Aromatherapy for lions? Massages for tapirs? It might sound like something you'd only see in a Disney cartoon but the luxury answer to animal care is happening for real in a Devon zoo.
Indu the female lion is responding well to the aromatherapy trials at Paignton Zoo, while Misha the tapir thinks having her back rubbed with almond oil is to die for.
The trials came about after staff from a leading health shop chain learned that animals responded well to new and interesting smells.
Smells good to me: Mwamba appears to be thoroughly enjoying his hay pillow sprinkled with peppermint
'Aromatherapy seemed to hit the nail right on the head,' commented a zoo spokesman. 'When Holland and Barratt offered us a free consignment of the oils to see if animals would respond well, we jumped at the chance.'
The zoo's senior head mammal keeper, Julian Chapman, said: 'We use a wide variety of environmental enrichments to stimulate our animals physically and mentally. Many animals, particularly big cats, respond well to smells, whether they are the scents of other animals or fragrant herbs and spices.'
Acting senior keeper Lucy Manning explained: 'We dilute the oils and put drops around the paddock or den. Lavender may relax human beings, but it excites big cats. In fact most fragrances stimulate them - the novelty gets them going. When we put a few drops on a hessian sack filled with hay the cats will play with it, carry it about and curl up to sleep with it.
'Cats have twice as many smell-sensitive cells in their noses as people and also have an extra scent organ in the roof of their mouths.'
Peppermint princess: Lioness Indu has taken to her scented pillow, carrying it around and sleeping on it
Monkey keeper Andy Fry has also been trialling the aromatherapy. He said: 'We use scent-based enrichments and have had some good results. Monkeys respond to fruit scents like orange and lemon.
'However, we have never had such a wide range, so this is an excellent opportunity. It will be interesting to see what effect lavender and tea tree oil have.'
There is also a veterinary use for the oils. Ghislaine Sayers - the zoo's head of veterinary services, said: 'You can mix almond oil with water and spray it on pigs and primates with dry skin. If a monkey has a cold, you can nebulise olbas oil with water or put it on a wet towel somewhere where the animal can smell it but not reach it."
Paignton Zoo Environmental Park has won awards for its environmental enrichment work, which encourages natural behaviours and stimulates mental and physical activity.
Enrichment can include wind chimes, background music, balls, bubbles and CDs hung up to catch the light.
In the wild, animals walk miles in search of food or migrating with the seasons. In zoos they cannot.
A Paignton Zoo spokesman said: 'Environmental enrichment helps to replace these activities and occupy the time of animals such as primates, elephants and big cats.'
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