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Cats like to play – and big cats like to play hard… Photographs taken at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon reveal the power, grace and supreme hunting skills of an adult male tiger.

Eight-year-old Sumatran tiger Fabi used teeth and claws as he leapt at the giant ball, bought for him by keepers at the Zoo. Even though he was using his lethal force to bring down nothing more dangerous than a giant plastic toy, the exercise was a useful one.

Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Matthew Webb said: “Enrichment is about stimulating animals mentally and physically. Playing with one of these balls brings out natural behaviours and is a real workout for his muscles. These balls are specifically designed to withstand the force of even tigers, lions and rhino!”

The 30” heavy duty ball came from animal enrichment and nutrition specialists Feedpods, based in Ireland, and cost £200. The Zoo – a registered charity - bought four out of money donated by the Marjorie Coote Animal Charity Trust. Paignton Zoo uses environmental enrichment as part of its routine animal welfare and husbandry programme.

How does Matt rate Fabi’s response? “Brilliant! He played with it all day, right up till just before he came in for the night. He’s very inquisitive and playful, a typical young tiger.”

Fabi arrived at Paignton Zoo in late 2015 from Chester Zoo. Sumatran tigers are Critically Endangered, with just 300 thought to remain in the wild. Their numbers continue to decline due to habitat loss, poaching and human-tiger conflict, meaning the insurance population to be found in zoos is vitally important to the future of the species.

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