Know Your Spots

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Whenever I am at a zoo I always hear kids and adults alike call animals by the wrong name. The most common mistake I hear is whenever they see a cheetah, leopard, or jaguar, people assume it is a cheetah. The hardest ones to tell apart are the leopard and jaguar because they have very similar spots and body build. Though in the wild it is easier because they live on different continents. These cats have many features and behaviors that differentiate them from each other, although, in the case of the cheetah and leopard, they live in the same place. In this post I have listed out key differences between these three beautiful big cats so you can educate those around you while visiting your favorite zoo.

 

Cheetah

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  • Body: lean and lanky
  • Weight: 80-100 lbs
  • Speed: 70 mph
  • Hunt during the day and solitary
  • Life span: 8-10 years (in the wild)
  • Largest cat that purrs; can’s roar
  • Lives in Africa
  • Circular spots

Leopards

  • Body: more stalky than cheetah; less than jaguar
  • Weight: 66-176 lbs
  • Speed: 36 mph
  • Hunt at night and solitary
  • Life span: 12-17 years (in wild)
  • Roars; can’t purr
  • Lives in Africa
  •  Rosette spots

 

Jaguars

  • Most stalky of the 3
  • Good swimmer/enjoys the water
  • Life span: 12-15yeas (in wild)
  • Lives in South America; solitary
  • Weight: 100-250 lbs
  • Rosette spots with spots in them

 

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Is it a brown bear or it is a grizzly?

Carnivores

To really answer this question, let’s start by looking back at some brown bear taxonomy (the branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms) history, shall we?

Bear taxonomy went through many revisions before scientists recached the conclusion of Ursus arctos.In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taxonomists frequently lumped and split brown/grizzly bears into many different species and subspecies. In 1918 the separation peaked with the publication of C. Hart Merriam’s “Review of the Grizzly and Big Brown Bears of North America.” Merriam proposed around 80 species and subspecies of North American brown bears existed. Merriam’s nuanced classifications of brown and grizzly bears were based on differences in skull morphology and dentition, which he examined in painstaking detail. Merriam classified on southeast Alaska’s Admiralty Island alone, there was 5 distinct subspecies and in the Katmai region, 2 distinct subspecies as well as other living in the Cook Inlet area and on the Kenai Peninsula. But most of the species or subspecies described by Merriam were later regarded as local variations or individual variants. As of the mid 1980’s as many as 9 extant or extinct subspecies of U.arctoswere recognized in North America.

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Russell, our resident Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear!

Which brings us to the age old saying “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies”. Now even with all the research done by Merriam this saying still has some backing to it. Now a days there are only 3 main subspecies of brown bears recognized by most of the scientific community, Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears and Grizzly brown bears. These bears are very similar but still have their differences to classify them as different subspecies. The 2 big determining differences are size and location. Each of the subspecies are geographically and genetically isolated from the other subspecies of brown bear.

Kodiak brown bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) which main populations are only found on Kodiak Island in Alaska are the largest of the brown bear subspecies. Now these bears are not genetically different enough to be classified as their own species but are distinct enough that they can be classified as their own subspecies because they been isolated from mainland bears for over 12,000 years. Now these bears can get up to 1,500lbs and stand up to 10ft tall. Kodiak brown bears can get this big because they live on islands and they have access to a marine-driven food resource all year round with their favorite being salmon!IMG_9376

The next subspecies, very similar to Kodiak brown bears, are the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears (Ursus arctos gyas). These bears are known as the ABC island bears  because their populations are only found on Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof island in southeast Alaska. Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach large sizes as well, they can reach up to 1,200lbs and stand around 8 ½ to 9ft tall. Just like the Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach this size because of their access to marine-driven food resources all year round with their favorite being salmon too! Alaskan Coastal brown bears are unique because they are the most genetically different compared to all other brown bears. Alaskan Coastal brown bears actually share more genetic information with polar bears than other brown bears. This could be due to interbreeding with a small isolated number of polar bears during the last ice age. As more recently, scientists have found more Alaskan Coastal brown bears with polar bear DNA in the northern parts of Alaska suggesting that there has been more interbreeding recently and possibility creating a new bear species, currently known as a “Prizzie”!

