Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Bannerghatta update 2011

Tony Wiles visit to the Born Free tiger facility in the Bannerghatta Park from 6th - 16th November 2011.

My second visit to the BFF facility since our new partners, Wildlife SOS took over the daily management did not disappoint me. (Wildlife SOS run a sanctuary for rescued bears nearby.)  Masti and Roque continue to thrive with their management routines.

Masti and Roque are now fed three times a week instead of daily and this seems to be suiting their metabolism better.

In the wild big cats are feast and famine feeders, that is to say they gorge themselves when they have food and will not eat again until they are hungry which could be several days. Even then they have to hunt for their next meal which could use up an awful lot of energy and exercise their whole body for a couple of days or more.

In captivity there is not the incentive to use a great deal of energy as they do not have to hunt and there are no potential rivals roaming around to keep the adrenalin pumping. This in turn means we have to control the quantity of food they eat in line with the energy used, not as easy as it seems.

It is better to feed a little less often as this gives the animal time to digest its food and become more active for a while when the effects of the meal have worn off and before the next feed..

Roque – he is looking in superb condition.

Of all the tigers we have taken to India, he is the one who has enchanted our Indian colleagues the most. The fact that Roque is from Sumatra, and is not one of their indigenous Bengal tigers to India makes him an interesting exotic!

Roque’s early, gentle upbringing means he also responds to the staff in a much calmer and amenable manner that all the other tigers, especially when needing any medical treatment from the team involving restraint.

I first met Roque when we rescued him from a Barcelona pet shop. He was four months old. For the next four years I looked after him in our Kent sanctuary before we brought him to the Born Free Facility in  Bannerghatta, I have been visiting him regularly for ten years now and in all that time we have retained the most unbelievable and unbroken bond.

When I was a child my dream was to work with tigers. I had only ever seen them in books and on birthdays/holidays a trip to London or Maidstone zoo. Little did I know then what fate had in store for me,   particularly the fact that a tiger would become my closest animal friend. I shall always feel humbled that such a magnificent animal should allow me to be in his trust.

As with all my trips Roque spent a great deal of time with me, and we indulged in all the chase and hide-and-seek games we had played over so many years (with me on the outside of his enclosure of course).  Even at his age he still has such a zest for life. The new management system suits him well with all his enrichments that the staff think up to distract and challenge him, some quite ingenious, some a little bit quirky, but all aimed to make his life more interesting. 

Masti:- This wild-born tiger is improving in leaps and bounds literally, mentally and physically. It did not take place overnight, it has actually taken some time, particularly regarding his aggression towards everyone.

He has calmed down to such a degree that not only does he not charge the fences any more, he doesn’t even bother to growl at most people now.

Remarkably he reacts very quickly to any new enrichment placed in his territory.  Within minutes the contraption is investigated thoroughly, is tested and then used if he finds it suits his needs. The feeding routine allows us to keep him at a weight that will allow him to move more comfortably on his three legs.

Tony Wiles

tiger mastis night kraal
Environmental enrichement in Mastis night kraal
Born Frees rescued tiger roque

Tony Wiles visit to the Born Free Foundation tiger facility in the Bannerghatta Biological Park

Karnataka, India from 6th - 13th July 2011

This trip would be the first time I had visited our facility since transferring the daily management of the facility to our new NGO partners Wildlife SOS. They were already running a rescue and rehabilitation facility for dancing bears next door to our tigers.

As they were doing an amazing job with their project only a hundred metres or so from our tigers and our original management team were based some three kilometres away, it made sense that we formed this alliance.

We now had use of Wildlife SOS veterinarians who are based on site 24 hours a day, the small but modern veterinary clinic and operating theatre, for which we had supplied fifty per cent of the building costs some time earlier, also a generator BFF had bought through our new Indian partners which enabled us to keep the purchase costs down.

The joy of the new arrangement was Wildlife SOS being an Indian based organisation could employ staff directly on our behalf and train and manage them in a way that would suit our management standards and ideals.

With all of the above in place the ride to Bannerghatta was quite nerve racking, as apart from the maniacal driving encountered all along the route, I was contemplating whether we had made the right decision especially as India has a habit of promising so much more than it delivers.

My first impression was good - peace and tranquillity, calmness everywhere.

Staff initiative was being used to create environmental enrichment and various climbing platforms had been created, poles were hung between trees and basket balls were hung from them which the cats had to reach up to bat and attempt to get down,
Other basketballs were just thrown into the enclosure for the tigers to chase and generally play with.

The thorny undergrowth in the day kraals had been cut down and removed which opened up the forest to allow the animals to move much more freely throughout their ranges shielded by a canopy of taller trees.
A small area had been fenced off and a collection of native seedling trees and shrubs planted in pots, as these get bigger they will be transplanted in the tigers habitat and observations made as to whether any of them create a particular interest for the cats.

The tigers

Interestingly Masti tiger, the wild-born tiger injured in a snare, is far quicker than Roque to observe and take interest in the environmental enrichments placed in the night kraals. He doesn’t seem to miss a trick and investigates everything as soon as it is placed in his area.

He loves the basket balls and bats them around the night kraal with great gusto and when they go into his pool, which incidentally he adores, he is straight in after them and loves pushing them under the water to see them pop up to be pounced on again and again.

Even with his one front leg he is able to climb the steep slope of his raised platforms and loves observing the world from them.

The other amazing thing is the fact that he no longer charges the fences when people appear. As the tigers have access to all of their territory including the dens, night kraals and forest areas at all times, except for pool or den cleaning, they quite often during the heat of the day lay inside their dens. When my driver and myself entered the den area and Masti was lying inside less than a metre away he did not even lift his head or growl. At last we have managed to give him a peaceful life.

Roque on the other hand tends to ignore any new additions to his environment sometimes for several days before he investigates. I wonder whether generations of captive breeding without the opportunity to live in the wild has dulled his natural senses. After all Masti’s senses are as sharp as a razor.
When eventually he does take an interest he gives things a thorough testing, climbing all over his platforms and playing with his basket balls, which now he has got the hang of them are a source of endless amusement until he decides to take a bite out of them, which creates a small pop followed by a look of confusion at the creatures demise.

He again spent some time with me and as it was the monsoon season and much cooler, he was quite active  and enjoying my company, making me go through the whole gambit of play rituals that he and I devised when he was very young.

With the new team in place I have been able to instigate a much more flexible feed routine for the animals and it is already starting to take effect with both the cats looking infinitely better than my previous visit.

All in all things are really looking up in Bannerghatta and hopefully the AGM in November should allow us to move the project even further forward.

Tony Wiles, 3rd August 2011


Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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