Playtime with Pumpkins at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center

by Ali Crumpacker

At the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, California, Halloween means Pumpkin Playtime for the big cats.

At this wildlife sanctuary—home to cougars, bobcats and African lion—staff and volunteers regularly introduce novel and unpredictable enrichment toys to stimulate natural instincts and behavior in the animals.

Wild felids devote much of their lives to stalking, hunting, and consuming their prey: big cats can range up to 20 miles in a single night in search of food and spend hours eating and digesting their meal. Providing an outlet for cats’ natural hunting behaviors in a sanctuary setting can be a challenge, but the staff at the Wildlife Center have designed enrichment activities that allow the carnivorous felines to chase, pounce, and chew.

Still, can pumpkins really bring out these behaviors in an African lion? 

Samson has been at the Wildlife Center for nine years and spends most of his day doing the primary natural African lion activity…sleeping. But when given his first pumpkin of the season, his response was to tackle, lick, and ultimately rip apart the orange flesh with his powerful teeth. 

Sasha, normally a shy and reclusive cougar, ignored her dinner when she was given her pumpkin and began to push the pumpkin up a hill, giving chase as it rolled back down. 

Using her head, Sheba, a very outgoing cougar, nudged her gourd over to the fence where staff were observing her, and started to vocalize. Stacy Parker, the animal technician who presented the pumpkin, decided Sheba was saying “thank you” for her new toy.

Presenting new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of animals. Thanks to our community supporters, we have very happy cats this Halloween! 

You can help! 

Donations of pumpkins, gourds, watermelons, sport balls, extra large stuffed animals, large traffic cones, and large cardboard boxes from appliances are happily accepted at the Wildlife Center. 

About the FFA Wildlife Center

The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center is one of five animal care centers operated by The Humane Society of the United States. Learn more about the FFA Wildlife Center, or to schedule a drop off for donation items, call 760-789-2324.

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