The final subspecies is the most common of the three and the reason for the main question of this post, Grizzly brown bears (Ursus arctos horribillis). Grizzlies are considered the smallest of the 3 brown bears subspecies. On average, grizzly brown bears only reach up to 900lbs and 7ft tall. Grizzly brown bears are much smaller because they are inland bears with there main populations found in southwestern Canada and the lower 48 states, they do not have easy access to a marine-driven, high calorie food resource. So Grizzly brownbears must work a little harder for their food, so they don’t build up as much fat as compared to the other 2 subspecies of brown bear. Grizzly brown bears are also known for that distinct hump on their backs. That hump is pure muscles from their shoulders as is usually used as a key morphological identifier for Grizzly brown bears. Grizzly brown bears are also found to be a bit more reactive to humans being around in the distance. This doesn’t not mean they are more aggressive than the other brown bear subspecies, but it is a behavior picked up because Grizzly brown bears are in more human populated areas compare to the other subspecies who live on mostly unpopulated islands. All three subspecies have about the same temperament.

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Now that you have the facts, what do you think? Is it a brown bear or is it a grizzly? Do you agree with the statement of “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies?” or do you think more research needs to be done? Let us know by leaving a comment

What are Blackbuck?

Creature Feature, Ungulates

The blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is a small antelope species that is found in open woodlands and semi-desert areas of Pakistan and India. The species received their name due to the coloration of the mature males, which is primarily black with a white underbelly. This coloration varies greatly from immature males and females who are more reddish-yellow. Male blackbuck have twisted horns that form into a “V” shape.

Wildlife Safari is home to a large herd of blackbuck. The most distinguishable of the group is Ra, a 5-year-old male that stands out among the herd due to his darker coloration. As the male blackbuck at the park become mature and their horns grow, animal care staff put acrylic balls on the tip of each horn. This is to keep the blackbuck from harming others in their herd while sparring or playing as their horns are very pointy and sharp!

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Female blackbuck become mature at 15 to 16 months old. Their gestation lasts from 5 to 6 months and then they give birth to one calf that weighs around 8 to 9 pounds. All blackbuck are herbivores, meaning they eat only plants. They are ruminants, which means they have a specialized digestive system that allows them to obtain essential nutrients from the plants they consume.

When I began my internship at Wildlife Safari I met Dayami, a 5-year-old female blackbuck with a small yellow tag in her left ear. She stood out to me among the crowd due to her persistence in chasing my car down so she could get the most feed cup food from me. She sure does love her feed cup food! It is because of her feistiness that I fell in love with blackbuck.

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One of our female blackbuck “Dayami”

Come by soon and visit our blackbuck herd in the Asia section at Wildlife Safari!

Meet Khayam & Mchumba, Wildlife Safari’s two Ambassador Cheetahs

Ambassador Days, Cheetahs, Creature Feature

 

Six years ago, Khayam and Mchumba were hand-raised by keepers beginning at just two days old. Taking care of baby cheetahs requires around-the-clock care, especially since the first few months are a cheetah cub’s most vulnerable time. Keepers needed to step in and hand-raise the two cubs because they were abandoned by their mother.

In general, cheetah mothers who have litters of 2 or fewer will abandon their cubs. Small litters do not stimulate the mother’s hormones enough to produce milk so she is unable to care for them. This is a survival adaption. Since cheetah cub mortality is so high, about 90%, the costs exceed the benefits of raising the small litter of cubs and the mother will breed again to hopefully have a larger litter. Khayam and Mchumba’s mom went on to successfully raise another litter.Khayam&Mchumba_05 23 12_DAlexander_7092

Hand-raising a cheetah is a last resort for keepers. If a mother cheetah ends up abandoning the cubs, we look to other AZA accredited zoos that have had cubs born recently. If so we can have the successful mother foster the abandoned cubs. There were no new cheetah cubs born around the same time so this option was not available in Khayam and Mchumba’s case so keepers stepped in to save them.
Because they are hand-raised cats, Khayam and Mchumba are very comfortable around people. Since they were hand-raised and will not be entering the breeding population, keepers trained them to become ambassadors. They now go on encounters for guests of the park to see and they help represent all cheetahs in the wild. They are comfortable on leash and can be seen being taken on walks around the park.aKhayam_05 30 12_DAlexander_7723

Khayam and Mchumba go on outreaches all across Oregon and the surrounding states. They go to events like birthday parties, company picnics, and other big events. Having people see a real live cheetah in person helps them to better imagine cheetahs in the wild and become aware of cheetah conservation.

