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Doha Zoo    



Rita Chimpanzee at Doha Zoo Bear necessities by Peter Townson QF pupils add spice to Doha zoo animal's life by Peter Townson

This is a follow up documentation regarding the future possibilities of improvements of all species as well as Rita, Timmy and Tina chimpanzees.

Rita, Timmy and Tina together                          chimpanzee immobilization with Doha Zoo Management

It seems to me that basic husbandry and enrichment projects will be difficult to be installed unless the Doha Zoo makes some significant adjusting. These changes do not necessarily need to involve financial burdens, but rather changing mindsets.

  1. Animal visibility and activity. Animals need to be more viewable to the visitors. Lack of shade, substrate, water, etc ., are forcing the animals to hide in crevices and away from comfortable view.

Decreasing heat by providing shade structures, climbing devices closer to public view, water falls (hose and irrigation heads on timers), coolers, fans, mist fans, pools, wallows, covered surfaces with soil, sand, hay, leaves, mulch, perches, logs, branches, wooden hiding boxes, logs that offer them a place to feel more secure (although still visible), etc ., will allow the animals to utilize three dimensional space, to cool their temperature off and therefore increase their activities. It will also be beneficial for the animals’ health (please review exhibit improvement document submitted on 06-10-10).

Hanging curtains. Heat can be decreased also by using curtains of large square patches fastened above the enclosure. The curtains can be made from tarps or better, from material used to cover banana plantations and in green houses to filter sun rays. These patches of material can be fastened in sections above the enclosure, depending how the sun moves on its daily route [M. Seres].

Green grass. Another important asset would be growing grass. It de creases the temperature (instantly by 10 F if I heard correctly), provides instant substrate, esthetic from visitor point of view, comfortable to walk on and prevents hoof and paw problems. We have just seeded our rhino yard two weeks ago after 47 years the first time and the grass is growing splendidly. Please review attached pictures.

  1. Non smoking zoo. In the past few years more and more zoos became non smoking in the USA (including the Phoenix Zoo). Prohibiting smoking could entirely prevent visitors throwing cigarette butts into cages and set them on fire. This act would also provide a trustworthy environment to freely place substrate into any cages without fire hazards.

I also noticed that, there were no ashtrays anywhere (or at least I have not seen any) on zoo grounds. Increasing ashtrays or assigning smoking areas could also help if a “smoke free” zoo is not an option. “Our zoo went to all non-smoking beginning in 2009, specifically for fire risk reasons.  We have low water pressure due to old water mains (being upgraded now), and lots of mulch planter pockets, so were getting mulch smoldering and fires every year” [H. Hellmuth].

  1. Provocative guest behavior. It is more likely, that the main reason of visitors provoking animals is to get a better look and/or to increase animal action and visibility. This problem cannot be solved until the modifications that are listed under #1 paragraph will be done.

There are some preventative measures that can be done before and/or simultaneously with exhibit changes, however, they are either long term goals and cannot be immediately implemented or require some financial investments

    1. Establishing a volunteer program. Visitors hardly ever read signs. Arranging interpretive volunteers and security guards at the exhibits can serve dual purposes:

 Interactions with the guests will serve as an entertainment, information collection and an important educational tool to prevent current and future animal mistreatment.

 Presence of a zoo official induces self awareness and therefore decreases obnoxious guest behaviors

    1. Physical barriers between visitors and animals to bloc k public access to the animals and also animal access to the public. 

 Safety rails. Jenny has already suggested moving the safety rails and visitor pathway further away from the front of the exhibits. Especially the chimpanzee exhibit.  By moving it back approximately two meters, the chimps would relax and not be fed junk food.  This would also help with cigarette problems.

  Plants or fake plants (i.e. fake bamboo poles to break up direct visual lines) can be installed in front of the cages. For example, if Tina chimp is throwing sand due to provocation, offering the chimps safety by breaking up the 'visitor wall' would decrease or completely stop her behavior. Breaking up the 'visitor wall' has been shown recently in baboons to both increase visibility and behavioral repertoire” [D. Minier]. Jenny also suggested cactuses as barriers. They are very pleasing esthetically but fairly unapproachable.

