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. This can be stressful for the animal. 

While being able to move the hippos is helpful, it is the open mouthed dental checks that are particularly important. The keepers have captured a behavior to allow for voluntary tooth trims. A drummer has also been slowly introduced to trim their teeth down for 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

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.

 

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

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!

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

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!

Keeping it Cool

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

With the hot summer sun heating up our days, many of the animals at Wildlife Safari are getting ice treats!

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Bandit the American Badger enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Pancake, Wildlife Safari's youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Pancake, Wildlife Safari’s youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Whether it’s ice to cool down or play with, or popsicle treats, its a good way for the animals to cool down and a more challenging way to get a snack!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!

 

Elephant Artists

Behind the Scenes, Elephants, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized
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Painting supplies at the elephant barn – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Elephants are known for their intelligence, but not everyone knows about their finesse as artists! At Wildlife Safari, our elephants paint as an enrichment activity – something fun for them to do – but it also allows people to take home a unique keepsake. Not everyone has a painting done by an elephant in their gallery!

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Keeper Courtney cleans up after a painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

The elephants paint on a lot of their encounters. It makes a good training exercise for them, and elephants are always happy for their snack rewards! “It’s fun for the elephants to do, but it’s also fun for the guests to watch,” says Tracy Moser, one of the Elephant Keepers at Wildlife Safari. “We work with the elephants to hold onto a sponge,” she explains. “We figured a sponge would work better than a paint brush since elephants have a lot of moisture in their nose which can drip down onto the canvas. While they hold onto the sponge, one of the staff will hold the canvas in front of them and they’ll stretch out their nose and paint however they like!”

Typically a painting will have three or four colors before it is pronounced complete. Then comes the clean up part of the session. “When they are done they will politely hand their sponge back to their trainer,” says Moser. Then it’s time for some trunk cleaning to get rid of any paint drips on the artist’s nose.

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Elephant painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

The elephant’s also make foot print paintings! For these the elephants take a more laid back approach, allowing their keepers to paint and stamp with their feet rather than compose the painting themselves. “George in particular has impressive feet since he is our largest elephant. so we do a lot of foot prints with him,” says Moser. “We do back and front foot pints, and what’s neat about that is they look completely different, because the shape is different.”

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Keeper Nick holds the canvas for an elephant painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Every painting is different and is an expression of that elephant artist’s personality, whether they are slow and careful or fast and eccentric. “All of our elephants have a different style to their paintings, a different technique,” says Moser.

Just some paint, a sponge and an elephant and you end up with a master piece!

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The finished product! – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Keeper Pets

Behind the Scenes, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

The keepers at Wildlife Safari have a real love for animals. Not only do they choose to work with and look after animals everyday at the park, many keepers also have animals at home too! These animal family members come in all shapes and sizes, from furry to scaly.

Because we love our animals at home just as much as the wild and wonderful ones at work, the keepers of Wildlife Safari have some pictures of their little ones to share!

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks with Carnivore keeper, Jordan

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor's hands full!

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor’s hands full!

This whacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

This wacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure - Even when shes trying to sleep.

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure – Even when shes trying to sleep.

Gatsby takes a short rest - stealing all keeper Mikaely's socks sure is exhausting!

Gatsby takes a short rest – stealing all keeper Mikaely’s socks sure is exhausting!