Meet Chewy, the 7-year-old Amur tiger at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. (Video by Skyler Ballard/ The Gazette)

Basia Dann has a bucket of raw meat, but Chewy is much more entertained by his game of hide-and-seek.

The 7-year-old Amur tiger hunkers behind some rocks and bare bushes in his snowy exhibit at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The top half of his fuzzy, large head peeks out as he eyeballs his keeper and the new humans waiting by his training fence.

Finally, the 350-pound cat decides enough is enough. He pops up and scampers over to see about some snacks.

“He’s very curious, outgoing and observant,” said Dann, lead keeper in the zoo’s Asian Highlands. “He’s also very playful, kind of childlike. He’s aware of everything happening. He likes watching nature and observing our guests.”

Chewy rubs up against the fence like a housecat rubs up against a chair leg, as Dann talks to him and gives him hand commands. But instead of stretching out on the icy ground as instructed, he gives a low moan and proceeds to do a full roll, which reveals a fluffy belly. He does a high-five with Dann’s hand, which is a safe distance from the chain link fence, and is rewarded with a tong full of raw hamburger. His brilliant white long canines flash, and the hunk of meat disappears.

“He’s always willing to learn,” Dann said. “That playfulness is a wonderful attribute for an animal to have because we’re learning through play all the time.”

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Is the bachelor looking for love?

Perhaps. Chewy lives alone, but he doesn’t want your pity. Tigers like their own space and are typically solitary in the wild. He gets the run of several spaces, including a whole second yard. And in time there might be a Mrs. Chewy. He arrived at the zoo in 2016 on the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Amur tiger Species Survival Plan, which seeks to move the tigers around to help preserve the species.

If the SSP finds a nice, compatible tigress, there could potentially be cubs at some point.

“Our institution is committed to helping the population in any way we can and one way could be breeding,” Dann said. “We’d go through the extensive process of making sure he and the lady are a good fit. Those decisions are left up to the SSP.”

Cubs — not only cute, but crucial

Amur tigers, the largest of wildcats, are an endangered species. There are fewer than 500 left in the wild, and only about 100 in captivity.

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Does Chewy need a tiger sweater? Maybe some booties to keep his paws warm?

No. The species is native to far east Russia, so this chap is built for the cold, though he does love to loaf and laze in sunny spots around the yard. Amur tigers were once known as Siberian tigers, but as populations declined, there were no longer tigers living in Siberia. Their new name pays homage to the Amur River that flows through their reduced range in Russia.

What’s on the menu?

Raw meat — chicken is his favorite. And if you really want to inspire or reward him, pull out a can of whipped cream, because this dude loves a mouthful of sweetened heavy cream.

“Sometimes we’ll toss dollops of cream in the yard,” Dann said. “But he will take cream right out of the can. He’ll open his mouth and we spray it in. He’s always on one side of the mesh and we’re on the other.”

Chewy has a thing for Victoria’s Secret

The perfumes, that is. Keepers like to enrich his life with scavenger hunts using perfume donations. He particularly likes Vicky’s Secret and Prada and Calvin Klein products.

Tigers are super scent-oriented, so Dann and others will create perfume trails throughout his yard. Each trail leads to something exciting, such as a toy or food cache.

When does a tiger not smell like a tiger?

When they scent mask. When they’re on the hunt, carnivores like to hide their own scent so their prey don’t know they’re coming. If they come across something stinky, they’ll rub and roll around in it to cover their own smell.

“It’s kind of like putting perfume on yourself,” Dann said.

“So instead of smelling a tiger, the animal they’re going after will smell a nice rose bush. And a rose bush isn’t scary like a tiger.”

‘I’m Chewy, pleased to meet you.’

If you hear a breathy vocalization called a chuff as you walk by the big guy’s exhibit, he’s merely saying hello.

“He vocalizes a lot,” Dann said. “He’s outgoing and one of the noises tigers will make in greetings to each other is a chuff. He’s the most chuffy individual I’ve ever worked with.”

And what about those lion roars?

You likely won’t hear one. And if you do, it means Chewy’s experiencing some sort of discomfort. That’s why his keepers do their best to make sure he has every opportunity to control his environment so he can stay happy, comfortable and roar-free.

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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