  Hanging mesh/net. “A fine, 1" gauge wire mesh/net hung vertically in between the visitors. The hanging mesh can be 15-20 feet high, perhaps easy to install and less costly. Besides, it does not hold up air, it does "ventilate" in the heat, not like Plexiglas that may even reflects more heat. It can be "painted" black in order to see through better and perhaps prevents items that people throw to go through. Something like the North Carolina Zoo used to have to prevent chimps throwing rocks at visitors a few years back [M. Seres].

  1. Special cases

  Dog in carnivore night house is currently kept in a small area with no direct light, fresh air, substrate and enrichment. Maybe he could be moved into an exhibit (such as the wolf) and being alternated.

  Lions. Creating a pride by introducing all female lions and adding one male would free up some room to house the rest of the lions in a more comfortable level as well demonstrating more species-appropriate social setting.

  Parrots that are housed solitary could be paired up. These animals (although they live in large groups) within the group they live in pairs. Male – female bonding, as well as exhibiting proper social behaviors are very important for them. Maybe some parrots could be rescued from the market? They would certainly have a better life in the zoo than in somebody’s private home. Birds in general also need some Eucalyptus branches for visual barriers, hiding places and to imitate natural looking exhibits.  Parrots should not receive Eucalyptus, only edible browse, since they will chew on them and Eucalyptus  is poisonous, but for other birds that will not chew, it is a fantastic resource and the Doha Zoo have it in a abundance.

  Hyena and tortoises could deal with the heat better if they had a wallow. I have seen the hyena trying to roll in mud (made of the excess water coming out from under the door of the night house while the keeper was hosing). For these animals, mud is not just simply a cooling option but an important part of their skin care.

 Perching in general. Animals living in homogeneous enclosures with large, inflexible, continuous supports, display different patterns of locomotion than those in more naturalistic and complex environments with smaller, interrupted, flexible supports. Perches, shelves, ladders, swings, ropes, barrels, boxes and other structures can be added to all exhibits. Wood, plastic and fiber have the advantage of being non-thermo conductive, which is helpful outdoors.


  1. Chimpanzee follow up. I’m pleased to hear through Jenny’s reports that the chimpanzees are doing well, Rita is coming inside the night house now and the chimpanzees are grooming, playing and adjusting well while getting to know each other.

  Removing the barrier and establishing volunteer help. When you are ready to take the temporary barriers down, I would like to suggest to have some volunteers/security guards standing there, taking 2-4 hours shifts explaining the introduction, chimpanzee behaviors and the different personalities of the chimpanzees as well as physically protecting the chimpanzees from harm. Tina, now that she discovered that she could get back at the visitors by throwing sand at them will not likely change her behavior as well as Timmy will always be upset every time he sees a man due to previous bad experiences. Timmy really dislikes men! Removing the sand is not really a solution, the chimps with find something else to throw and I’m afraid it might be fecal matter or food, urine, etc., which is a frequent chimpanzee behavior all over in the world in captivity. Moving them into the Dome would not help either, since the Dome cannot be utilized three dimensionally and all the chimps would have is small floor space and no climbing structures to exhibit species-appropriate behaviors. It seems like, that the best immediate relief is to have volunteers helping out at least until the management decides what type of alternations can be done with the visitor pathways and the railing system. Another option would be to move the temporary barriers a bit closer so that people can make the circle walk around the bird cage and still be away from the chimps.  That might gradually get Timmy and Tina more used to the crowds.  Right now the barrier stops any people passing on that side of the bird cage. 

  Moving the sleeping basket from the Dome to Rita’s exhibit would help utilize space even better by increasing sleeping opportunities up in the canopy and would provide the chimps a safety zone high above and away from the public which would probably further decrease antagonistic behaviors.

  Moving the puzzle feeder from the Dome to Rita’s exhibit would help extending foraging time.

  The puzzle feeders should be placed into a lower level so they are easily accessed by the keepers. This would ensure that the keepers would fill them up daily even when they are in a hurry. 

  Increasing feeding time. Chimpanzees spend an average 27.5% with foraging [L. Brent]. One feeding time and at night is not suggested. Now, when Rita chimp comes inside reliably, we could try scattering less desirable food all over exhibit as well as placing them into the two puzzle feeders and saving the novelty food items for shifting the chimps inside at night.


  1. Browse. As I walked around with Mr. Hassan, I realized that indeed there are not enough browseable trees on zoo grounds to sustain the collections needs.

