Mountain Lions in Oregon: The Biggest Predator You Never See

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Just how likely are you to run into a fierce predator on your hike through a state park or national forest? Most of us assume it’s unlikely. The image that comes to mind is of rainforests or savannas housing tigers, lions and cheetahs. Those are half a world away from us, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

mountain lion6

With a distribution over two continents and the ability to adapt to a variety of climates, the mountain lion could be considered king of the American jungle. This species is the most widely distributed mammal in the Americas, with 30 subspecies and a bundle of common names including the cougar, puma, and panther. Mountain lions are on the bigger end of the smaller cats, weighing around 120-190 lbs. Their tan and reddish fur provide good cover in the trees and rocky mountains of both North and South America, while their classic felid jaws and claws aid in their ambush method of hunting of which there is a 70% success rate. Like most other cat species mountain lions are solitary animals, with the exception of mating and females with cubs.

Worldwide mountain lions are a species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist with an overall estimation of 30,000 individuals, but their numbers are starting to decrease. In fact, they aren’t found in the Eastern United States, after being hunted out in the last 200 years. The Pacific Northwest has a good portion of the United States’ mountain lions, with numbers around a few thousand in each state. They don’t appear to be limited by human activity, but rather by the amount of prey species available. In Oregon, the mountain lion population is estimated at 6,400 as of April 2017.

Each state monitors their populations in slightly different ways, and here the mountain lions fall under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Their goal is to keep the population above the 1994 level of 3,000 individuals. They also monitor the number of conflict animals in the state, or animals that cause damage to people’s property or person. These animals will be removed if necessary, and if the number of conflicts is too high or the prey species are suffering losses from too many mountain lions ODFW is prepared to adjust the population. In other words they want a stable population of mountain lions, not too many or too few.

mountain lion4

In addition to monitoring the population status ODFW sets hunting regulations for the state. Mountain lions are listed as a big game species in Oregon, and are hunted using the same tag system as other big game. Hunters can take both males and females during the mountain lion season, but mothers with cubs are off limits. In the past it was legal to use hunting hounds to tree a lion, or track and corner a mountain lion in a tree. However, using hounds for hunting a mountain lion is illegal for sport hunters, which has lowered the success rates of mountain lion hunting in the state. There is some speculation that this could have caused an increase in the population, but as of now there is no research to support the theory.

mountain lion9

That’s not to say there is a lack of mountain lion research in Oregon, not by a long shot. There have been over a dozen research publications affiliated with ODFW in the last decade alone. They include subjects like establishing more accurate mountain lion densities and population growth rates, effects of lethal control, kill rates and prey selection, and the effects on population dynamics of elk (one of their prey species). In southwestern Oregon there was a long-term study from 1992-2003 that radio collared and captured mountain lions and gathered data on home ranges, prey interactions, reproduction, and dispersal. All of these pieces of research are important to the whole picture of the mountain lion-how it lives, factors that could affect its survival, and how to best live alongside one of our biggest top predators.

mountain lion7

So the next time you pick up your hiking boots, remember and respect the fact that you may not be as alone as you thought out there. Keep an eye out for tracks, because Oregon’s mountain lions can be seen if you know how to look.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Oregon Cougar Management Plan. ODFW.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Research in Oregon. ODFW Wildlife Division.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Management in Neighboring States. ODFW Wildlife Division.

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It’s International Cheetah Day!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

December 4th is a day set aside for the fastest land animal on Earth: the cheetah!  Wildlife Safari is home to 20 cheetahs, both cubs and adults!  Our youngest little ones are just over 15 weeks old and are growing larger and stronger every day.  Cheetah cubs will stay with their mothers for the first 1.5 – 2 years of their life.  During this time the mother feeds them, protects them, and teaches them how to fend for themselves.  Our four cubs, Amani, Roudy, Zigzag, and Corey, are lucky to have a mom who takes care of them very well.

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The cheetah has adapted to a quick lifestyle; a 70mph lifestyle to be exact.  The cheetah’s anatomy is specifically built for speed.  They have slender bodies that allow them to be agile and accelerate from 0 – 60mph in less than 3 seconds! Other adaptations that allow this are their flexible spine, semi retractible claws, enlarged nasal cavities and lungs.

