Through the eyes of the keepers (blog 2)

8 August 2019
Sandra Kuijmans


Last week our dear colleague Roy Meulemans passed away after a tragic accident.
We are all devastated and wish his family, friends and colleagues strenght to bear this terrible loss.

Too young
Torn away from life
While you had still so much to give
So unexpected, so sudden
When you just went to work that day
We cannot comprehend that you are gone
It was an honor to know you
Rest in peace, dear Roy



On 1 August we had a visit from Gwen van Poorten, for the TV show ‘Zomer met Art’. The crew was filming for the TV show which aired the same night. I was a guest at that show, to talk about Stichting Leeuw. That was a very nice experience! Click this link to watch the show. Sandra bij De Zomer Met Art

Golden oldies

Baby Ayla and mum Jessy

Mother and daughter next to each other. Can you see the resemblance? To the left is baby Ayla and to the right mother Jessy. Jessy’s milk production declined a couple of weeks after Ayla was born, and she left the cub on her own. Ayla lost a lot of weight, which became dangerous. We took Ayla from her mother to save her life, and started bottle-feeding her. In the beginning Daphne kept Ayla at her home, to raise her in a quiet and stable environment. After a while Ayla came with Daphne to Stichting Leeuw when Daphne was working. And when Ayla was big enough, she moved to Stichting Leeuw permanently. In this picture Ayla is about five months old. Jessy and Ayla are in separate enclosures, but next to each other. Ayla is now an adult lioness of four years, as you can see in the video below.

Aslan and Ayla in the great hall

Aslan was in for some wild play with Ayla! They were sneaking up to each other, jumping on top of each other and having a lot of fun. Ayla tends to bully Aslan a little bit, by biting his bum. But Aslan doesn’t like that, and lets Ayla know.

Click the link to see the video: ayla en aslan_1

A keeper’s day

What does a typical day look like for us?

There are a number of jobs which need to be done every day, at almost the same times of day. There are also some extra jobs to do, and almost always some additional extra work. These are the standard jobs:

We first check the enclosures and the animals, making sure they are all still there and in the right place – yes please. It never happened that a big cat was not in its enclosure and we’d like to keep it that way! When we open, we also check the animals’ physical condition and behaviour.

Clean, prepare meat
Now’s the time to start cleaning the inside and outside enclosures, which is mainly done by our excellent team of volunteers!  They are the best, every single one of them, as they help out at Stichting Leeuw, often on top of their own jobs. During the cleaning hours we let one or a group of animals in the hunting hall to play and we prepare the meat for the hunting and training sessions.

Two of our volunteers, Patricia and Anna

Preparing the meat

Do hunting sessions
At the end of the morning it’s time for the first hunting session. The lions and/or tigers are prepared, the information tape starts and we put on our headset. Showtime. Well… showtime? As I said in our last blog, we are helpless if the animals decide to do something else that we’d like. We announce a spectacular hunt to the visitors, and then all that happens is that the animal rolls around in the bamboo or is far more interested in a certain smell on a tree than in a piece of meat on the hunting simulator. And there you are; a balcony full of people looking at a tiger that has no intention at all of even looking at the ‘prey’. If this happens, we do our best to lure the animal out of the hall, so that we can hunt with another lion or tiger. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Never mind, this is what makes working with animals fun. You just never know what they will do. Not even us. Of course, some animals are usually very keen and some usually aren’t, but we still offer every one that wants to, the opportunity to practice their natural behaviour and to enjoy the other enrichments of the hunting hall, like toys and many smells. In the afternoon we run another hunting session, and on Sundays also a third.

Aslan likes the tree better than the toy on the hunting simulator

Vladimir takes part in a training session

After the hunts there’s time for training. We train the animals for medical purposes, as an enrichment activity and as preparation for transport (I’ll tell you more about training in another blog).

After the last hunting session we do extra jobs. This can be anything from mowing and cleaning ponds in the outside enclosures, to clearing the keepers’ path and repairing all kinds of stuff. We (okay, Jurjen and a few keen volunteers) also make those nice beds and toys out of old fire hose. And we clear out the collected scat and bone leftovers. In the afternoon we prepare the enrichment for the following day. The animals get new enrichment twice a week, in many forms. I’ll tell you more about this subject too in one of the next blogs.

After all this work the feeding starts. Well, some animals were fed during the day, for logistic reasons. The rest gets to eat now, and they know it! Many walk to and fro in front of the hatch and the rest lies turned to the hatch, waiting for it to open. We let the animals in and lead them each to a separate enclosure, to avoid fights and to be able to see how much each animal eats.

After our last check-up round, during which we also note how much the animals have eaten and if there are any special things, it’s time to close up. All gates and doors are locked, lights out, good night everyone!