Violet the Virginia Opossom

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

You may have encountered a face like this in your backyard at night, but Violet here has a special job here at Wildlife Safari. Violet, a Virginia Opossum, is one of the park’s ambassador animals. She visits schools and community events with her keepers to help teach people about wildlife. She also helps tell people about her species, that they are more than just creatures that steal from your trash cans!

Violets curious little face – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Virginia opossums are the only marsupial in North America. Their gestation period is only 13 days because their young spend the first 3 months of their life in their mother’s pouch, and the next few months clinging to her back wherever she goes!

Despite popular belief, opossums are incapable of carrying the rabies virus because their body temperature drops too low when they play dead to sustain the virus. They also help reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease – since ticks are a favorite food of theirs, they will eat about 5000 ticks in a season which cuts down your chance of getting one along with any disease they carry!

Nap time for a tired Opossum – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Violet was found an orphan at Wildlife Safari and hand-raised by keepers. When she was found she could fit easily in the palm of your hand, but she soon grew up into an active and very agile little girl! “She’s very comfortable around humans and loves to use them as her own personal jungle gym,” says Education Intern Sarah Cutting, who works with Violet everyday.

Violet at only a few weeks old

Because her daytime eyesight is fairly poor, violet mostly explores her environment with her nose, and her mouth!

“Violet enjoys any kind of taste enrichment, from new sorts of bugs to munch on to the occasional tropical fruit, as well as rubber kongs” says Sarah.

Swinging from her house – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

“Unfortunately, opossums get a bad rap in the public eye,” Sarah tells us.”One of my favorite things about taking Violet on outreach is how surprised people are by how cute, soft, and clean she is. Violet is a great animal ambassador because she fights opossum stereotypes wherever she goes!”

Huckleberry 

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized

Meet Huckleberry, Wildlife Safari’s ambassador chicken. Although chickens are far from endangered, they are a common farm or even household pet and Huckleberry helps teach people about their behavior, care, and their place in ecological systems.

Huckleberry the chicken getting some snuggle time with a keeper

Chickens eat fruits, vegetables and a variety of insects that they find in the soil using their typical behavior of “scratching” where they dig up the ground with their feet.

Most people think birds are pretty silly, but many species are actually quite intelligent, and can be trained very effectively. Huckleberry can understand and react to several commands, including target (she pecks the end of her target stick) and station (she goes to stand on her little platform).

Interrupting a conference between Huckleberry and Bell, the Blue and Gold Macaw.

Since she is so well behaved and can be easily recalled, Huckleberry gets to wander around outside or inside for most of the day. When she needs to be brought in, her keepers simply call her name (which she will come to) and ask her to go inside (she runs along into the Education building), or even ask her to go home – with that command she will run all the way inside and into her house awaiting her treat and for her keepers to shut her door.

When inside she likes to nap near her keepers while they do office work, or undertake the never-ending job of preening her feathers to ensure she stays clean and beautiful!

Pancake

Ambassador Days, Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s ambassador cheetah, Pancake, and her companion dog, Dayo, have been together since they were six weeks of age. Pancake was born as a single cub and her mom, like all cheetah mothers, could not produce milk for just one cub. In the wild, cheetahs often abandon small litters because the costs of raising a small litter typically exceed the benefits. Sometimes, a mother will have a small litter and still try to raise them, but the small litter will not stimulate the mother’s milk glands enough to produce milk.

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Wildlife Safari’s youngest Ambassador cheetah, Pancake – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Since Pancake’s mother couldn’t raise her, her keepers stepped in to rescue her. We hand-raised her to become an ambassador for her species. This route is a course of last resort – we will only ever step in and hand raise if it comes down to the life of the cub. One of the chief drawbacks to humans raising a cub is that it cannot acquire the natural instincts its mother would impart upon it. For example, if Pancake were to be introduced to a male cheetah, she would not know what to do. Although hand raising a cub is an incredible and unique experience, it is better in the long run to have a mother-raised cheetah so it can enter the breeding population and diversify the cheetah gene pool.