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Many people mistake a leopard or jaguar for a cheetah.  However, the cheetah has a distinguishable face by their tear marks that run down their face from their eyes.  These two black stripes are the only stripes on a cheetah’s body and help refract the sunlight out of their eyes, allowing them to hunt during the morning and evening hours.  Another way to tell a cheetah apart from other cats are by their spots.  A cheetah has 2 – 3 thousand solid black spots on their bodies. These spots are to help camouflage them into their environment and to help cool them off after a run.

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Carnivore Enrichment

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

To enrich means “to improve or enhance the quality or value of.” Therefore, at Wildlife Safari and similar facilities, enrichment can be defined as anything that enhances the daily lives of the animals living there. Enrichment comes in many forms: it can be a special treat, something different from an animal’s usual diet, or it can be a toy, a scent, a sound, or something for visual use. It all depends on the general interests of the targeted species and particular individuals of that species.

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One of our year old cheetah cubs enjoys foraging for meat chunks hidden inside a paper mache’ toy for their birthday.

Food-based Enrichment

           Our carnivores often receive special treats as enrichment. The bears receive fruit, biscuits, nuts, and other treats throughout each day except for the months when they are in hibernation and the weeks leading up to hibernation. Sometimes, we make them popsicles using crushed berries and water. Our big cats occasionally enjoy bloodsicles as something different and refreshing, especially on a hot day.

Claire

Claire, one of our Alaskan brown bears, chilling out with a berry popsicle.

Toys

             Large, heavy-duty plastic barrels and balls are a popular toy for our carnivores. They also enjoy logs and boxes, both of which can be used to hide treats in or be sprayed with scents. Our big cats especially love the smell of strong perfume or cologne; they will rub themselves all over something that has been sprayed with a scent! Our 2 year old lion “cubs” have a large rope that is used for tug-of-war sessions against keepers and interns. As soon as it is ready for them, they playfully run over and get to work, using their teeth and paws to tug on it! Shredded paper is also a favorite of our big cats. It is fun to watch them roll around in, though less fun to clean up.

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Large blue barrels like this one are often used to increase foraging time for our black bears. We like to hide some of their food inside them!

Natural Enrichment

       Our brown bears have access to built-in ponds in their outdoor enclosures, simulating nature. You can even catch Mak and Oso, our Grizzly bear boys, wrestling in the water when it’s hot outside! In October, we like to give pumpkins to bite, scratch, and play with. Our lions, tigers, and cheetahs enjoy receiving giraffe sand taken from the giraffe barn. It may sound gross to humans, but just like a nice perfume, they like to rub themselves all over the stuff; it is like catnip to them!

Disappearing Stripes

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Illegal poaching is a direct cause of decreasing population size for multiple animal species. One of the main reasons for poaching is due to a variety of animals having what is called high “market value.” This is when a species has value as an item and there is, in turn, a high market demand for a supply of these “exotic” animal parts. The demand for animal parts can be anything from elephant ivory to a lion’s pelt.

Here at Wildlife Safari, we have two Sumatran Tigers named Riya and Kemala. These girls and their conspecifics (members of the same species) are listed as critically endangered under The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with fewer than 400 remaining individuals in the wild. All sub-species of tigers and other cats such as lions and leopards are sought after and exploited due to the increasing market for valuables such as their fur, teeth, bones, organs, as well as being continually hunted because they are considered “trophies.”

Riya enjoying her afternoon

Kemala enjoying the cooler weather

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Wildlife Fund conducted a study on population viability of Sumatran Tigers and found that close to 80% of wild tiger deaths within the past few decades have been due to an increase in poaching because of a high market demand for tiger parts with an increasing portion of deaths stemming from a recent trend of palm oil production (“Sumatran Tiger”, n.d.). Harvesting palm oil can be such a destructive process to natural ecosystems and is often an unsustainable practice; this can severely hinder wild tiger population growth and cause isolated patches of habitat and even complete habitat loss. Tigers need large patches of territory because they are solitary animals, but the palm oil industry has been wreaking havoc on the surrounding ecosystem leading to increased competition for dwindling resources among tigers. This trend of habitat loss decreases genetic diversity and causes a higher probability of inbreeding amongst genetically similar tigers which makes it difficult to increase healthy wild tiger populations.

