A new character on The Walking Dead, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), leads a community of survivors known as The Kingdom together with his sidekick, a female Bengal tiger named Shiva. His new gig is a leg up from his pre-zombie apocalypse life of being an actor and zookeeper, but he’s still got a thing or two to learn about tiger maintenance.
While Shiva plays an important role in the comics, we don’t know much about her on the show yet besides the fact that she lives in a former high school and is usually chained to Ezekiel’s throne. While The Walking Dead isn’t necessarily the place for realism, we’d like to offer one humble suggestion: The Kingdom needs to invest in a pool. A swimming Shiva would be a happy Shiva, and a happy Shiva won’t eat her human masters.
Bengal tigers are demonstrably good at swimming, which is considered one of the four activities necessary for a tiger’s happiness (the others are climbing, predation, and stalking). Unlike house cats, which scientists believe became suspicious of water through domestication, tigers use water to ambush, chase, and catch prey.
In a 2016 study on how to maintain tiger welfare at zoos, scientists observed the behavior of seven captive tigers to see which factors best enhanced their overall welfare. What best kept the tigers exercised and enriched, they found, was the presence of a clean water pool deep enough that they could swim in within their enclosures. Pools were “significantly associated with enhanced welfare” — even more so than the actual size of the tiger’s enclosure.
The Walking Dead comics would have us believe that Shiva stays close to Ezekiel because of loyalty, but if we pay mind to actual animal behavior, we know that apparent loyalty isn’t enough to keep your pet tiger from attacking you. Ezekiel may have the zombie apocalypse and rival settlements to worry about, but he may want to consider Shiva’s need to take a watery dive as well.