Dayo, Pancake's companion, looking regal - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Dayo, Pancake’s companion, looking regal – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Still, ambassadors play an invaluable role in allowing the public to develop personal ties to wildlife. Since Pancake is hand-raised and leash trained, we can take her off site to events and outreaches. Cheetahs in the wild are a concept that is hard to envision, but seeing Pancake’s adorable face and hearing her purr makes the plight of her species very real. She performs a special role for cheetah conservation by captivating the public and informing them about cheetahs in the wild.

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Pancake – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Cheetahs are the only large carnivores we have free contact with here at Wildlife Safari. That means we can actually go into the same enclosure with our cheetahs. This is because cheetahs are flight-responsive animals. If anything stresses or scares them, they run away instead of fighting back. With lions, tigers, and bears, there is always a barrier between us and the animal (in what is referred to as “protected contact”).

Cheetah cubs are born just under a pound, and have a mantle that imitates the appearance of a honey badger. Mothers move their cubs every few days and chirp to them in mimicry of birds to ward off predators. Cubs stay with their mom until around age two. Females will then separate to start their own families, while males may live together for the remainder of their lives in what are referred to as “coalitions.”

Pancake and Dayo - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Pancake and Dayo – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

At Wildlife Safari, we are proud to say that we are among the top two cheetah breeding facilities in the world, with over 200 cubs born since we began our mission. Wildlife Safari’s expansive property allows our cheetahs privacy, which is important for this high stress species Enrichment for cheetahs comes from new sights, smells, places, and other cheetahs. We frequently rotate our cheetahs into different enclosures so they can experience these exciting new things.

 

Cheetah Traits

A typical adult cheetah weighs anywhere from 70 to 120 pounds and has a lifespan of 9 years in the wild and 10 to 15 in captivity. We actually had the oldest cheetah on record here at Wildlife Safari that lived to be a whopping 18 years old! At almost age two, Pancake weighs about 50 pounds, and will stay on the lower end of that scale because she was not afforded the benefits of mom’s milk early in life. Dayo, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was donated to us and chosen to be Pancake’s companion because Ridgebacks typically have body masses and lifespans similar to cheetahs.

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One of Wildlife Safari’s newest cheetah cubs

In the wild, cheetahs can go from 0 to 70 miles per hour in under three seconds. However, they can only run at maximum speed for about 30 seconds, any longer and their body would overheat, causing brain damage. Accordingly, a cheetah’s hunt lasts about a minute. Because cheetahs in captivity do not have to hunt for their food, they lack the muscle capacity to reach 70 mile-per-hour speeds. While Pancake is definitely a fast runner, she could not reach those top speeds – which is good for Dayo, or he’d never be able to keep up!

Cheetahs can produce approximately 30 different vocalizations, some of which can be heard miles away. Most of their sounds mimic small cats or birds, a vocal camouflage. There is a fine line between purring and roaring. Every cat the size of a cheetah or cougar or smaller will purr, and any larger cat will roar. Cats do one or the other, not both.

Everything on a cheetah’s body is built for speed. They don’t have large jaws or muscles like lions and tigers. Cheetahs can run quite fast, but if they are confronted by any predator, they must flee. Any injury means potentially becoming unable to run at top speeds and subsequent starvation.

Unlike lions and tigers, cheetahs hunt during the day. Their distinctive black tear lines help refract the sun’s glare from their eyes. Lions and tigers have white pigmentation under their eyes for attracting moonlight, in order to enhance nocturnal vision. Cheetahs have what is commonly called “binocular vision.” They can see clearly up to three miles away, but if they look at their feet, their vision is blurry.