Conservation is an effort made by multiple disciplines that work together to bring the best in research, education, and management. Here at Wildlife Safari, we adhere to this sentiment with great pride. Wildlife Safari is a non-profit organization as well as being an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institute. Through the AZA, we work with multiple other programs, such as the SSP (Species Survival Plan), to pair genetically diverse animals to create successful breeding initiatives for healthy captive populations. Wildlife Safari is currently working on a Sumatran Tiger breeding program to increase the captive population genetics of Sumatran Tigers. Lastly, one dollar from any encounter that you partake at Wildlife Safari goes to support one of three conservation campaigns we are partnered with this year: International Elephant Foundation, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, and finally, Tiger Conservation Campaign! We thank you for your donations and your continuous support. Riya, Kemala and all the animals here at Wildlife Safari also thank you for giving them a voice to be heard!

Kemala posing for a photo

“Sumatran Tiger.” World Wildlife Fund. n.d. Retrieved from

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sumatran-tiger

“Can I Pet It?”

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community, Uncategorized

This question is asked daily to our Cheetah and Carnivore keepers.  Children and adults alike ask it, some with hesitation, and others with excitement.  However, the answer is always the same: “You may not pet the animals.”

“Why am I not allowed to pet the animals but you are?”

In reference to the lions, tigers, and bears: they have large teeth and claws making it dangerous to touch the animals.  Keepers practice “protected contact” with these animals, meaning there is a barrier between us (the keeper) and them (the animal) at all times.

In regards to the cheetahs, we are “free contact,” meaning that we can go in with these wild animals.  We are able to do this because cheetahs run away from danger instead of challenging danger.  However, the only cheetahs you will see the Cheetah and Carnivore keepers petting are our hand raised ambassadors.  This is to help strengthen the bond between keeper and cat since the ambassadors must be comfortable with them.

“I have been to a place where the keepers go in with their lions, tigers, and bears.”

Places that do not have protected contact with their large carnivores are unaccredited institutions.  Wildlife Safari is accredited through AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) which is designed to hold zoos and aquariums to the highest standard of animal care, safety of the animals, guests, and staff.

“My friend got to hold a cub when she was at another zoo.”

This is an example of unaccredited institutions using people’s love for animals to their gain.  Cubs can be adorable and it is overwhelming for us to touch and cuddle them.  However, these cubs are taken from their mother at a young age which stresses both mother and cub.  These cubs are then held for up to 12 hours a day during their time of crucial development.  After these cubs get too large to be held they are sold to private owners, hunt ranches, or onto the black market. Some of these cubs end up at certified sanctuaries but will not make their way into accredited facilities because most cubs are mixes of multiple subspecies.  Accredited facilities are unable to accept mixed subspecies to be apart of the captive breeding population.

It is tempting to want to pet wild animals that are cute and rare.  However, in the case of large carnivores, it is simply not a good idea for the animal or human.  Instead, try transferring those affections to your domestic doggie or kitty at home or donating to reputable conservation organizations.

 

Opening of Our Tiger Oasis

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Uncategorized

 

Wildlife Safari is proud to announce the unveiling of our new Tiger Oasis expansion!  This project allowed the remodeling of our tiger huts, current tiger enclosures, and the addition of a new enclosure.  The Tiger Oasis will allow Wildlife Safari to become a Sumatran tiger breeding facility through AZA and the SSP (Species Survival Plan).

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Room 5 tigers

Why will this new breeding program be important?

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered with less than 400 in the wild.  Their main threats are deforestation, mainly from palm oil plantations, and poaching.  The oil palm industry grows at about 9% per year with 80% of all palm oil coming out of Indonesia and Malaysia (where the Island of Sumatra resides).  Sadly, only about 10-15% of this palm oil is sustainable; meaning that it does not affect the tiger’s survival.

Riya & Mala

Our new breeding program will allow the captive population of Sumatran tigers to become genetically diverse and prevent inbreeding from occurring.  This new expansion will also aid in us keepers providing better health check-ups and educate the public on the plights that these animals face every day.

Mistaken Identity: Brown bear or black bear?

Carnivores, Uncategorized

How can you tell a black bear from a brown bear? Well, it may not be as easy as you think. In fact, both species of bears can range in color from deep black to blonde! Brown bears are typically larger than black bears, but again there is variation in size across subspecies. The best way to tell apart the two species of bear is to look at the anatomy of their shoulders and claws.

Brown bear

Brown bears are diggers, so they have powerful muscles between their shoulders forming a large, prominent hump. They also have 4-6 inch long curved claws that are dulled to help them forage and dig dens for hibernation.

Black bears, on the other hand, are climbers. They do not need the excessive shoulder muscle or long claws. They have shorter and sharper claws for climbing trees in which they use to forage above the forest floor, and will often hibernate up in the trees as well.

