When a keeper at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore draped a dead chick on a fallen tree inside the leopard den yesterday, 8-year-old Jahrea Reynolds shuddered and turned away. "Gross," he told his mother.
But a few minutes later - after the keepers planted all of the bait, left the cage and released the leopards Amari and Hobbes - Jahrea stood on the railing to get the best view of the hunt.
"That's the first time I've ever seen a leopard act like that," the boy said. "But I have seen my cat at home act like that."
As part of the zoo's first "enrichment weekend," keepers used treats, prey and toys yesterday to stimulate animals' instincts, both playful and aggressive. Once trainers had the animals on the move, their personalities and quirky traits became evident.
Keepers treated elephants Dolly and Anna to huge discs of ice filled with Gatorade. Each elephant has her own way of getting to the drink, said Julie Grove, who coordinates animal training and behavior monitoring for the zoo.
Anna stomps on her ice to break it into edible pieces, while Dolly picks her disc up with her trunk and throws it on the ground, shattering it.
"This is really neat," said Steve Voss of Timonium, a member of the zoo, who brought his 5-year-old daughter, Ellie, and 7-year-old son, Adam. "We just happened to be here today."
In the leopard den, trainers told visitors what to expect. Hobbes, the male, is "very territorial" and will urinate in spots where keepers spray perfume and spices. Female Amari is "food-motivated." Once released, they said, she would go right for the dead chicks.
Sure enough, Hobbes walked directly to a bale of perfume-scented hay, urinated on it and rolled around. Meanwhile, Amari picked up the dead chick's scent and spent a good 15 minutes trying to scoop it out of a play toy.
Amari is not nearly as "food-motivated" as the 180-pound chimpanzee Rustie. Chimpanzees are pros at "fishing" for delicious termites. They'll find just the right stick, remove all of the twigs, maybe shorten it and carry it around until they reach a termite mound.
Then they deftly insert the stick into a hole, wriggle it around to attract the insects and remove it carefully so as to not lose the bugs. The Maryland Zoo doesn't have a termite mound, but yesterday it showcased a man-made substitute: Trainers had filled the holes with ketchup, honey and ranch dressing.
"Rustie will sit there all day," said Grove, 31.
Indeed, Rustie sat there licking the treats off her stick longer than any other chimp. Bunny, who is mostly deaf and the least aggressive of the 10-member group, tried to share her food with Grove through the exhibit's glass window.
"Chimps are so smart, but they can't get the concept of glass," Grove told spectators, who were cooing at Bunny and the baby chimp on her back.
Chimps are actually among the most aggressive animals at the zoo. But of the five species on the three-hour program, only the otters fought each other for their treats - fresh fish and a frozen block of apple juice, carrots, fish and raisins.
"That otter has gotten chubby because he has taken all of the treats," LeeAn Kahriger of Crownsville told her son, Kage, 3, as he watched the otters lurch at and bite each other.
Elvis, the male otter, won the battle and rolled the ice block into the water and out of public view.
Enrichment weekend continues today at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The program begins with otters at 11:30 a.m. and ends with leopards at 2:30 p.m.