Polar Bear-Grizzly Bear Hybrids

Carnivores

The cross breeding of species to create hybrids has been done throughout human history. In recent years, however, hybrids have been popping up in the wild with no direct human influence. A hybrid is two individuals of different species brought together while under human care to create an offspring that is a mix of both parents. Some of the commonly known hybrids are the mule, a cross between a horse and donkey, and the liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. These are species who are either domestic animals or whose home ranges are far apart and would never interact without human intervention. 

In recent years, wild hybrids have been found. These hybrids were not created in human captivity and have attracted both the public and scientific interest. One of these wild born hybrids caught the public interest in 2006 when a hunter shot what he assumed was a polar bear in Banks Harbor, Canada. This bear had the creamy fur coloring found on polar bears. A closer inspection of the bear revealed the bear had features of a grizzly bear, including the hump on the back, long claws, and a grizzly bear head shape. 

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Polar-grizzly hybrid

 

DNA samples were sent in to investigate. The bear was found to be a first generation hybrid, with a polar bear mother and a grizzly bear father. Before this case, it was known that these two species could hybridize as they had done so in captivity. This bear became the first documented case of a polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild. Since the discovery of this bear, 8 other bears have been found to be hybrids. Of these 8 bears, 4 are first generation hybrids and 4 are the offspring of a hybrid and a grizzly bear. 

What does this mean for the two species? 

The hybridization of these two species could mean one of two things for these species. First, is that this is a random occurrences.The second is that this is the foretelling of a breakdown of species barriers and mating between these species will become commonplace. 

Both are possible outcomes and only time will tell which will be the true outcome. Both of these results have occurred in the wild. With the first, the hybrids are not as successful at surviving in their range as their parent species. The hybrids still pop up in the wild but due to the hybridization lack something that is essential to their survival in the wild.

For breakdown of species barriers the offspring are for one reason or another more successful at surviving in their home range than either of their parents. For this to occur the offspring must be able to produce offspring of their own. It is unusually for hybrids to be able to reproduce but there are cases where they do so successfully. Since second generation hybrids have been found in the wild, we know that the polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids are able to reproduce. This could result in genetic material entering the population that has a negative impact on the population.

These two species also only split on the evolutionary tree a mere 150,000 years ago. So their genetic material is very similar and the males will be attracted to females of both species. The hybridization between these two bears has the potential to lead to the creation of a new species of bears. So even as the parent species dies of there is the creation of  a new species. Either way there is much we can learn from the hybrid offspring of these bears.

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Cheetah Vet Check Up!

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

The Wildlife Safari Cheetah and Carnivore teams does a lot to make sure our animals are healthy on a regular basis. One of the things we do with our animals is voluntary health check ups. With our lions, tigers, and bears this is easiest to see with the training behaviors we do. We look at the pads of their feet, their bellies and even get up close to see their teeth! One health check up that we do with our cheetahs is voluntary x-rays.

Voluntary x-rays are very important to our team and the cheetahs we work with for a variety of reasons. The first reason is seeing if one of our cheetahs is pregnant. We are the number one breeding facility for cheetahs in the United States, having 214 cubs so far! One of the reasons we have been so successful with breeding cheetahs at the park is through voluntary x-ray training with our females. We are able to determine if they are pregnant around day 56 of a 91 day pregnancy! This helps us better prepared for litters.

 

We also work on voluntary x-rays with our hand-raised ambassador cheetahs. Khayam and Mchumba, our 7-year old ambassadors are just learning this skill. When they were younger, mobile x-ray machines were harder to use than the one we have now! Khayam is very nervous around the machine so we are working to desensitize, or get him used to the machine. Cheetahs don’t have great vision so we are actually able to use cardboard boxes in place of the x-ray machine until he gets more comfortable.

 

Khayam Jr, or KJ, is only 7 months old and we just started his voluntary x-ray training. He was a total pro from the beginning! We will continue to practice with him so ensure that he is fine with it in the future as well. With the voluntary x-ray training, we are able to take x-rays of our cheetahs if we notice them acting different without going through an anesthesia procedure, which are stressful on them. We hope that in the future the majority of our cheetahs will be able to go through the voluntary x-ray training!  

