The Banham Zoo in Norfolk, England, has put out the word that they need help in creating a big stink. Well, sort of. They are asking for donations of unused perfume for their big cats. They aren't trying to find a way to make the felines smell better though. They need the fragrances for their big cat enrichment program. It is something that zoos everywhere are doing.
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Enrichment programs are designed to help zoo animals to express natural behavior such as they would do in the wild. This helps them keep from becoming bored, depressed, and restless. Like so many other animals large cats really enjoy a good sniff. It all ties in to territorial, hunting, and mating behaviors. They are even discerning in this, preferring the higher-end perfumes like those by Calvin Klein, Chanel, Esteé Lauder, and other designers. The scents are sprayed in places within their habitat where they can interact with them by rubbing, rolling, and clawing.
Higher end perfumes are made with a little-known ingredient called civetone. This comes from a civet, a small cat-like creature. The animal produces a particular scent from its anal glands to mark their territory that had been used for hundreds, or even thousands, of years to make perfumes for humans. Civetone is a modern, lab-made version of this substance. It creates a sort of musky scent when used in perfume that has been described as poopy and flowery. Using a laboratory derived version helps keep people from keeping live civets captive for the musk as is done in places like parts of Africa and Asia.
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It is unknown how or when humans first realized that they could use such secretions in wild animals to create luxurious perfumes. Such musk from animals was once used as a medicinal treatment. In the 10th century an Arab historian, al-Masudi, mentioned civet as a spice in one of his books. It was traded far and wide via camels. Even Shakespeare included a mention of civet in King Lear. The titular character said "Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary, sweeten my imagination."
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Even though other perfumes, such as Chanel No. 5 and Jovan Musk contain civetone, for some reason it is Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men that is the favorite fragrance of these big cats. That is what one curator at the Bronx Zoo swears after trying out two dozen fragrances on tigers, cheetahs, and leopards. After testing this it turned out that Obsession was the clear winner. Zookeepers from around the world agree with this finding. The Denver Zoo is always asking for perfume and they confirm that Obsession for men is the favorite of their lions. It has been reported that domestic cats can't get enough of the smell either -- it is even more enticing to them than catnip. Who knows why exactly? Whatever the reason it is making a lot of captive cats very, very, happy.
(This video was released by Banham Zoo to show how much their tigers and leopards are intrigued with purrrrrrfumes.)
Apparently the attraction of the perfume only goes so far. In 2018 authorities in India tried using Obsession for Men to capture a female tiger that was indicted in the deaths of 13 humans. The attempt failed and she was eventually tracked down and killed in a military-style operation, upsetting conservationists worldwide. However, biologists have found it useful in bringing jaguars closer to cameras so that they have been able to count their populations more accurately. Also two other tigers in India were captured using this method. There is no word on whether or not these tigers were male or female.
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By the way, knock-off fragrances don't work. You've gotta crack open the wallet to entertain the big cats. On a more personal note, my little cat goes nuts for wintergreen oil. Since I don't know if it is toxic to cats I keep it safely locked up. I have never tried high end perfume on her because I can't stand the stuff.
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