Mom and cubs eating dinner

Mom and cubs eating dinner

Cheetah’s have adapted perfectly to reaching their top speeds. They have enlarged nasal passageways that allow for more airflow to help maintain high running speed. They have an enlarged heart, lungs, and arteries that help deliver oxygen to muscles. They also have semi-retractable claws that provide traction when they run. Their long tails function as a rudder or counter balance to their body weight, especially when making tight turns. Thomson’s gazelles, the second-fastest land animal and the most common prey of cheetahs, can run 65 miles per hour; they know they are unable to outrun a cheetah. Instead they try to weave and dodge to get away. A cheetah’s tail helps it change directions quickly, without having to stop and regroup, in order to take down a gazelle. Cubs will also follow their mother’s long tail in tall grasses.

They have on average 3,000 “true” spots (i.e., spots which go all the way down to the skin) that help cheetahs hunt prey and hide from predators by blending into their habitats. Cheetahs dissipate heat from their spots, which have longer, less densely packed fur. After reaching top speeds and taking down prey, a cheetah must wait about half an hour for their body temperature to cool down before eating. This results in about half of their kills being stolen by larger predators.

 

Conservation

 

With approximately 10,000 living in the wild today, cheetahs are classified as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Habitat loss, poaching, and hunting largely drive this phenomenon. Cheetah populations are also dwindling in part due to a common, unfortunate misconception. Since cheetahs hunt in the day, they are more visible to farmers that have lost livestock in the night to predation. This predation is usually from lions, because cheetahs are too small to take down livestock and can’t digest fat, so their prey has to be much leaner. Unfortunately, cheetahs will get blamed and hunted for these losses.

Programs in South Africa and Botswana are using dogs and raising them alongside livestock to protect the herd. If a cheetah is near, the dog will bark and scare the cheetah off. This is helping cheetahs stay away from farmlands and helping farmers protect their livestock. These guard dogs strongly bond to the herd and even put their lives in danger to protect the group. This relieves farmers from having to engage wild cheetahs and possibly shooting an endangered species.

Curious cub

Curious cub

As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Wildlife Safari takes part in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to help breed endangered animals. SSP looks at the genetics of each individual and monitors breeding and placement to enhance species survival. This is especially important for cheetahs because thousands of years ago, a mass extinction event caused populations to be cut off from each other, leading to a ‘genetic bottleneck’. All cheetahs are so genetically similar that there must be careful breeding to have a healthy captive population. The short term plan of SSP is to create a stable captive population as a “backup” if wild populations continue to decline. The SSP long term plan is to research the possibility of releasing captive cheetah genetics back into wild population using artificial insemination.

At Wildlife Safari, we are proud to do our part in helping wild cheetahs. A part of every encounter is donated to help save endangered wild animals. Stop by Wildlife Safari and have your photo taken with Pancake, or sign up for one of our many encounters, and you’ll be helping save wild cheetahs!

Kotori the Tiny Owl

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s ambassador animals come in lots of shapes and sizes. One of our feathered friends that goes out into the community is a small owl by the name of Kotori. Kotori is a Western Screech owl, native to Oregon.

Kotori may look tiny, but she is fully grown. Western Screech owls in the wild will tend to hunt small mice, frogs or lizards (although mice are Kotori’s particular favorite).

Kotori the Western Screech Owl

Kotori the Western Screech Owl

Although she is small, she’s packed full of attitude. “She has a perfect  glare that she will give if we move her house, bother her, or pick her up when she doesn’t want to be,” says Julianne Rose, Lead Educator and one of Kotori’s keepers. While she might give her keepers some sass, she loves the change in environment that outreaches bring, and is comfortable being out and about. “She loves being out and about in the great outdoors and shes great with small children and big groups,” says Rose.