KJ 7 month old voluntary x-ray

KJ, the 7 month old ambassador, doing his first x-ray practice.

Nilgai? Never “herd” of them!

Creature Feature, Ungulates

 

Nilgai (Boselaphustragocamelus), or blue bull, are the largest Asian antelope species and are native to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Mostly found in the lowlands of the Himalayan Mountains, they live in a variety of habitats including forest, shrubland, and open grassland, eating a variety of plants including grasses and tree leaves.

 

Nilgai have a very distinct appearance. Females are generally much smaller than males, light brown, with a small mane on the back of their neck. Females also have white patches around their eyes and throat and have black and white bands above each hoof.  Generally, young males look like females but are much larger, have small horns, and have a “beard” behind their white throat patch. Once males are fully mature, however, their coat turns a blue-grey color; thus the common name of “blue bull”. In fact, the name “nilgai” is derived from the Hindustani word for “blue” (nil) and the Persian word for “cow or bull” (gaw or gau).

 

Nilgai usually roam in loose herds that may change in membership over time and normally only include one breeding male. Males only join the herd when they want to breed; the rest of the year, males and females are separated. Females are pregnant for approximately 8.5 months and have one to three offspring. Calves can stand within an hour after being born, but mom will hide the calf for the first few weeks of its life when she forages for food.

Lacey Powers

Nilgai are quiet most of the time but can make loud noises when threatened. Tigers are their main predator in the wild, but nilgai can move quickly at nearly 30 mph to evade them. The lifespan of nilgai is unconfirmed but is thought to range from 10 years in the wild to 21 years in managed care.

 

Luckily, nilgai populations are very stable and are considered “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are an estimated 70,000 – 100,000 individuals in their native range and an additional 30,000 in Texas. They were introduced to North America through the game farming industry in the 1930s, and have done particularly well in the prairie and scrub forest of Southern Texas. In fact, they are now considered an invasive species in some areas due to a thriving free-ranging population on the Texas-Mexico border.

Ariel Bailey

Their booming population in their native land has often been attributed to the predominantly Hindu population of Northern India and their reverence towards the species; they consider them akin to cows which are also respected. They are also habitat and diet generalists,which means they can survive in a wide range of places.  However, nilgai do coexist with humans and farmlands in much of their range and are sometimes hunted because they can be agricultural pests. In Texas they are hunted for big game, often on private ranches.

 

We have a small herd ofnilgai at Wildlife Safari. Our nilgai enjoy each other’s company and like to stick together wherever they go. You’ll often see the tight knit group grooming one another and sometimes even grooming the other animals, like the sika deer!

Morgan Strite

While you can purchase a feed cup to treat the animals of our Asia section to a snack, you’d be very lucky to feed any nilgai. They are usually quite shy around people and are still very much wild animals. Not to worry though, the nilgai get plenty of treats from their keepers! They know them well and love to receive food from them. Some of the special treats keepers give them are heads of lettuce, bananas, or leafy tree branches! The nilgai also enjoy nibbling on the natural vegetation in the safari. Since the nilgai prefers open habitats and eats a variety of grasses, plants and trees, Wildlife Safari is the perfect environment for them!

 

You can come visit our nilgai in the Asia section of the drive through!IMG_0668 copy 2

Birthday Parties and Easter Fun

Ambassador Days, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community

This week was a fun and eventful weekend for the carnivores here at the park. On Friday, our two tiger girls, Riya and Kemala turned 7! We celebrated with the girls by giving them one of their favorite summer treats, blood popsicles. They even got some fun birthday decorations with some of their favorite meat snacks hidden inside.

On Saturday, our two ambassador cheetahs, Khayam and Mchumba celebrated their 7th birthday with tons of guests and their keepers. Our wonderful docents provided a cat friendly birthday cake (which they loved) and tons of fun paper mâché (all safe for the animals) and birthday decorations to play with. We shared the love with some of the other cheetahs, including KJ and Rhino.