There are less than 8,000 cheetahs left in the wild. A portion of every encounter purchase here at Wildlife Safari goes toward conservation of wild animals. Come see Khayam and Mchumba at the Cheetah Spot in the Village or on a cheetah encounter!

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A Day in The Life of a Zookeeper

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

No matter what group of animals a zookeeper works with, their daily tasks will basically be the same. It is a zookeeper’s job to make sure that the animals under their care are both physically and mentally healthy, which makes cleaning up after them an important daily duty. In fact, a large amount of a zookeeper’s day is spent cleaning! From hosing and scrubbing an animal’s enclosure, to washing dishes, and even cleaning toys and work areas, zookeepers do a lot of cleaning up! It may not be fun, but it is absolutely essential to the proper care and upkeep of the zoo’s animals.

Another important daily task that all zookeepers must do is prepare food for their
animals. Since most animals aren’t like humans in that there is a large range of things that we are able to eat, making diets for zoo animals can be relatively time consuming.

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Our 6 year old lioness, Mati

In order to keep their animals at a healthy weight and make sure that they are getting all of the nutrients that they need to remain healthy, many diets have to be carefully planned out.

For example, when wild lions take down their prey, they will gorge themselves on it and will typically end up fasting for a few days. They won’t be finding and catching prey every single day, so the fasting is kind of forced on them due to nature. However, this kind of diet is actually good for them as long as they are able to eat often enough that they aren’t starving. Fasting gives the lion’s body a chance to detox – or get rid of any harmful substances that may have found their way into the lion’s body.

Many zoos that house lions have them on a diet which is close to that of wild lions. At Wildlife Safari, our lions are fasted once a week. On their fast day, they still receive a diet, however it is mostly bone and barely any actual meat. The rest of the week, they are on diets which were developed based on the health and weight of each lion. This works very well for our lions, but other zoos may have a different diet plan for their lions. This doesn’t make them wrong, as zookeepers often have to adjust dietary details for their animals based on what they need for their health and weight.

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Keepers weighing our one year old cheetahs

When zookeepers are not cleaning, preparing diets, or feeding their animals, they are often educating the public! One of the greatest tools that a zookeeper has in their arsenal is their voice. By educating others, zookeepers are able to touch the hearts of people who often already care about animals, but end up caring even more after learning so much about them. This may result in individuals making decisions in their lives that can be beneficial to animals and the earth, such as recycling or donating to an organization that helps to save endangered species.

Between all of these tasks, nearly all zookeepers implement some form of training into
their daily routine. Training animals in a zoo can be extremely important. Not only is it a mental challenge for the animal being trained, but it can also make things such as voluntary blood draws possible! It is always best to try and do medical procedures on an animal while it is willing and awake rather than having to sedate them. It is much less stressful for them, and the animal will see it as a more positive experience since they always get rewarded for doing a good job.

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One of our keepers training our female tiger Riya

So even though there is a lot of hard, and often challenging, work involved in a zookeeper’s daily duties, it is the best job in the world. Just being able to see the animals that they care for almost every day is enough to make zookeeping fun for those who are passionate about it.

Meet our Ostriches!

Creature Feature
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Desi, waiting to say hello to guest entering safari.

At Wildlife Safari we have three ostriches living throughout our North and South Africa sections. Both Truffle, one of our male ostriches, and Cordial, our female ostrich have been at the safari for around six years. Desi, our other male ostrich, has been at the safari for twenty four years. Ostriches can live up to 45 years so all of our ostriches are still in their prime! Male and female ostriches look very similar but there are ways to tell them apart. Male ostriches feathers are mostly black whereas females feathers are mostly brown. Males can also grow considerably taller than females. Females can reach heights of between 5’7 and 6’7 and males range from 6’11 up to 9’2.

Although ostriches have wings, they are one of many species of flightless birds. What they lack in flying they make up for in running. With their long legs they can reach speeds of up to 43 mph making them the fastest land bird. That means they can run 16 miles faster the the fastest man in the world! Some of their closest bird relatives include rheas and emus, both of which you can see in the asia section of the safari. Ostriches can weigh a lot more than most of their other bird relatives. Adults can weigh anywhere from 140-320 pounds.

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Cordial saying hello to a passing car

Ostriches are omnivores meaning they eat both meat and plants, although a much larger portion of their diet is plants such as grasses, fruits, and flowers. Our ostriches always enjoy when they recieve extra produce in their diets! Because of what they eat, ostriches can often go days without water getting most of their needed moisture from the plants they ingest.

