One of our lions playing with a paper-mache ghost around Halloween. Photo courtesy of Caroline Harris.

Enrichment – Making Life Fun!

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores

The primary job of keepers at Wildlife Safari is to ensure that all of our animals are happy and healthy. This requires a little extra effort on the part of the keepers. The key is to give the animals new things to interact with every single day. The public helps with this because every car that comes through the drive through gives the animals something new to look at and to smell. The animals can interact with the cars, or not, as they choose. They can run away, they can hide, they can passively watch the car pass, or they can investigate.

Even tigers like to sit in boxes. Photo courtesy of Mikaely Riley.

Even tigers like to sit in boxes. Photo courtesy of Mikaely Riley.

For animals that are in smaller spaces, keepers also provide daily enrichment, something to make the animal think “What is that?!” Enrichment comes in a huge variety of forms and allows keepers to show off their creative sides. It is important for enrichment to excite one of the senses, whether it be sight, touch, taste, sound, or smell. The best forms of enrichment cover multiple senses at once and make the animal think.

Brown Bears playing with a firehose ball. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Brown Bears playing with a firehose ball. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Tactile Enrichment

This may be the simplest form of enrichment because it is just giving the animal something to play with or touch. Each day, the lions and tigers get a variety of toys; both in their yards, where they spend the day, and in their huts, where they spend the nights. Generally, there is at least one toy in every room of a hut and those toys get moved around or swapped out with other toys every day. All of the animals have their favorite toys. The tigers love their big blue barrels. They chew on them, roll them around, and push them over.

If you throw a ball for Pancake, the cheetah, she will usually chase it and bat it around. Other tactile enrichment can be boxes, pumpkins, shredded newspaper, paper chains, and paper-mache. Really, the sky is the limit. But we do have to be careful of one thing – many of our animals like to chew their toys, so we have to make sure that there is nothing that could harm them if they were to eat it.

One of our male lions playing tug-o-war

One of our male lions playing tug-o-war

Sight enrichment

Sight enrichment involves giving the animal something new to see. Sometimes animals don’t play with the toys that they are given, sometimes they just look at them. But that is also a form of enrichment. Sight enrichment can also involve moving an animal to a new enclosure. Here, the animal has new neighbors to look at and sniff (doubling as scent enrichment) and a new area to explore. In the winter, when the brown bears are hibernating, we have the unique opportunity to bring cheetahs out into the bear enclosure. We simply close the gates and allow them to roam freely within the drive through bear enclosure. It gives them a little extra space to run around in, if they choose, but they can also look at animals they don’t get to see every day. It is like a field trip for them.

Cheetahs out on "Cheetah Watch" where they can explore cheetah Drive thru before the park opens

Cheetahs out on “Cheetah Watch” where they can explore cheetah Drive thru before the park opens – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Scent Enrichment

Scent enrichment can involve anything from spraying perfume on toys or trees to moving animals into different enclosures. Most of our animals mark trees or toys in their enclosure, so when a new animal is moved in or a toy is moved out and given to another animal, there is something new to smell.

We can also do things like putting elephant scat in with the carnivores. This enrichment is a favorite of the tiger girls, Riya and Kemala. They love to roll around in it and to play with it. But as always, safety first! In order to keep our animals safe and healthy, we make sure to freeze the scat for a couple of days to make sure there are no microbes in it that could make the tigers sick. Freezing the scat also adds to the enrichment, because the tigers have to work to break up the large scat into smaller pieces to play with!

Perfumes and spices are also usually a hit with the animals. We can put these out in the yards, in their huts, or on their toys.

One of our lions playing with a paper-mache ghost around Halloween. Photo courtesy of Caroline Harris.

One of our lions playing with a paper-mache ghost around Halloween. Photo courtesy of Caroline Harris.

Taste Enrichment

This form of enrichment is used for animals all across the park, from carnivores to giraffes, to emus. This form of enrichment includes giving the animal some type of food that they don’t get every day, or perhaps an extra snack. Examples of taste enrichment include tossing apples or lettuce to hoof stock in the drive through, hanging browse for the giraffes, and pouring protein drinks on toys for the lions and tigers. An important thing to remember here is that this enrichment is in addition to, not in replace of, their regular diets. Because many of our animals are highly food-motivated, we can also exercise their minds and make them work to get their food, as they would in the wild. We can put food into puzzle feeders or hang it from something. This requires the animal to think about how to get to the food. For example, we will put bear food into barrels. The barrels have holes that are big enough for the bears to reach and grab a snack, but it requires that the bear reach in and work for that food.