On Sunday, we celebrated Easter with all our animals by providing Easter baskets, made by our docents, and giants Easter eggs filled with snacks. Check out some pictures of our animals enjoying their enrichment! And a special thank you to all our wonderful volunteers who created all these specials treats and enrichment.

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Meet our new ambassadors

Uncategorized

Meet our newest ambassador duo. Khayam jr. is our cheetah cub, and his partner Rhino is our friendly new pup. Khayam Jr. was born at the San Diego Safari Park on November 29th. His mom had shown that she was an unsuccessful mother, so keepers stepped in to raise them. Two of them, a male and female, remain at San Diego and are also being raised to be ambassadors at their park. KJ was given to Wildlife Safari to be our new ambassador.

 

 

We currently have two ambassador cheetahs, Khayam and Mchumba but they are starting to get close to the age of retirement so we decided to get a new recruit.  Often times, when cheetahs are raised alone, keepers will decide to pair the cheetah with a companion dog. Guests often ask, why dogs? Depending on the breed, dogs often have the same life expectancy and are a similar size of their cheetah companion. Another reason is to help calm the cheetah. Cheetahs are a very high stress animal and can get very nervous, while dogs typically are the opposite. When entering new environments, or meeting new people, the cheetah will see their dog companion being relaxed and start to relax themselves. Lastly it gives them a sibling to play with and grow up with. The dog and cheetah will live together throughout their lives. OHF1n0sQRzCayX4OkxC16Q

Wildlife Safari decided to switch things up when it came to picking the right dog for the job. Instead of going to a breeder, we went to our local shelter. Saving Grace helped us contact shelters all over the state, to help us find the perfect match. Rhino and his brother Gator were found and were a great match. Wildlife Safari kept both dogs in their care, until the cheetah cub was fully vaccinated. Keepers put both dogs in with Khayam jr to see which dog’s personality would mesh the best. Rhino was the winner but don’t worry, Gator was adopted by the cheetah/carnivore supervisor and is in great hands.

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KJ and Rhino are already the best of friends and spend all their time together. They love to wrestle and chase each other around. Khayam Jr. (KJ) is very independent while Rhino is very social and loves to hang out and snuggle with his keepers. They balance each other out very well. They even started going on outreaches together. They are working at getting used to people other than their keepers and new environments.  As ambassadors, they have an important job. They are here to teach the public about the importance of cheetahs and all about their wild counterparts. By having a cheetah come to a school event or a conference, the general public is able to experience something they normally wouldn’t. They get an up close encounter with an animal they will never forget. People want to help animals they love and care about, and the best way to do that is to meet one up close. KJ and Rhino will play a vital role in this mission. Once the weather warms up, the two will be on display at the cheetah spot in the always free village! Until then, you can meet the two on our daily encounter where you get a behind the scenes look at our vet clinic and see these two up close.

 

 

Meet Dumai

Carnivores, Creature Feature

Say hello to Wildlife Safari’s newest Sumatran Tiger, Dumai. Dumai came to us in January from Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. He was born and raised at PDZ and stole many hearts there over the last six years. Dumai is such a great new addition to our team and we are very excited to have him.  He is such a loveable guy and very easy going.

He was brought to us as part of the Species Survival Plan (also known as the SSP). He was recommended as a mate for our two female Sumatran tigers, Riya and Kemala. What is the SSP? It is basically like match.com for endangered or vulnerable species. This programs has each individual’s genetics on file and pairs them with a match that will produce the most unique genetics. This prevents any in breeding or one male or female from producing all the offspring. This is helping save wild populations. The Sumatran tiger is one of the most endangered living species of tigers. They only live on the island of Sumatra and are facing many challenges. One of these challenges is small population size, in turn leading to in breeding. This leads to many other health concerns. Zoos can help save this species by having a backup genetic pool. By making sure our population is healthy and diverse, the goal is we can possibly AI females in the wild with our genetics in order to prevent more inbreeding from happening, which will help keep the wild population healthy. Come see Dumai and our two females in the cheetah drive through.

