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Heading into the Realm of the Tiger

Posted by: Bridget Dunn, Communications

Christine Anne behind the scenes with the zoo's Malayan tigers. Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

As a tiger keeper, Christine Anne is used to seeing tiger brothers Eko, Liem and Olan playing, eating and stretching out their claws. They’ll be on her mind this summer when she travels across the globe to explore wild tiger habitat.

The forest realm of the Malayan tiger. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Christine is joining other zookeepers from around the world on Realm of the Tiger, a trip hosted by Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) to explore peninsular Malaysia. Realm of the Tiger is a five-day program designed especially for zookeepers and docents to enhance their understanding of tiger habitat and the big challenges facing Asian rain forest conservation.

Seeing signs. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

To accomplish this, Realm of the Tiger guides participants through an important wildlife corridor that connects Malaysia’s main northern mountain range with the Taman Negara National Park. In this tropical rain forest, the home base of WPZ’s tiger conservation field work, participants seek out signs of activity from tigers and their prey as well as search out poachers’ snares. They take note of tiger activity and dismantle poachers’ traps. The trip includes resetting camera traps and participating in an anti-poaching surveillance walk.

Putting boots on the ground and eyes in the forest are effective ways to monitor and deter activity. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo partners with several organizations (including Panthera, Rimba and MYCAT) in Southeast Asia to support conservation of tigers and their habitat. Loss of habitat and illegal poaching have pushed tigers to the brink of extinction; there are a mere 3,200 in the wild, a decline of 97% since the start of the 20th century. Opportunities such as Realm of the Tiger give our keepers and conservation staff unique, firsthand experience with the challenges facing rain forest and endangered species conservation, and they use this knowledge to improve education and outreach here in Seattle.

We recently had a chance to chat with Christine about her upcoming trip:

WPZ: You have traveled internationally before. How does this trip compare? 

CA: I traveled to Spain for three weeks as part of a cultural learning program right after high school, which focused on art, culture and language. In 2006, I traveled to Ecuador and stayed for about three months where I volunteered with the Andean Bear Conservation Project led by researcher Armando Castellanos. This trip required extensive backcountry hiking in the northern region of Ecuador to cut trails in order to radio track bears and to set culvert traps to capture Andean bears to be fitted with radio collars. I also spent time in eastern Ecuador working with a community-based animal rescue center and ecotourism destination. This portion of my volunteer work required me to help rebuild animal enclosures, care for the animals in the rescue center, and help train the local staff on how to care for the animals that they had rescued, including tapirs, agoutis, monkeys and parrots. The trip to Malaysia will be similar to the trip to Ecuador in that it will require long days of hiking in densely forested tropical areas. Malaysia has a very different culture and climate than Spain or Ecuador, and the focus of the trip will be proactive immersive education in order to have an in-depth understanding of where Malayan tigers live, how they survive in densely forested areas, and how the threats to their survival impact their ability to thrive in their natural habitat.

WPZ: What are you most looking forward to on the trip? 

CA: I am most looking forward to being immersed in the natural habitat of the animals I spend my time caring for at the zoo—to obtain a better understanding of what tigers experience in the wild.

WPZ: What do you hope to learn on the walk? 

CA: I hope to get a better understanding of how topography and forest cover influence the way tigers are able to communicate with other tigers through marking their territories. I also hope to get a better understanding of the obstacles that the researchers are experiencing when trying to study tigers in dense forest cover to accurately estimate population levels.

WPZ: Why is visiting Malaysia important to your work at the zoo? 

CA: Experiencing the wild habitats of the animals I care for gives me a more in-depth understanding of their needs. First-hand experience with the threats to the tiger species allows me to more accurately convey conservation messages to zoo visitors and other people in my life.

WPZ: What has been your favorite part about working with tigers? 

CA: Tigers are typically solitary species in the wild, with the exception of females with young. Most of my experience working with tigers has been working with solitary captive tigers. I am fascinated with animal behavior, and it has been very interesting working with a group of three young males. I have learned a lot about tiger behavior by watching their behaviors change as they become mature males, and seeing how the social dynamics influence the personalities of each tiger. Tigers also chuff, which is a friendly vocalization that they will do with each other when they are young, and tigers will chuff at keepers they are familiar with as well. A good morning or good night chuff always makes my day better.

WPZ: What can readers in the United States do to help tigers in Malaysia? 

CA: The good news is we can all help tigers regardless of where we live. First, by simply visiting the zoo you are taking a conservation action. And while you’re here, you’ll learn more about what we’re doing to save tigers. Our Malayan tiger conservation partnership with Panthera is making great strides on the ground in Malaysia—you might consider making a financial donation to the project. Finally, please join the Woodland Park Zoo Tiger Team to receive breaking news and updates directly from our partners in the field and stories about tiger conservation efforts all over the world.

We can't wait to welcome Christine Anne back after her trip and hear her stories during tiger exhibit talks. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Adapted from an article first published in the Spring 2016 issue of MyZoo magazine. Zoo members receive MyZoo quarterly as a benefit of membership.


Blair Daly said…
Fantastic photo at the end Jeremy! Christine I'm so glad you made this trip and hope it was a blast.