As you might already know, at IEAS, we place a large emphasis on Emotional Enrichment. A lot of the animals at the Sanctuary were previously rescued from abusive homes. Therefore, they do not trust humans. What we are basically trying to do is to provide these animals with a source of security and comfort through love, affection, and respect. Honestly, I had never even heard of Emotional Enrichment until I read the job description. However, my curiosity got to me and this was actually one of the reasons I applied for the internship! Naturally, I was excited when I was told to make a list of the top 4 animals I wanted to sit with. I would only be given 2 of my 4, but I would be able to take on more animals as I learned the process.
One of my choices was to sit with ShereKahn and KiKi. ShereKahn is an orange Bengal Tiger and KiKi is a white Bengal Tiger, these siblings will be turning two in May. These cubs came from a facility in the Northeast that no longer had a use for them. Fortunately, I was given the okay to sit with these two for our Emotional Enrichment Program. I was especially excited when I found out that I was going to be the first intern allowed to sit with them! Now when I say "sit", I mean that we get to sit outside of their fence, no closer than 3’ away from it. There are also certain rules when sitting. If they are showing any undesirable behaviors (i.e. pacing or jumping on the fence, growling, etc.), we are to leave immediately. If the animal goes in their house, we consider that their safe place where they can get alone time, and we do not sit with them. Essentially what we term “the perfect sit” occurs when we walk up and the animal continues on as if you aren’t even there. Another form of the perfect sit occurs if the animal sleeps in our presence. We attribute it to a stranger being in your home. Would you feel comfortable sleeping with someone you don't trust or feel comfortable with in your house? Likely not. Therefore, if the animal sleeps while you are sitting with them, that is a huge compliment as it means they see you as a friend and companion, rather than a stranger.
When tigers are happy, they make certain noises, like chuffs and moans, to greet other tigers and even their human caretakers when they are comfortable around them. It didn’t take ShereKahn or KiKi long at all to begin chuffing at me. They would also frequently walk up to the fence near to where I was sitting and rub against it while simultaneously chuffing and moaning; which is comparable to your average domestic house cat when they rub on you and purr. I have now been sitting with these two for two months, and we have come a long way! Now when I head up to see them, I am usually greeted by at least one, if not both of them. They sleep a lot during sits and often will come and do so right along the fence near me. I receive a lot of chuffs and moans and it makes me happy when they rub on the fence where I’m sitting. When it’s a bit cooler they also play with each other, which is extremely entertaining to watch. It truly is just like a relationship among humans, the more time you spend with them and the more effort you put into the relationship, the more you get out of the relationship. These two will forever hold a special place in my heart!
The perfect sit! I love spending time with these two.