At the sound of a bell, LJ and Levannah, our African lions, run into their building. This is a part of their recently established emergency recall behavior. 

In animal training, the term “recall” refers to instances when the animal is cued to move towards a specific location. In this situation, our zookeepers cue the lions to move from their outdoor enclosure to their indoor space. 

To start training for an emergency recall, they chose a specific cue (the bell). This bell is only used for this behavior. The cats are conditioned to go into their building at the sound of the bell. The keepers used the bell every time they fed the big cats for months before the first test drill to establish this behavior. 

The cats are incredibly smart and know exactly when they are going to be fed. Therefore, the test drills are scheduled on non-feeding days. The big cats are primarily carcass-fed, and they have a gorge/fast feeding system where they get fed a feast every three days. 

“Setting up the test drills has been the most challenging part of this project and has even included me hiding out in the building for an hour after we’ve all set out enrichment!” said Jacqui Mckenna.

In a recent recall training, the lions saw Jacqui and immediately went to the door of their indoor space before even hearing the bell. Due to this, the keepers had to find ways to distract the lions before ringing the bell.