Bandit the American Badger enjoying a strawberry - his favorite!

Bandit the American Badger enjoying a strawberry – his favorite!

Sound enrichment

Sound enrichment is often easy to overlook, but is equally as important as other forms of enrichment. One of the simplest forms of sound enrichment is to play music. It could also be something like putting crinkly newspaper in a hut. We can also use toys for sound enrichment. The lions have a rattle, that was made by putting rocks in an enclosed PVC pipe. We recently gave the cheetah cubs a toy that squeaked. They loved it!

At Wildlife Safari, we keep an enrichment calendar to help us keep track of the forms of enrichment we have done recently. It helps to ensure that we are covering every sense and that we are providing the animals with unique forms of enrichment. Think that you have a great idea for animal enrichment? Tell us about it in the comments! We are always looking for new, creative enrichment ideas!

One of our young cheetahs running off with a new toy. Photo courtesy of Katie Low.

One of our young cheetahs running off with a new toy. Photo courtesy of Katie Low.

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!

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Training for Healthy Bodies and Minds

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

People tend to think that training involves ridding an animal of its natural instincts in order to tame it. In fact, our training is just the opposite. Animal training at Wildlife Safari is not used for the sole purpose of public entertainment. Our training actually reinforces natural behaviors and is used to evaluate and maintain the health of our animals.

Daily observations of our animals allow us to assess their health status. It is generally easy to tell if an animal is not feeling 100%, but it is not as easy to identify the source of the problem. Some parts of the animal’s body are difficult to see with just passive observation. For example, it is hard to see inside of a bear’s mouth, or to inspect a lion’s paw pads. This is where training becomes extremely valuable.

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A keeper training one of our female lions

Keepers can check for injuries on the bellies of lions during training sessions.

We can ask for a variety of behaviors that allow us to see parts of the animal’s body that are usually difficult to evaluate, such as the animal’s mouth, paw pads, and belly. For example, the lions and tigers are trained to put their paws up on the fence, allowing keepers to inspect the paw pads for any sign of injury or infection. Our ambassador cheetahs can also show us their paw pads, but the behavior is more similar to asking a dog to shake.”

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

With the cheetahs we can both look at and feel their pads to check for scrapes or other damage. The specific behavior we ask for varies slightly depending on the animal species, but the purpose is the same.

The lions, tigers, bears, and cheetahs are also trained to show off their bellies. The lions and tigers will put both paws on the fence, either from a sitting or standing position. The bears will stand on their hind legs. The cheetahs will lay on their sides in the ‘flop’ position, a very natural pose for them. The bears and hippos are also trained to open their mouths (to read more about hippo training, check out Healthy Happy Hippos). We actually discovered that one of our brown bears needed a root canal because he was trained to show us his teeth.

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Keeper Melissa Fox during a Brown Bear training session. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Other behaviors that we ask for are useful for medical procedures such as drawing blood or putting an animal under anesthesia. Sometimes our animals do get sick and we need to run tests on them, but we want to minimize the stress that this puts on them. To do this, we work with them to simulate medical procedures. For example, we are currently working with our lions to approach the fence and allow keepers to gently poke their thigh. This imitates the feeling of a needle. If we ever had to put the lion under anesthesia, we could inject the anesthetics by hand. They would approach the fence as they usually would, get poked, and that time they would happen to fall asleep. This limits stress because the process is very familiar to them. We are also working on blood draw training with many of our big cats. For a test as simple as a blood draw, we want to limit stress and avoid putting the animal under anesthesia.

With our ambassador cheetahs we can simply shave a small patch at the base of their tail and draw blood from there. It takes a little bit of time for them to get used to us touching their tail. But, unlike our ambassador cheetahs, most of our carnivores were not hand-raised and the process is therefore more difficult.

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to "station"

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to “station”

We always work protected contact with our lions, tigers, and bears. This means that there is always a fence between us and them. Keepers cannot simply waltz into the tiger enclosure to draw blood. Because of this, we are training the tigers to approach the fence and allow us to gently pull their tails through the fence so that we can draw blood from their tails while they are still awake. For the bears, we actually draw blood from the arm, but the goal is the same. This training does not happen overnight. There is a process and each animal is in a different stage of the process.

