Turns out that if you put some hay with peppermint and lavender in a burlap sack and toss it to the lions, the big cats will have a reaction nearly identical to domestic cats’ reaction to catnip.
At Paignton Zoo in Devon, England, zookeepers are testing aromatherapy on its inmates, including the big cats.
Humans have long used lavendar and peppermint to induce relaxation and calm. At Paignton Zoo, it had the opposite effect on a Asiatic lioness named Indu. “She was excited and stimulated by the unusual fragrance,” zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling told PEOPLEPets.com. “She played like a great big kitten!”
Zookeepers gave Indu the burlap toy as part of a new enrichment programs designed to encourage mental and physical stimulation for animals in captivity.
The aromatherapy experiemnt began when food store Holland & Barrett read about the positive effects different scents had on animals and agreed to donate aromatherapy oils to the park. For the last two weeks, the trainers noticed how smitten the big cats are with their lavender satchels rubbing it in their faces, licking it and showing lots of excitement for their new toys.
Because of the frenzy it created with the lions, the exposure to the aromatherapy experiment will be expanded to included other animals. Monkeys will soon be treated to new smells like lavender and tea tree oil.
Some of the animals will even be able to eat what they’re whiffing. Thanks to a large donation from Holland & Barrett, the meerkats and primates will receive popcorn as treats.
“The popcorn is good for them to eat, and because it looks, feels and smells unusual, it is good enrichment for them,” senior keeper Andrew Fry says. “It is very entertaining for visitors to watch them as they discover new things.”