dumai snow

Snow Zone!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Elephants, Ungulates


This past week, Wildlife Safari was transformed into a winter wonderland when the park experienced the most snow in recent history. Although the park had to close for the time, the animals sure had fun experiencing some snow and enjoying extra browse from fallen trees. Animals that are more sensitive to cold temperatures were not left out for the full day, only in short segments in order for keepers to clean inside holdings and for them to enjoy the snow. All animals in the park have access to heat lamps and covered shelter if needed. Even our smallest cheetah and dog duo got to pop outside for a few minutes to experience their first snowfall! The park is working hard to clear snow and any debris and getting ready to reopen the park!


Are zebras white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?

Creature Feature, Ungulates

Among the Herd

As you enter the park, you are immersed into the world of North Africa where you are sure to encounter Eland, Watusi, an Ostrich, Hippos and Zebra. As you come to the first peak of your drive, looking to your left off in the distance, you will commonly see a picturesque view of the white and black striped stature of the Zebra watching the world go by or grazing on the grassy hills. While the zebra may seem a little shy to park goers, they are in fact social animals when it comes to their own kind. Our herd is made up of both males and females who are likely to be seen within close range of one another. A behavior common among many herd animals. To an untrained eye it is difficult to differentiate an individual among the herd. However, the zebra’s stripe patterns are unique to specific individuals, much like that of our own fingerprints. This allows us as keepers to identify each of the herd members. For the zebras, the stripes serve as an evolutionary protection mechanism. When clumped into a herd it becomes difficult for their predators to target a specific zebra and therefore increasing the likelihood of survival.

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The great debate

Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes? Upon close inspection, it is most likely the latter. This determination comes from the fact that the black striping typically comes to an end along the back of their legs and their underbellies, which are solid white.

Another striking feature of the zebra is the tall stiff mane that runs from the top of the head and along the back of their neck. A layer of fat beneath the mane is what allows the hair to stand straight and stiff. It is thought that the mane serves as an added protective layer for the neck.

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The Species

Zebras are classified as equids which also includes the horse and donkey. Not all zebras are genetically the same and within the species there are 3 subspecies. These include the Grévy’s zebra, the mountain zebra, and the plains zebra also known as the common zebra. The Zebra who wonder among the safari’s hills are of the Plains subspecies.

Like other species of the equis family, zebra use vocalizations to communicate with one another. Some of these sounds include snorting, braying, nickering and barking or yipping, the last being unique to the zebra. The barking or yipping is thought to be used to find or call out to one another, while the nickering is commonly a greeting reserved for familiar individuals. Some sounds can have multiple meanings and in order to determine these meanings one must also consider the body language being presented with the sound. Important body language to watch for includes ear position, head angle and how wide their eyes are.

 

Conservation

The Plains zebra population is on the decline and they are classified as near threatened according to the IUCN Red list. This list indicates the endangerment status of all species. Some of the major threats to the zebra come in the form of habitat loss, competition with agricultural livestock, and poaching. As the human population continues to expand, so does our land use, causing us to continually encroach on the zebra’s habitat. The beauty of the iconic striped coat also threatens the species because it unfortunately makes them a target for poachers who will then profit from the sale of the well-known hide.

We continually strive to encourage conservation efforts being made for a vast array of species. We do so by bringing awareness to the threats and challenges that affect the beautiful and majestic creatures that we share this earth with.

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Update on little Corey

Cheetahs, Community, Uncategorized

Some of you may be familiar with little Corey’s story. For those that don’t know, Corey is one of our 15 cheetahs here at Wildlife Safari and was part of our most recent cheetah  litter that were born in August of 2017. Corey currently lives with his two brothers, Rowdy and Zig-Zag and his sister, Amani.

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Corey, in front, hanging with his siblings.

