JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Rocky cautiously dipped one catcher's mitt-size paw Sunday into the cool water cascading from a rugged-looking stone waterfall into a broad pool where two giant orange balls and other toys floated nearby.

As the Siberian tiger vigorously shook the water from his soggy paw, he was ambushed by his sister, Adrian, who unceremoniously shoved him into the 4-1/2-foot deep pool from the top of the custom-built natural stone water feature in the heart of their enclosure at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary.

Rocky and Adrian, along with their best friend/roommate Haley, also a Siberian tiger, came to Catty Shack Ranch in December 2017 from a private facility in South Florida that could no longer care for them because of severe damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

Sunday was Rocky and Adrian's third birthday. Catty Shack coordinated the tigers' birthday celebration with the unveiling of an unique kitty pool and water feature.

The event was billed as "Earth Day to Birthday!" because construction of the pool and water feature began on Earth Day, April 22, and was complete on Sunday.

Earth Works of the Jacksonville designed, built and donated the water feature for the nonprofit wildlife sanctuary at 1860 Starratt Road on the city's Northside. The pool was done by Pinnacle Pool Plastering Inc. of Jacksonville.

The three tigers, nicknamed the "Three Amigos," continued the celebration with a birthday cake specially made to suit a hungry tiger's diet before then returned to playing in the pool.

Catty Shack provides a safe, loving and forever home to endangered big cats, including tigers, leopards, lions, cougars, bobcats and other rescued wildlife. Serving Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, and Baker counties, the organization also raises awareness and educates the public about the plight of the cats in the wild as well as in captivity.

Its primary focus is rescuing exotic animals from potentially life-threatening situations. The sanctuary doesn't breed, trade, sell, or buy any of its residents.

Curt LoGiudice, executive director/curator of the sanctuary, said they hope to have similar pools and water features in each of the big cat enclosures. Such enrichment is priceless to the physical and mental health of the tigers, he said.

"Activity. Swimming is excellent for us, but it's really an important activity for the animals," said LoGiudice as he watched Adrian and Haley splash each other and play queen of the waterfall while Rocky looked on nearby. He commandeered their small wash tub-like pool as his own while they romped in the new pool.

LoGiudice said the pool and water feature — valued at roughly $75,000 — are prototypes for future projects.

"As we're growing and building new areas, we're learning what's beneficial to the animals. This is one of the first of many pools," LoGiudice said.

Currently, the tiger enclosures are connected via a series of secured gates and fencing so the tigers safely can be moved from one area to another, he said.

"As animals can be switched around, other tigers here can benefit from this until we can get to their areas to put pools in for them also," he said.

It remains to be seen how willing Adrian, Rocky and Haley are to share with their neighbors such as Jade, also a Siberian tiger, who looked longingly through the chainlink fence separating her enclosure with its bath tub-size pool at her neighbors enjoying their bigger, better one.

"While we were working on it, they were locked out. But when they saw us in their pool, they were already giving us dirty looks," LoGiudice said, laughing.

"Enrichment is one of the biggest things for animals in captivity. A lot of places don't have the capability to provide new and unique environments. So as we change, these things are all important, LoGiudice said.

Good activities are as important as good nutrition, he said.

Jason Duffney, co-owner of Earth Works, said the Catty Shack project was their most challenging to date. The company does a lot of water features. When it heard what Catty Shack wanted to do for the tigers and was looking for donations, Duffney said they reached out to see if they wanted a water feature on top of the kitty pool.

"It's the first water feature we've ever done for tigers," Duffney said.

The waterfall is about 2-1/2 feet tall and 36 inches wide. They used about 12 tons of rock — Tennessee field stone, which makes nice waterfalls and won't affect the pH-level of the water so it would remain clean and safe.

The biggest challenge was building on top of a pool edge, and because it was an enclosure, they had to adjust their equipment so it would fit at the site.

The tigers kept a close eye on them through the adjacent fence of another section of their enclosure, Duffney said.

"The whole time, they were checking us out," Duffney said of their big cat supervisors.

Donations and volunteers are always welcome at Catty Shack Ranch. For more information about the wildlife sanctuary, https://cattyshack.org/about or https://www.facebook.com/cattyshackranch .

For more information about Earth Works, https://www.earthworksjax.com or https://www.facebook.com/WorksEarth .

For more information about Pinnacle Pool Plastering, https://www.facebook.com/pinnaclepoolplastering .

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Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com

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