WATERTOWN The push to get fit for the summer isnt limited to humans.
On a warm Thursday morning, officials with the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park showed off a new contraption called the Cougarciser, meant to give a workout to 2-year-old resident cougar Ninja.
The device was developed by Jed D. Wallis as a senior project for his zoo technology studies at Jefferson Community College, after he saw a similar contraption at a zoo in Oregon. It holds food in place off the ground with a cable leading up to an overhanging chain, while a spring encapsulated in PVC pipe provides some resistance to the cougar as he tries to pull on the food on the cable in this case, a chicken.
It gives them that natural instinct to pounce, he said.
He compared the exercise to a rowing machine in a gym.
It gives that resistance, he said.
Ninja drew some concerns from zoo staff last fall after tipping the scales at 140 pounds, about 20 pounds overweight, a weight level that could be seen in his lower-hanging midsection.
At the higher weight, an animal like Ninja could see problems such as lower energy levels and potentially diabetes, said Sue M. Sabik, the zoos general curator.
Its the same health issues as overweight people, she said.
Since then, Ninja has been placed on a new diet and started a new exercise regimen. The efforts have worked, as he is now weighing in at a svelte 118 pounds. Hes a lean, mean machine, Ms. Sabik said.
A toy like the Cougarciser will be rotated in to help keep Ninja stimulated, she said.
During a two-hour window in front of media and children, the cougars second time trying the machine, Ninja declined to pursue the hanging chicken. Instead, his workout for the day had a bigger cardio focus: pacing around his exhibit while staring intently at zoos guests.
Mr. Wallis said Ninja may be acclimated to the Cougarciser by the middle of the summer.