Corey had a rough start at life.  From the start he was the runt of the group. At about 5 months, he began showing symptoms of some spinal and neurological problems. Keepers noticed he had a slight head tilt, and was having some coordination problems. He was having trouble walking straight, was turning in circles and seemed to be having trouble seeing. Wildlife Safari’s vet staff did a full physical on the cheetah, doing blood work and x-rays. The x-rays revealed that Corey had a fractured spine. Everyone was shocked at how well he was doing for having a broken back.corey 07-16-181

 

He was placed on some medications and keepers monitored him daily, looking for any changes, big or small, in him. Keepers and vet staff wanted to get a more in depth look at Corey’s head and spine so in June of 2018, Corey underwent an MRI, thanks to the generous help from Mercy Medical in Roseburg. Thanks to the MRI, we were able to find that Corey also had brain lesions, but they had calcified. This meant they were no longer growing, meaning he probably wouldn’t get any worse, but was not going to be a “normal” cheetah like his siblings. Keepers started using a cold laser on his neck and back twice a week to try and promote the healing process.

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Corey has surprised us all, and has continued to improve despite his hardships.  His head tilt disappeared, he has significantly reduced his circling and is often walking and running straight! His vision has also seemed to return to normal and he currently does not require any medication.  He still is a “tiny” cheetah, about half the size as his siblings, weighing 53 pounds, but he is energetic and playful. His big personality makes up for his little size.  Keepers and interns have even started to train him.

 

Cougar Conservation

Uncategorized

Here at the Wildlife Safari we devote a lot of time and effort to promote conservation all around the world. From the tigers of Sumatra and the Asiatic cheetahs of Iran there are small pockets of animals all over the world in need of conservational help. Far too often we think of conservation as something that people are doing in far off exotic lands but in reality it’s closer than you think. In the tip of Florida’s peninsula there is a population of cougars once thought to be genetically distinct from their mountainous counter parts. Cougars, pumas, mountain lions and the Florida panther are all different names for essentially the same animal.  In the past, we thought that there were many different subspecies of cougar but recently, through genetic research, we found out that they are all genetically the same. The Florida panther is losing its habitat at a staggering rate; they now occupy around 5% of their historical range and male cougars can protect a territory of up to 200 square miles!  Much like the Sumatran tiger, they are facing many issues associated with a dwindling habitat. Due to its small habitat range there has been a lot of inbreeding which has resulted in many of the issue associated with it. The inbreeding has caused many of the cougars to have notched ears and kinked tails. These physical traits are nothing compared to the issues that are not visable. The Florida cougar is extremely susceptible to diseases because of their lack of genetic diversity; their cubs also have many birth defects that reduce their chance of reaching maturity. Habitat loss, inbreeding and negative human interactions have reduced the cougar’s population to around 200 in Florida. Hope is not all lost however; there are a few groups of people working to help conserve the Florida panther.  One such organization is the Nature Conservancy. They are working with local governments to add legislation that increases the protected lands of the Florida panther. Their efforts have allowed the Florida panther to roam freely in their natural habitat without human interaction. In fact, they recently spotted a mother and her cubs crossing the Caloosahatchee River, a place that has not seen cougars in 40 years!  With the continued efforts of the Nature Conservancy and other similar groups, there is a strong chance that we can provide the Florida panther with enough habitat to bounce back from the troubles caused by inbreeding. Some scientists have even taken a more hands on approach to correcting the genetic issues caused by inbreeding. The Florida Fish and Wildlife arranged for 8 female cougars to be transplanted from Texas to Florida. While this is an extreme measure and should only be repeated if absolutely needed it did produce some fantastic results. They found that the cubs from these mothers were 3 times more likely to survive when compared to 118 cubs that were monitored in the same time period. However controversial, this type of transplanting can greatly increase genetic diversity should we fail to increase their habitat range. Regardless of the method of conservation the future is looking brighter for the Florida panther already, its numbers have increased from 30 to around 200 since the 1980’s. Conservation is something we all should be mindful of in our daily lives and it really does happen closer than you think. Take time to research species in your area that are in need and see if it’s feasible to help by donating to trusted organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Together we can all work towards a brighter future of endangered species all over the world. If you are ever in Winston Oregon come visit the Wildlife Safari Park village and see our resident cougars Tasha and Johnny.

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