  Lucerne Alfalfa (Medi c ago sativa). Fresh Lucerne is already given to hoof stock all over the zoo. This plant in my understanding is not expensive and comes in large amounts to the Doha Zoo and therefore could easily replace browse for all species. Lu c erne is very good substitute for trees and leafy branches due to its highly digestible fiber. Although, it is suggested not to be given every day and in high amounts due to its high protein content. This plant could be given to all primates and carnivores as well as to birds in suggested amounts determined by the veterinarian.

  Farms and plantations. In my understanding there are surrounding establishments all over in Doha that have access plants being disposed regularly. These plants (if they are not sprayed with pesticides) could be regularly picked up and distributed to all animals needed. It would also create a good relationship between the zoo and the plantations.    

  Trees planted into exhibits. Geographically fitting, edible trees could be planted into each exhibit in abundance that would provide shade and food in a few years as well as making the exhibit more pleasing for the human eye.

  Browse gardens could be established all over on zoo grounds. Since most of the trees will not geographically fit into the landscape, these gardens could be established either out of visitor’s view, or explained by signs for the visitors about their purpose.


  1. Enrichment and training programs

I have been most pleased that you were satisfied with my visit and offered me a possible return for further consultations. During my visit, we established some good, solid basic husbandry improvements as well as introduced three chimpanzees together. The next step would be elevating these programs into well–oiled, every day management techniques.

  Enrichment program. In the near future, I would like to come again and follow up on zoo wide enrichment programs and establishing an actual self-sustaining plan by outlining a solid framework. There is no self-sustained system without the complete circle of the SPIDER method suggested by Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SPIDER is an acronym for:

       Setting goals







I could also train the staff, develop their technical skills and change their attitude toward “what can be done” as opposed to the frequent answer of “it cannot be done”. New programs and new ideas cannot be successfully implemented without the staff fully understanding the reasons and logistics behind them. They need to accept that these ideas are plausible, and be trained to understand the final outcome as well as all the details that will lead to accomplishing it.


  Animal training programs. Basic husbandry and medical training mutually could help both the animals and the staff.  It is less stressful for the animals as well as for the keepers and the veterinarians. For example, if the chimpanzees would have been trained to shift into a transfer cage, we would not had to have gone though darting them, worrying about them recovering safely, we could have saved time and the entire procedure could have been done by maybe 1 or 2 person as oppose to an entire team of people. I would like to establish basic crate training all over the zoo as well as scale training. Shifting and more importantly scale training is the most significant, basic training program requested by all veterinarians as first choice. If an animal is s c ale trained, the weight of the animals can provide immediate information to a vet regarding the physical health of the animal (is it overweight, normal weight or sick and lost some weight) as well as letting them know how much medicine needs to be given, or how much drug needs to be used during immobilizations. All these can be done without ever touching the animal, stressing anybody out and be accomplished by one staff member in no time and within a safe environment. Here are some more examples how training can be useful:  




No Training 


Increase safety

Blow darting bighorn on exhibit- possible injury

Injecting bighorn in squeeze cage- safe

Reduce health Risks

Using drugs to immobilize an old rhino for weighing

During injury no access to elephant to treat tail-possible no treatment

Immobilizing orangutan for annual physical exam

Keeping horses in stalls all day



No drugs and scale training


Soaking elephant’s tail

Training for presenting body parts and blood draw

Exercising horses on back road


Decrease staff resources

Capturing eagle=several people

Crate eagle=1 person

Decrease stress



Chasing tagua on exhibit for shifting

Chasing marmoset for Depot shot

Asking tagua to enter holding

Crate training marmoset


Saves time

Small time investment from the trainer’s part but not always reliable response from animal

Luring ocelot inside with food in the night house


Greater time investment at the beginning but saves time in long run

Training the ocelot to learn to come in on cue reliably


Saves money

Using expensive drugs to orangutan for ultra sound

No drugs and ultra sound training

Behavioral modification



Goat biting visitors and staff

Tiger aggression toward staff

Elephant attacks staff due to abscess pain in foot


Aggression is stopped or decreased by training



I would like to thank you for the opportunity of having me at Doha as well for the wonderful experiences I have gained.

Special thanks for the following individuals for their advice

Darren E. Minier
Behavior Management Program
CNPRC; Univ. of California, Davis
Office:  (530) 754-8049
George Mason University
Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies
Zoo & Aquarium Leadership

Heidi Hellmuth
Curator-Enrichment and Training
Smithsonian's National Zoo
PO Box 37012, MRC 5507
Washington, DC 20012-7012


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