Know Your Spots

Carnivores, Uncategorized

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

 

Cheetah

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

Leopards

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

 

Jaguars

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

 

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Is it a brown bear or it is a grizzly?

Carnivores

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

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

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Russell, our resident Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear!

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in The Life of a Zookeeper

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

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

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

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Our 6 year old lioness, Mati

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

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

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

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Keepers weighing our one year old cheetahs

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

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

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One of our keepers training our female tiger Riya

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

Learning from History: How We Can Help Tigers Today

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is home to two 5-year-old Sumatran tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala. Sumatran tigers are currently one of the most endangered tiger subspecies in the world.  There are less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in their native habitat, the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.  Two other islands in Indonesia were also previously home to tigers, the Javan and the Balinese, but those two subspecies are now extinct.

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Before the 1900s, there were nine subspecies of tigers: the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, Javan, Siberian, Balinese, Sumatran, Malayan, and the Caspian.  There are now 6, as the Caspian tiger has gone extinct along with the Javan and the Balinese subspecies. These three subspecies have been driven to extinction in the last 100 years, showing how rapidly the populations of tigers can decline. Hunting, habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat, and loss of prey are the main causes of extinction among tigers.

In Sumatra, the main struggles the native tigers face are habitat loss and fragmentation due to palm oil production, and poaching by hunters who value them for their furs and other parts of their bodies.  Unfortunately, there is a high demand in Chinese medicine where their eyes, bones, teeth, and whiskers are seen as having healing properties.  Laws and regulations are in place for poaching, but unfortunately, poachers are still able to hunt endangered species regardless of them.  Palm oil is used in a wide variety of different products such as makeup, food, soaps, detergents, and biofuel.  The majority of palm oil is harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia, and much of it is not harvested using sustainable sources.  As a result, the habitats of the Sumatran and Malaysian tigers are being broken up and are shrinking down as palm oil production increases.

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Fortunately, tigers have many organizations and individuals willing to aid them in their continued survival.  There is a lot people can do to help out tiger conservation! Supporting conservation efforts through donations, “adopting” a tiger, or even volunteering your time will help those that are trying to directly impact the conservation of tigers.  Learning more about how to purchase products that are made with sustainable sources of palm oil (or that don’t use palm oil at all) can help reduce the impact that palm oil plantations are having on tiger habitats in Southeast Asia.  Lastly, educating others about the status of tiger subspecies, conservation efforts, and how they can assist will help spread the word and hopefully inspire others to get involved!

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It’s a Winter Wonderland

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community, Uncategorized

This winter season we had some fun events going on like Zoo Lights and Photos With Santa with a guest appearance from one of our cheetah ambassadors, Khayam and Mchumba!

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Guests had lots of fun walking through our spectacular holiday light show throughout our village, all synched to the playing music.  They also got to enjoy a show in the theater put on by the Village staff and hear a bit about cheetahs with Khayam and Mchumba with our Cheetah/Carnivore staff!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.