not often lead to accurate observations and can be misleading and dangerous. Aggression is often misinterpreted, such as the sometimes violent copulatory neck bite in many carnivores.

Expressional behavior must be studied independently for each species, and even variations in male, female and juvenile behavior must be recognized.


The following outline of general behavior and its many facets is very important for the Keeper, because animals in captivity can show all the behaviors of their wild conspecifics, as well as some behavior stemming from their captive situation. The Keeper must understand that an animal’s exhibit may be its territory, and that a good knowledge of animal behavior makes a better Keeper.

Animals don’t live completely free in a wild state because their living space is confined by boundaries which are often undetectable to the casual observer. The size of the habitat is determined by the needs of the individual and the species to survive. Distribution or Range is the geographical distribution of a species. Within this range are areas of suitable habitat. Habitat represents the suitable physical area that will support the species. Ecological Niche describes the living space of the animal with emphasis on its role in the community; it is where the species fits into the habitat in relation to the food chain, plant and animal associations.

For example the geographical distribution (range) of the Snow leopard, Panthera uncia, is mainly the mountains of central Asia, the Himalayas and ranges north of Afghanistan, into the USSR, east from Pakistan through northern India, Bhutan, Nepal to Mongolia and China. Its habitat within this range is between the tree line and the permanent snows (3000 to 6000 meters), descending in winter to the upper valleys (1500 to 200 meters). Its ecological niche is that of a large, often solitary predator at the top of the food chain; with no natural predators except man, it preys on wild ungulates, hares, mountain birds and sometimes domestic stock.


Territory is the living area used and occupied by an animal. It may belong to a single individual, a pair, or to a social unit (a group represented by a single dominant animal).

Typical behavior is associated with the establishment and protection of an animal’s territory. This behavior, and reproductive behavior associated with the territory, is unique for each species, and allows several different animal species to live in the same space without rivalry, utilizing different niches within the habitat. Some animal species maintain a territory all year round while others only establish one for breeding, and migrate. It is uncommon for animals to establish territories in areas where they winter-over.

Territory size is related to the body size of an animal and its feeding habits, with larger animals usually having larger territories than smaller species, and carnivores having larger territories than herbivores.

Not every part of the territory is utilized by the animal; usually trails lead from one area of activity to another. There are preferred routes, whether the medium is air, water, on the ground or through tree tops. Often parts of the territory are used for specific functions, such as sleeping, eating (food may be caught in one place and eaten in another), washing, drinking, and defecation, etc.

Animals will only reluctantly change their pattern of movement, and places of familiarity provide them with security. This “home” aspect is very important to the animal and provides a focus of safety within the territory.

The territory is an important possession which may be aggressively defended against conspecific intruders, and to a lesser degree or not at all against other species. The closer species are related to each other, the more likely it is for territorial disputes to occur.

A defended territory is defined by the animal in one or more of several different ways, depending on the species. The demarcation may be optical (visual), acoustic (sound), olfactory (smell)  or a combination of these.

Optical or visual demarcation may involve using the whole body or only parts of it. Hediger calls the demarcation static-optical when the result is achieved by the presence or appearance of the animal’s body in the territorial area (as in the giraffe), and dynamic-optical when the animal uses a specially adapted signaling apparatus in a typical movement (the waving of the claw of the fiddler crab). Form and color may be important.

Acoustic demarcation, such as the singing of birds, the calling of amphibians, the bellowing of alligators and the calling of some primates and insects all serve to denote the animal’s territory.

Olfactory demarcation is very common in mammals, with their well developed sense of smell (except for primates). Urine, feces and the products of special glands are used to mark territorial boundaries and important places. Usually scent glands are more developed in males than in females.

Animals are creatures of habit, moving within their territories in established routines set in time and place. These patterns of movement and activity can often be seen clearly in the Sanctuary.  The cats will make use of certain trails and will usually travel on these (or by certain routes) rather than use the whole enclosure. Other parts of the cage may be exclusively reserved for certain activities such as eating and sleeping.


Behavior in relation to time is based on set laws for different species. There are daily routines or cycles which govern the animal’s periods of activity and rest; often these are determined by the way in which the animal functions in its niche, (for example, nocturnal, diurnal, or crepuscular). During the year different activity periods can be identified. Often their onset or termination is determined by day length. Hibernation, aestivation, migration, breeding and raising young all usually occupy set times.The Keeper must be familiar with the species-typical cycles in order to provide for the changing needs of the animal throughout the year. These needs may be dietary (increase in food or change in kind of food), or adjustments in light cycles, heat or humidity requirements, the provision of heated boxes and dens, etc.


Free living animals are often pressed to avoid confrontation with their enemies, including man. Animals in the wild may constantly check their surroundings for danger. Because man is regarded as a universal enemy by nearly all wild animals, we can speak of predator-prey relationships to include enemy-prey relationships. An animal’s normal response to the approach of a predator is the escape reaction, aimed at avoiding the enemy, by fleeing, hiding or camouflage, etc. The escape reaction is specific for sex, age, the kind of enemy, and surroundings.


  • Flight Distance: is the measurable distance at which an animal will flee when approached by an enemy. The distance is related to the significance of the intruder, and the individual experiences of an animal can increase or decrease the distance involved. Man can have both a positive (i.e. Keeper) and a negative (i.e. hunter, visiting public) effect. Sometimes the flight distance can be considerably reduced, perhaps even eliminated, or the flight reaction can change to an attack.
  • Critical Distance: represents a part of the flight distance. An animal without the choice of escape will tolerate the approach of an enemy up to the point where it is forced to defend itself; the attack/defense takes place within the critical distance range.



In any interaction within groups of animals we can distinguish different hierarchies or peck orders, which deal with the social position of an animal or a species in relation to other animals of the same or different species within the living space.


Biological rank is a hierarchy based on definite rules, among different species which compete for food and space. It implies a state of biological competition in which the competitors generally try to avoid each other. The biologically inferior species yields to the superior species and so fights rarely occur, and the superior species maintains a dominance over feeding places and other areas of interest. This situation is well known in the wild, i.e. gorilla over chimpanzee, grizzly bear over black bear, but sanctuaries face a unique problem when exhibiting together various species not normally associated in a wild state. The Keeper must detect the developing biological rank system and ensure that all animals in the exhibit will have access to food, shelter and be able to relax.


Social rank is the position of the individual within the society of animals of the same species. Most species existing in herds, flocks, packs, and bands, etc., are organized into orders of preference, each clearly defined in relation to the others. Every individual maintains a certain position or rank with clearly defined behavior patterns. The organization of some societies may be simple and linear, while others are very complex social structures.

The top position, the premier or alpha position is occupied by the lead animal, and confers more privileges on that animal than any other in the group. Being the Top Cat is a stressful job though and often these will be the first cats to die from age related illnesses in a group of cats.

An individual’s social rank may be determined by physiological characteristics not just physical strength. If the alpha animal loses its hold on the top position, the next highest animal may take over. It is thought that each individual has an established social rank, with the most submissive animal at the very bottom of the hierarchy: this animal has no subordinate, just as the alpha animal has no superior.

The established group structure enables the group to replace a leader with a minimum of disturbance and disorder which might endanger the species. The members must constantly show the dominant and or submissive behavior appropriate to their ranks to other group members. Young animals in the group are generally the freest, until they reach a socially important age. Up to this point they aren’t required to adhere to the rules of the rank system, and may take liberties denied other adult animals.

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