Black bear

Black bear

Carnivore Foot Care

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

The most important part of a Keeper’s job is making sure the animals are happy and healthy. One of the things we look for every day is the health of their feet!

Everyday, the carnivore Keepers at Wildlife Safari will get a good look at paws to make sure everyone has beautiful feet.

We look for any peeling, abrasions or cuts and if we need to we can disinfect them. We do this through their training – if they show us their paws in exchange for a treat its a very low stress check up!

 

One of our female lions showing her “sit up” behaviour

While we check this through the fence with our larger carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears, we can get much more hands on with our ambassador cheetahs. These guys will hand keepers their paw so we can not only visually check, but also feel for anything sore or tender.

Khayam the cheetah gives his keeper his paw during a training session

Keepers will also regularly put moisturizing oil on the floor of the huts where the animals sleep at night. As they walk through, this oil helps paw pads stay supple and healthy.

If keepers notice anyone with dry paw pads, they will increase how often this moisturizing oil is used. This helps our animals’ feet to stay healthy in all weather!

 

                                      

Don’t Feed the Bears!

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Nearly everyone is familiar with the warning: “don’t feed the bears.” Signs with this message are posted around popular hiking grounds, state parks, and campsites with the hopes to inform people of the dangers of feeding wild bears.

The biggest problem that arises when people feed wild bears is that the bears become accustomed to human food and human contact, which can lead to them being classified as “problem bears” by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The exact specifications of a “problem bear” can vary from state-to-state, but the repercussions are the same nearly everywhere.

“Problem bears” are typically black or brown bears that have come in contact with people roughly three times, and if they are determined a threat to public safety they may be legally euthanized or relocated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. When this does occur, the department is not always aware of cubs that the bear may have had, which often leaves them orphaned to fend for themselves. But if these cubs are found and discovered unfit to be re-released into the wild, zoos will often take them in and give them a second chance.

Wildlife Safari is dedicated to helping bears that needed a second chance, and is currently home to seven bears: two grizzly bears- Mak and Oso; two Alaskan coastal bears- Claire and Russell; and three black bears- Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna.

(Left to right: Black bear Takoda, Alaskan Coastal brown bear Claire and Grizzly bear Mak)

All seven of our bears live very comfortable, enriched lives at Wildlife Safari. They receive daily enrichment in the form of food to forage for throughout the day, ice treats on hot days, toys in huts, climbing structures, and pools/ponds to swim in- just to name a few.

(Bear climbing structure; black bear Chochmo enjoying a popsicle)

Unlike the cheetah breeding program that Wildlife Safari is best known for, we do not have a breeding program in place for our bears. Since black and brown bears are not endangered or vulnerable to extinction in the wild, breeding bears in captivity would be simply adding to the problem. So rather than bringing more bears into the world, we prefer to provide a home for bears in need. Every visit you make to Wildlife Safari helps support our bears by helping us give them the second chance that they all deserve!

Always remember to keep all food properly stored whether you are camping, or at home, and please do not feed the bears!

 

Night and Day Predators

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Night Hunters

Lions and tigers are both night hunters. A good way to tell how if they are night or day hunters is by their eyes.

Upepo the Lion – Photo courtesy of Melissa Moon

When looking at lions, you can see that they have white under their eyes, and so do tigers.The reason for this is to improve their night vision. The moonlight reflects off the white and in to their eyes so that they can see better in the dark.

Riya the Sumatran tiger – Photo courtesy of Melissa Moon

Day Hunters

Unlike the lions and the tigers, cheetahs actually hunt during the day. You can tell the same way you would for lions and tigers: looking at their eyes. Instead of having white under their eyes, cheetahs have those infamous black stripes down their face. Those stripes actually help them see during the day. The black does the opposite of what the white would do, actually absorbing the sun’s rays, so it won’t reflect in their eyes and make it hard to see.

Mchumba showing off her stripes – Photo courtesy of Melissa Moon

There’s always an exception…

One of the wild cats though is an anomaly. The cougar doesn’t hunt only during the day or only during the night. The cougar on the other hand hunts whenever, whether it is night time or day time. They don’t have a dominant color under theirs eyes like the cheetahs, lions or tigers do.

Johnny the cougar – Photo courtesy of Jessica Ludquist

While you can see these tell-tale signs from pictures, it’s much more fun to see in person! Come visit our lions, tigers and cougars next time you’re at Wildlife Safari!