From Norristown to Memphis, Diego went on a big journey!
As the cubs got older, we as an animal care staff knew that it was only a matter of time before Inka would not tolerate their presence anymore. For humans, it might sound surprising not to want your kids around anymore, but for a solitary jaguar, it is a normal part of the maturation process. In the wild, parents will drive their offspring away once they are old enough to survive on their own. Inka was showing less and less patience with her cubs as they grew to be more than half her size, so we started practicing separation in order to get the cubs used to being alone for increasing lengths of time.
While we were working on that, I contacted the Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinator to let him know that we would soon need to find another zoo for Diego since Zean would not be tolerant of another adult male close by. Luna gets more leeway as a female cub! The coordinator worked on some population planning, and found that Memphis Zoo could take Diego and another young female, (Filomena) so we started working on plans for that move.
The first step was getting Diego used to the travel crate. Crates for big cat species are extremely durable as cats are very strong! We had to bring the crate up to Trail of the Jaguar and set it up in the night housing area. It is strapped to a special door that is used for crating and transfer. Once that was in place, keeper staff began training Diego to enter the crate voluntarily for treats. We even practiced opening and shutting the crate door with him inside, and making some banging noises on it so he would be used to those sounds. As expected, he picked up really quickly as he is very motivated to train, so before we knew it, we were making the final plans to move him to Memphis! We decided to transport him by vehicle rather than air shipment, so keeper Mel and I got ready for a road trip to Memphis!
On the day of the move...
Late in the afternoon, we made sure to keep everything normal on routine and asked Diego to crate. This time, we kept the door shut instead of opening it. It stayed shut,and a crew of staff picked up the crate and carried it out to our transport vehicle (one of our Zoo-on-Wheels vehicles). With a wave goodbye from staff, we hit the road for an overnight trip. Diego traveled better than we could have hoped for! He was calm and looking around, (even peeking out the back window of the van like a dog for portions of the trip) and even settled down for a nap a few times. He actually slept more than we did on that journey!
Once we arrived in Memphis the next morning, the keeper staff at Diego’s new home greeted us and we quickly got his travel crate mounted to the quarantine enclosure at Memphis and opened the door. When Filomena (his new female companion) arrived at Memphis, she took two hours to come out of her crate but I had a feeling that Diego would be bolder! He was… and came out of his crate after only a couple of minutes of peeking around, and then got busy smelling and exploring his new space. Since we needed to let Diego settle in, we spent some time walking around Memphis Zoo and snapped a picture of his new habitat at Memphis. Mel got to visit with some staff she used to work with since she used to be a keeper there in the cat exhibit, so she knew he would be going to good hands.
Of course, we will miss him but we are excited to have Diego get paired up with Filomena and hope to hear about his cubs in the not too distant future!
Written by Marina Haynes, General Curator