Training these behaviors is just the first step. After the animal has learned the behavior, it is imperative that the behavior is maintained. We reinforce behaviors with an audible click and a food reward. The animals are trained to hold a behavior until they hear a click. Then they get a bite-size snack as a reward for doing the behavior correctly. The clicker is an important tool in training because it allows keepers to stay consistent. If we were to reinforce behaviors with a verbal cue, such as saying “good”, the animals might get confused because each keeper has a different voice and tone. Clickers produce an identical sound, so all keepers are giving the exact same cues to prevent confusion.

Come check out our animal encounters to see training in action!

 

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Healthy Happy Hippos

Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized, Ungulates

Meet Wildlife Safari’s resident hippos! Blippo and Padron, like many of the animals at the park, have regular training sessions with their keepers. As they are such large animals, these sessions are vitally important for their care – being able to ask them to show their teeth allows keepers to make sure they’re healthy everyday, and catch any issues before they become a real problem.


Without using behavioral training for health checks, keepers and veterinarians would need to sedate these large animals to do any kind of check up-which can be stressful for the animal. 

While being able to move the hippos is definitely helpful, it is the open mouthed dental checks that are particularly important. “Our hippo trainers Allison Trout and Tanda Schmidt have done an amazing job communicating with our hippos to do voluntary tooth trims, if need be,” says Erica Sherrow, Lead Ungulate Keeper. “We have been utilizing a drummel to slowly trim their teeth to give them a natural wear. Blippo seems to take delight in the vibrations of the drummel, its almost like a tooth massage! Padron is a bit more shy, but is becoming braver every day.”

Hippos have large incisors that dig up the grasses and vegetation they eat, with the help of incredibly powerful jaws. Since hippos are quite tough on their teeth, regular dental checks can catch cracks or damage before they become too serious.

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Room to Run

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Every morning, before the park is open to visitors, the cheetah keepers give their animals a chance to stretch their legs. The gates to Cheetah Drive-through are closed, and a different cheetah everyday is let out into that space to run around!

Khayam and Mchumba, our cheetah ambassadors relaxing in the cheetah drive-through – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

The cheetahs love it, spending their time sniffing new things, exploring, and of course: finding a new spot to nap – they are cats after all! To make sure they stay safe, and keepers know where they are, a volunteer is always watching them from inside their vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

The reason we let out one cheetah, or a pair if they live together, is because cheetahs are normally solitary animals and may get upset with each other if they had to share a space.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Our cheetahs are quite happy taking turns though, especially since winter brings yet another fun space to play in: the Brown Bear Drive-Through. Since our bears are hibernating inside, keepers are able to take cheetahs out there for the day.

Cheetahs stretching their legs – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Kitty kisses with Khayam and Mchumba – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Soon our cheetahs will have even more chances to run as a lure course is currently under construction. This will also allow visitors to see our cheetahs running as fast as they can!

Cuddle time with Khayam and Mchumba – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

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Cheetah Breeding

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is the number one cheetah breeding facility in the Americas and the second most successful in the world with 204 cheetah cub births.  Cheetahs are extremely difficult to breed in captivity as they become stressed very easily.  This can effect their estrus cycles and the mating behaviors that they will display to one another.

There are many reasons Wildlife Safari’s breeding program is such a success, including the number and size of enclosures. The park has more enclosures than cheetahs, and these enclosures are quite spacious since we have about 6 acres dedicated to our cheetah breeding – not including our cheetah drive through.  Finally, our cheetah breeding is off from public view, allowing the cats to live in a very low stress environment. The only human interaction the mother-raised cheetahs will obtain while they are in this area is from the keepers going in daily to give them their food, water, and clean up their pens.

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Barlow

Estrus

First up is the process of determining whether or not a female is in estrus or not.  Cheetahs have a very abnormal estrus cycle called spontaneous ovulation.  This means that these cats can go into estrus multiple times in a month or will only go into estrus once or twice a year.  This is one of the obstacles to breeding cheetahs in captivity.  However, Wildlife Safari’s many enclosures equip us to help stimulate this unpredictable estrus cycle, as cheetahs can sometimes be induced into estrus with a change in environment.