Ostriches have large eyes. Each of their eyes are about the size of a billiard ball. Because their eyes take up so much space, there isn’t much room left for their brains. Ostrich brains are smaller than their eyes. Although they do have smaller brains relative to other bird species, they are still quite intelligent and resourceful.

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Cordial, our female ostrich, relaxing

A common misconception about ostriches is that when they’re scared, they stick their heads in the sand. While this isn’t true they often sleep with their heads flat against the ground giving the illusion that they are hiding. When spotted by a predator, ostriches will use their strong, long legs to run away usually out running their predators in Africa.

Ostriches reach sexual maturity at between two and four years, and usually form groups of one male and two to seven females. Although males will breed with many females in the surrounding area, they will only form a bond with one special female. Ostriches are known for having large eggs. They produce the largest egg of any bird species with each egg weighing close to three pounds. Even though their eggs are the largest mass wise, they actually are the smallest size relative to how large the adults are. A three pound egg could be just 1% of how large the female is. By contrast, a kiwi’s egg has the largest mass relative to its body weight at 15-20% of the mothers mass.       

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Truffle dancing for his favorite keepers

There’s a lot to love about ostriches, especially all of our ostriches. Each of our ostriches have very different personality, so make sure you find all three at your next visit to Wildlife Safari!

 

SSP

Uncategorized

The Wildlife Safari has the second most successful cheetah breeding program in world but we would not be able to do it without the help of the Species Survival Plan, or SSP. Many of the animals born at the park, including our 11-month old cheetah cubs, 4 month old giraffe calf, and 3 year old lions are the result of breeding specified from SSP.

So what is the Species Survival Plan and how does the Wildlife Safari participate?IMG_7460

The Species Survival Plan is a set of  nearly 500 different breeding plans for endangered or vulnerable species. It is run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA. Wildlife Safari is one of 232 facilities accredited by the AZA. Most of the zoos and aquariums that take part in the Species Survival Plan are AZA facilities. SSP has groups of people who study the genetics of each species and determine the best matches. Theyrate breeding pairs on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being the best possible match and 6 advising against breeding because the individuals are too closely related. It is very important for zookeepers to follow these recommendations because we want to improve and keep the genetic diversity of a population in captivity. This diversity could also help wild populations in the future!

IMG_1031Visiting the Wildlife Safari helps make it possible for us to have successful breeding programs! Every dollar that you spend at the park goes right back into the park and helps pay for animal-related necessities like food and enrichment! We hope to see you soon!

What are Charismatic Megafauna?

Uncategorized

“Charismatic Megafauna” is a term straight out of a J.J. Abrams movie, describing some epic new robot. Charismatic Megafauna is a sort of model for conservation that came up in the ‘80s. The theory is that the general public will support conservation of animals they think are charismatic. Main examples are Elephants, Giraffes, Tigers, Rhinos, Zebra… the list goes on and on. Zoos will plaster images and facts of these animals all over their flyers, all over their websites, and even on their main entrance!

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One of our resident giraffes, Mate

It turns out that this system mostly works. The
zoos and safaris that have these animals as their flagship generally gain attendance and, in proportion, funds to support the conservation of these flagship animals and the other animals in the zoo.

So why is this not a perfect system? Studies say this model creates real, quantifiable bias against  less charasmatic animals. In many cases, a smaller less cute animal can be more important that the big, cute ones that the people love. San Diego Zoo Global representative Christina Simmons said in an email interview with Howstuffworks.com, “… the global extinction crisis has changed how we look at extinction.” She explains that the San Diego Zoo’s model focuses on saving species critical to their environment. “We … work with species that we have the expertise and programs to support with the idea that if we can recover these species they can become agents in the recovery of their habitat.”

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Wildlife Safari’s hippos, “Blippo” and “Padron”

The Pacific pocket mouse and the Hawaiian crow the Alala are two examples of very important species that people have never heard of! In theory, the extinction of large charismatic animals like Rhinos or Pandas only effect themselves, however extinction of the Pocket mouse or the Alala will affect the entire ecosystem in addition to the species itself.

The facts above are harsh, but they are truth. However that doesn’t mean all zoos, aquariums, and safaris should stop using this model. Even the San Diego Zoo still uses this as advertising, showing Pandas, Polar Bears, and Leopards at the very top of their website. If everyone stopped using this model, it’s believed that actual attendance and tourism would drop, being detrimental to conservation as a whole.