In the wild, birds like Kotori spend most of their time perched in a tree checking out their surroundings, and Kotori holds onto those instincts, enjoying any way she can be high up and get a good view. “Anything she can perch on shes a huge fan of,” says Rose. “Things like large stuffed animals, large branches, twigs, elevated perches – though not too high because she is missing a wing – and anything she can hide in, like boxes, igloos.. ”

Sleepy Kotori

Sleepy Kotori

Apart from her grumpiness, she has lots of other ways in which she shows her personality. She won’t eat in front of her keepers, preferring to wait until everyone has left, and she LOVES to bathe in her water dish. Keepers are often greeted in the morning with evidence of her pool parties – water everywhere!

Keeper Julianne gets Kotori ready for an outreach

Keeper Julianne gets Kotori ready for an outreach

Kotori’s missing wing is the reason she has a home here at Wildlife Safari. Although she started life in the wild, she was in a car accident and now could not survive if left to fend for herself. “She was a wild owl that had a collision with a truck,” explains Rose. “Either the driver or some other kind soul took her to a rehab clinic. They tried their darndest,  but they realized that she was not going to be releasable. That wing break was too severe and would not be able to mend itself. So she did lose a wing, and obviously as a predator that would not be good for her in the wild, she would not be able to catch the food she needed, and since she is a small owl she wouldn’t be able to escape from things that were trying to eat her. “

Kotori with Keeper Julianne

Kotori with Keeper Julianne

Despite having a rough start, Kotori now has a happy life here at the park, and while she might be sassy, her big eyes peering at you from a small bundle of feathers is pretty darn cute. If you ever see one of our animal shows or outreaches you may get to meet her!

Bandit the Badger

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature

Normally found in either his den or his dig box, Bandit the American Badger has a pretty relaxed life here at Wildlife Safari. Aptly named, Bandit tends to steal people’s hearts with his wonderful personality and incredible good looks.

Bandit the American Badger

Bandit the American Badger

Like all badgers, Bandit has a passion for digging. Whether its in his dig box, or in the gardens while on a walk with his keepers, once he starts digging he won’t stop until he finds something interesting or has a big enough hole to lay down in. “Being a fossorial animal, he absolutely loves digging,” says Leila Goulet, Director of Education at Wildlife Safari, and one of Bandit’s keepers. Which leads us to another of Bandit’s passions: napping.

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Badgers go into what we call a torpor during the winter months, which is a kind of hibernation. It isn’t as complete as other forms of hibernation, for example bears will not eat or go to the bathroom for their entire four months. Instead, badgers will choose to sleep through many of the colder days of winter, relying on their stores of fat built up in the summer months, but will get up and find food if the weather is mild enough.

Bandit in his den box

Bandit in his den box

Badgers are omnivores, which means they eat meat, vegetables and fruit. For their meat they will usually eat mice, small birds or chicks, eggs and insects. The rest of their food they will forage for and it will depend on what is growing in their area, changing seasonally. Bandit loves berries of any kind, the juicier the better! He is not, however, a fan of anything green. Whenever keepers try to see if broccoli or green beans are acceptable to him, they usually find them in his dig box the next day – apparently the offending vegetable must be put out of site. His attitude towards greens does change though if they are slathered in mashed raspberries!

Badgers are known for their aggression – they are solitary creatures and quite territorial. “Badgers are very spunky animals,” says Julianne Rose, Lead Educator at Wildlife Safari and one of Bandit’s keepers. “An American Badger will challenge large animals like bears that wander into their territory.” Bandit, however, has been hand raised. Orphaned when he was young and taken in by a family who passed him along to Wildlife Safari when he became too rambunctious. Since he is used to human contact and attention, rather than being aggressive, Bandit is actually quite affectionate towards his keepers. He is particularly fond of back scratches.