Breeding

Cheetah breeding can be quite a process – with stimulating a female into estrus, which males will confirm by giving out a call referred to as a stutter bark (exactly what it sounds like). To making sure the male and female get along with each other, we let them meet through a fence before allowing them to be in the same enclosure. Then we hope for successful breeding!

Gestation

After this breeding, the gestation period will be tracked (91 days).  At day 30 the female will be ultra sounded if they are comfortable with this method. If not, X-rays will be performed around day 55-60 to confirm cubs.  These procedures do require daily training to them used to it – making the actual procedure just another training session rather than a scary thing. This is done by giving them bits of meat while practicing the procedure – rubbing their belly for ultra sounds or practicing walking them into an “L” shaped chute for X-rays.  Around day 85-91 their dinners are split in half to be fed in the morning and evening. Signs of labor can include pacing, going in and out of the hut, panting, and loss of appetite.  When these occur the she is watched 24/7 until she gives birth and the cubs are old enough and healthy enough to be on their own.  This can be different for each litter, and depends on how well the mother and health of the cubs.

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

This breeding process happens almost all year round at Wildlife Safari. It is through this captive breeding program that we hope to help increase cheetah’s genetic diversity.

New arrivals

Last month Wildlife Safari has welcomed a new litter healthy cubs! We are very excited to announce that each one is gaining weight daily and there have been no complications!  We are looking forward to watching them grow and mature.

 

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Welcome to the World, Little Cheetahs!

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is excited to announce the birth of four cheetah cubs! Mother Moonfire gave birth late last month to four healthy, active little ones – all getting bigger everyday! This litter is particularly special for the park as it takes our cheetah cub count up to 201 since the start of the breeding program.

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The litter is genetically valuable for the captive breeding population, so they have a bright hopeful future.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

For now, the Cheetah team is enjoying watching them grow and play.

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Moonfire is a doting mother, taking excellent care of her cubs.

Moonfire and her cubs

Moonfire and her cubs – Photo courtesy of Maddy Tweedt

New black bear climbing structure

Extreme Makeover – Carnivore Edition

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are constantly working to enrich the lives of the animals under our care. Enrichment comes in many different forms, from spraying perfume on enclosure trees for scent enrichment to behavioral training, puzzle toys and climbing structures. Here is a look at some of the exciting new enclosure enrichment brought to you by the Carnivore Department of the Wildlife Safari.

 

Just Lion’ Around

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If you drive through the lion loop nowadays, you may see a lion or two lounging on their new favorite enclosure structure. This two tiered hammock, perfect for midday naps and relaxing, was built and designed by carnivore keepers Taylor and Jordan. While the first hammock tier is already complete and ready for lion enjoyment, the second tier is still in construction and will be added soon. Lions love their rest and sleep about 20 hours a day in the wild. Stop by the lion loop, near the beginning of our drive-through safari, and observe these sweet snoozers.

The hammock in the lion enclosure - newly renovated

The hammock in the lion enclosure – newly renovated

 

Bearobics

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American black bears survive in the wild by utilizing their hooked, non-retractable claws for tree climbing, reaching impressive heights with remarkable speed. Here in the carnivore department of the Wildlife Safari, we are very excited to have a new climbing structure for our oldest black bear, Donna. The structure, built by the dedicated maintenance staff of the Safari, took two weeks to complete, stands 14 feet high, and consists of over a dozen logs. Not only is the structure designed to help Donna practice those natural climbing abilities, it also provides another area for keepers to spread food enrichment that will be tricky and exciting for Donna to find. Keep climbing Donna!

 

New black bear climbing structure

New black bear climbing structure

 

Run Cheetah, Run!

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Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can run rates of 70 miles per hour in pursuit of prey. Although their bodies are perfectly adapted for sprinting, it still takes time and practice to build up the muscle mass and technique for reaching these top speeds.

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Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are hoping to increase our cheetahs’ speeds through the introduction of a lure pulley system. The system works by attaching a large portion of meat onto a wire-pulley system that rapidly pulls the tempting treat across the ground over a 300 foot distance.

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

 

Cheetahs will chase the bait from one side of the pulley to the other, gradually developing their running skill to more closely mirror that of their wild cousins. Construction of the lure system is already underway, and the flat land that will serve as the running track can be seen to the right of the road near the exit of the Cheetah drive-through loop.

