a more natural habitat.
In late June, the zoo’s male red panda disappeared from its outdoor enclosure, only to be found about a mile away near Adams Morgan. Keepers said a low-hanging branch in his natural exhibit likely aided his breakout.
Also in the back of the minds of the zoo’s cat keepers is the news about the 3-week-old Sumatran tiger cub at the London Zoo in England, which drowned in its exhibit pool last month.
Tuesday’s swim test was held two weeks before the cubs are scheduled to make their public debut.
The Great Cats Exhibit is surrounded by a moat where the water depth ranges from 3 feet to 12 feet. The National Zoo conducted a swim test for its seven lion cubs in 2007 and the three Sumatran tiger cubs born in 2006.
Echoing Mr. Moore’s comparison of science and art within animal behavior, Mr. Saffoe said while it was important to ensure the tigers could learn to swim on their own, had one started to sink or drown keepers would have intervened, just as a parent assists a child at a pool.
“Science tells us they are mammals, art tells us they might sink,” Mr. Saffoe said. “We can’t afford to lose one, and that was the point of what we did today.”