Bandit enjoying a cardboard box

Bandit enjoying a cardboard box

Bandit is trained to do a number of things that make it easier for his keepers to look after him, including going into his travel crate and stationing on a mat for his harness to be put on. Badgers are very clever creatures, which is helpful for foraging for food, and for learning things with training, but can lead to some stubbornness. If an animal is smart enough to work out how to do something, they are generally smart enough to work out how NOT to do it. “Bandit is extremely intelligent, which means that he also has the luxury of being extremely stubborn,” Goulet explains. “When we were teaching him how to go into his travel crate on his own, he realized what we were asking him to do and went inside. The only catch was that he didn’t want us to close the door, so he made sure that he stuck his back paw outside so that we wouldn’t be able to close it!”

One of the ways Bandit charms everyone he meets is through his playfulness. Although, this can hinder some of the duties his keepers need to complete. “One afternoon while I was cleaning his enclosure, he attempted to pull the broom out of my hands. When this failed, he ran to the dustpan, kicked everything out and sat on it,” says Rose.

Bandit helping his keepers clean his enclosure

Bandit “helping” his keepers clean his enclosure

While Bandit’s “help” with cleaning is just for his keepers to handle, you can see him displaying his digging skills in Safari Village! Check the sign on the dig box outside of the gift shop to see what time he’ll be arriving to play!

Bandit's dig box in Safari Village

Bandit’s dig box in Safari Village

A Very Busy Birthday Month

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

February was a very busy month at  Wildlife Safari with four birthdays! Khayam and Mchumba, our brother and sister ambassador pair, and Pancake and Dayo, our youngest ambassadors!

Khayam and Mchumba, Wildlife Safari's four-year-old cheetah ambassadors

Khayam and Mchumba, Wildlife Safari’s four-year-old cheetah ambassadors – Photo courtesy of Danielle Berthold

Pancake and Dayo had birthday celebrations on the 28th. Although they had different parents, they actually share a birthday! As its their first birthday, the entire park was super excited for the event, and guests came from all over to see them.

“They’ve grown so much!” says Mikaely Riley, one of the Cheetah Keepers involved with raising the pair. “They really do behave just like siblings. Dayo loves to try and play when Pancake is napping – much to her frustration, but they are very affectionate to each other.”

Although they get along very well, they both have their unique personalities. Pancake is a fast learner with her training, and has a characteristic squeaky purr that has her keepers charmed. Dayo is a bundle of joy, always happy to see you and ready to play – especially if there are snacks!

Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah-puppy ambassador pair when they were much smaller

Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah-puppy ambassador pair when they were much smaller

Friends right from the start, this is small Pancake and Dayo sharing a toy

Friends right from the start, this is small Pancake and Dayo sharing a toy

Carnivore Lead, Jordan Bednarz has enjoyed watching them grow together. “While Dayo and Pancake had a period of adjusting to each others ways it’s amazing to see that they really have become the best of friends,” he says. “I’m very much looking forward to working with them until their next birthdays and beyond.”

A typical cat, Pancake has always loved nap time

A typical cat, Pancake has always loved nap time

Khayam and Mchumba turned 4 years old on the 29th. As leap year cubs this year is actually their first real birthday! Getting lots of love, attention and snacks from their keepers is part of their everyday life, but keepers made sure to make the day special for them.

Khayam and Mchumba relaxing together - a sibling already there never stops them from laying in their favorite spot...

Khayam and Mchumba relaxing together – a sibling already there never stops them from laying in their favorite spot…

“It has been such an experience to work with these two very different ambassador groups and watch them grow,” says Bednarz. “Despite Khayam and Mchumba being siblings they each have quite different personalities.”

A much younger Khayam and Mchumba chasing after a ball

A much younger Khayam and Mchumba chasing after a ball

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

It looks like a kangaroo and sounds like a guinea pig, but this little girl is a species all her own! Meet Paddy, one of Wildlife Safari’s resident Patagonian Cavies. One of the largest species of rodent in the world, Patagonian Cavies are native to South America, specifically Argentina. They are herbivores, enjoying a diet full of fruit, vegetables and foliage. They have the constantly growing teeth characteristic to rodents, which means they are almost always chewing and wearing those teeth down as they grow.