Treasured Tigers 

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Sumatran Tigers are the rarest subspecies of tiger, with only approximately 400 left in the world. With populations of these beautiful creatures shrinking, breeding the remaining Sumatran Tigers is essential to subspecies survival. Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are lucky to have two Sumatran sisters, Riya and Kemala. The Wildlife Safari, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), is hoping to begin a Sumatran Tiger breeding program soon when a male Sumatran Tiger is available. More tigers means more space.

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Fundraising from the Ladies Auxiliary of Wildlife Safari’s (LAWS) 20th annual auction night this year will go toward a major enclosure upgrade for our girls and any future Safari tigers. In years passed, LAWS events have raised money to create major Safari projects such as the new veterinary clinic and elephant watering hole. This year, the auction was named, “Hold that Tiger” with an old Hollywood theme. Money raised over the course of the evening will go towards our Sumatran Tiger improvement project.

Stay tuned for more exciting innovations in our carnivore department!

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Summer Swims

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores

This summer the tigers and lions had fun in the sun with sprinklers and pools! Although the lions were uncertain at first, they soon decided that sprinklers were a great way to beat the heat.

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Our lion family enjoying the sprinklers

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The lion pride’s first sprinkler playtime

The tigers took a while to venture into their pond this year, but they spent the last few weeks of summer making up for it!

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Tigers playing in their pond – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Sumatran tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala, consider a swim on a hot day – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Pool party! – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

Winter Camp crafts

For the Love of Learning!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Nestled in behind Safari Village is the Wildlife Safari Education building. Home to snakes, birds, cavies and many more, the Education building is always a hive of activity. The Education department hosts tours, day camps, overnight adventures, and zookeepers-in-training. Since teaching people about animals and the environment is a vital part of conservation, the Education team have an important role.

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Education Lead, Julianne with Ponderosa the Red Tail Boa

Everyday involves a mix of animal husbandry and working with people of all ages. “We provide a lot of really hands on encounters with the animals, which is very rewarding for us, as well as for the public – to have those intimate interactions with the animals,” says Kendra Hodgson, Summer Camp Coordinator “It’s cool how much our senses are involved in education with the things that we do, many people need to touch and create, and see things close up – it really builds those connections.”

As well as the hands on animal work that they do, Education staff love sharing their passion for conservation and their interest in animals. It’s a unique joy to see people connecting with the animals and the smiles as they understand the amazing ways animals are built and behave. Harleena Franklin, who is interning with the department says that her favorite part of the job is interacting with people and watching them learn. “It’s instant gratification to see someone understand something,” she says.

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Julianne with Western Screech owl, Kotori

Although they work with people of all ages, with camps and school outreaches, the Education team has a big focus working with kids. While this often makes work more fun and games than “work” it definitely poses it’s challenges. “Kids are in need of a lot more stimuli than adults, so it can be a lot more fun, but a lot more challenging than working with adults,” says Hodgson. Having kids around can also take your day in some unexpected directions. Caitlin Huff, Junior Zookeeper Coordinator, says that last year she became safe-keeper of a tooth that had fallen out. A very important job for sure, but not quite what she had expected earlier in the day. (Update: the tooth made it safely to the tooth fairy.)

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Painting, making crafts, showing kids how to move like animals, the list goes on – this team definitely has its share of fun and games, but that’s only part of the reward staff get from being involved. The kids bring a special attitude and enthusiasm that the Education team loves to see. “Kids always have very unique ideas and approaches, they’re a lot easier to get engaged and caring about things,” says Huff.

“Kids ask a ton of questions, so it can be a lot of fun to be around a group of really engaging kids that want to learn things, says Mack Stamper, an intern in the education department. “They’re very receptive to answers – they are genuinely curious.”

Another unique and rewarding program is the partnership Wildlife Safari has with the Dillard Alternative High School. In this program, students spend 4 days a week at Safari and are able to complete their high school credits in a non-traditional way. They are taught High School English, Science and Math, while interacting with the animals and completing special animal projects. “This program is important to high school students who are unable to learn in a formal classroom setting,” explains Leila Goulet, Director of Education. “These classes allow students to learn in a hands-on way and use various forms of assessment to evaluate the students rather than traditional testing. This program has been highly successful and is even gaining tread with other schools!”

Staff, adults and kids all have tons of fun with our education programs, so keep an eye out on the Wildlife Safari website for chances to come join in!