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Wildlife Safari supports a wide variety of animals, but our big export is the cheetah. Cheetahs are an example of charismatic megafauna, but because of the advertising, tourism, and inherent amazement and cuteness of the cheetah, we have been able to breed two hundred and fourteen cubs in our facility alone. Along with our flagship Cheetah, Safari contributes funds, time, and research to the International Elephant Foundation and the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

Safari is a great example of what a zoo should be today. In addition to being the top Cheetah breeding facility in North America, Wildlife Safari supports more than 15 other species by participating in AZA sponsored SSP’s (Species Survival Plan). By participating in these SSPs, we help conserve animals that aren’t as charismatic as our cheetahs or tigers, like the waterbuck or the white-bearded gnu. Attending AZA institutions will always support the fight against extinction, so thank you!

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George enjoying the elephant’s water hole exhibit

 

The Importance of Research in Zoos

Uncategorized

When people think of research in zoos, they think of what zoos do for populations out in the wild. They do not think that reseIMG_E9091arch on the animals inside the zoos are just as important. However, they allow improvement of animal welfare for captive populations, findings can be used elsewhere, and the research that is conducted can be used as a teaching moment.

The research that is conducted can range from yard usage to behavioral studies. For instance, an animal can be relocated from one enclosure to a new one that is thought to be more suitable. A study over yard usage can show statistically which aspects of the yard are used more often than others. Those aspects that seem to be more favorable can then be supplied more often or at a greater quantity. Behavioral studies can be used in instances of introduction of a new member to the group.

These findings don’t have to stop at the observed population, they can be sent off to other departments, zoos, or even wild populations. Zoos are always striving to make their captive populations as comfortable and true to their species as possible. If one zoo finds something that agrees with their population they will often share it with others to better the whole. Especially with behavioral studies, the information can be used for wild populations in order for them to be able to flourish. For example, being able to understand the language between elephants is helping the fight against poachers due to the conversation elephants have amongst each other.

 

Welcome to Safari, Sally!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Creature Feature, Uncategorized, Ungulates

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On March 4, 2018, Wildlife Safari’s group of giraffes had a new addition – baby Sally was born! At birth, Sally was 5’10” tall and weighed approximately 147 pounds. Sally is the second giraffe born at Wildlife Safari and her parents are safari resident giraffes Erin and Mate.

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Sally’s mother, Erin, is a first time mom and is doing an amazing job raising Sally. Baby giraffes learn how to use their tongues from their mothers, and luckily Erin is an expert at using her 15 inch long tongue. Sally is quickly learning from her! Wildlife Safari Ungulate keepers hang up different types of enrichment to encourage Sally to start practicing using her tongue. Some of Sally’s current favorite enrichment items are boomer balls, Madrone tree branches, and even a metal kitchen spoon! As seen in the above picture, Sally likes to take short naps throughout the day while laying down on a hay bed that keepers set up for her. Typically, adult giraffes only sleep around 4 hours a day in the form of short naps and stand up while they sleep, but it’s normal for baby giraffes to sleep more as well as sleep laying down.

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On average, female giraffes are pregnant for around 15 months. Since our keepers knew Erin was pregnant, they were able to keep a close watch on a video feed from cameras set up in our giraffe barn. They were also able to watch the birth live! Giraffes give birth while they are standing up so their baby drops about six feet down to the ground. While this may seem like a big drop to us, it helps break the umbilical cord and gets the baby to start breathing. Within a few hours of being born Sally was up and walking around, and within the first 24 hours she was able to run. Baby giraffes nurse from mom for about 12 months even though when they are a few weeks old they are able to start eating leaves as well.

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Recently, Sally was able to explore our outside yard for the first time. While the outdoors was a little overwhelming for Sally at first, luckily she had her mom with her as well as some fun enrichment toys to make her feel more comfortable. Sally was also recently introduced to one of our other three giraffes, Miya. The introduction went amazing – Miya is the mother the first giraffe calf born at the park- Kelley. Miya is used to babies running around and was very gentle with Sally.  Once the weather starts improving as we go into summer, Sally will be able to be introduced to our other giraffes and eventually go out into the drive-through. Next time you come visit Wildlife Safari look for Sally as she continues to grow and explore!

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