They typically live in areas with lots of shrub cover – helpful as both protection from predators and as a source of food.

Cavy enclosure

Cavies make grunting and squeaking sounds to communicate, similar to guinea pigs. They mostly walk or run, but are fast and agile – they can jump very high to be able to escape scrapes with predators.

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

They are monogamous animals, mating for life. Pairs can live life alone together or with other pairs in warrens, with up to 29 pairs sharing this space (that’s a lot of room mates!). Females will usually have just one litter a year, with a gestation of a little over 3 months.

Paddy being her curious, social self - photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy being her curious, social self – photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy is one of the education animals that acts as an ambassador, going to schools and community events to teach people about animals and conservation. Up until recently, Paddy lived off display in our education department, but she now has a new home in Safari Village! She alternates in this enclosure with Safari’s male Cavy, Lucas. Nestled between the Tamarin enclosure and the petting zoo, Paddy and Lucas have been investigating theie

new house in prime position to meet new people!

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

Coco and Swiper

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature

Coco and Swiper are domestic ferrets that live in the Education Department of Wildlife Safari. They spend their days meeting people of all ages as our animal ambassadors!

Many people are familiar with ferrets as pets, but not many know that here is the US we have a native ferret species: the black-footed ferret. Once common across most of the United States, black-footed ferrets are now endangered, mostly due to loss of prey (and predation) from feral cats. Cats will hunt the same foods that ferrets are hoping to catch, and will also actually catch a ferret if they can.

While they are not black-footed ferrets, Coco and Swiper still do a pretty good job of teaching people about what ferrets are like; what they eat, when they sleep, and the things they do all day (hint: mostly sleep).

Swiper loves to find new snuggle spots, here he has found some toilet paper for craft.

Swiper loves to find new snuggle spots, here he has found some toilet paper for craft.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they ONLY eat meat. They are extremely flexible, which allows them to move through holes and burrows in search for mice or other small animals.

They are crepuscular, a kind of nocturnal, which means they hunt in the early morning and evening.

The rest of the time they sleep. For ferrets, nap time takes up around 19 hours of the day.

Coco getting her sleep

Coco getting her sleep

The reputation they have for their characteristic smell comes from their musk gland, which they use both for marking territories and to tell each other apart. Their smell acts sort of like a name tag, and through this they can tell who is who, and even who is family. That’s a lot to tell from just a smell!

 

Meet Madrone

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature

At 7.5 ft long, 21 lbs and 20 years old, Madrone, the mild mannered red-tail boa, is a majestic figure. As one of Wildlife Safari’s ambassador animals, Madrone goes out with his keepers into the community to teach people of all ages about the importance of conservation.

Red-tail boas are native to South America, and get their name from the red pigment on their underbelly. They are constrictors; which means they are non-venomous, relying instead on their strength to slowly squeeze their prey until they go into circulatory arrest.

As they are non-venomous they have no need for the long fangs that would inject venom into prey. Instead, they have small, rear facing teeth to grab and hold their prey while they constrict.

Red tails are tree dwellers, using their patterns to camouflage against bark and leaves.

Their diet includes small mammals, birds and amphibians that cross their paths. As nocturnal sit and wait predators, red tail boas wait in the shadows for their prey to approach before they strike.

Capable of growing up to 12 ft long, there are not many predators willing to take on an adult Red-tail boa. Their main threat comes from people. The exotic pet trade removes these beautiful snakes from their natural habitat and places them in homes that may not be prepared to care for them adequately. With a lifespan of up to 35 years, they are not a small commitment.

Madrone, like all our ambassador animals, is used to being around people and is comfortable with meeting groups of all ages. He shows young and old what it is that conservation efforts are trying to protect. Seeing him takes these animals from abstract to very real. His charms have also changed many minds when it comes to preconceived notions regarding snakes.

Our hope is that when people meet Madrone, they will see him as we do; a life worth protecting and a species worth conserving.