All about Bears!

Carnivores

 

Wildlife Safari has 4 brown bears; Mak, Oso, Russell, and Claire. While all these bears are apart of the brown bear species, they are actually distinct subspecies; Mak and Oso are grizzly bears, where as Russell and Claire are Alaskan coastal brown bears. In total, there are 8 sub-species of brown bear and they are the most widely distributed of all bears species. They can be found in tundra, forests, mountain ranges, or coastlines depending on the subspecies. They range throughout North America and Northern Eurasia, including Russia, central Asia, China, Canada, the United States, and Scandinavia. Historically the grizzly’s bear range covered much of North America from the mid-plains westward to California and from central Mexico north throughout Alaska and Canada. However, currently, only 1% of grizzly bears original range in the contiguous United States remains. In fact, 95% of the brown bear population in the United States can be found in Alaska.

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Russell and Claire during Party at Bear Island

 We also have 3 American black bears at the park, Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna. Unlike brown bears, black bears are only found in North America, and they are the continent’s smallest and most widely-distributed bear species. Currently, American black bears can be found throughout forested mountainous areas from the Appalachian Mountains in the east; to the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Cascades to the west; south to Mexico; and all the way north throughout Canada and Alaska; and many places in between. Despite being named “brown bears” and “black bears,” color is never an indicator of either species. Both species can range from almost white, to blonde, to pure black, and many color phases in between depending on age, sex, and even the season. Even our black bears don’t look alike; Takoda is referred to as a Cinnamon black bear because he has a reddish-brown coat of fur, reminiscent of the spice–hence the name. Generally, black bears can be distinguished from brown bears by their smaller size, their less concave skull profiles, shorter claws, and the lack of a shoulder hump.

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Chochmo: one of our North America black bears takes a swim!

Brown and black bears are omnivorous animals and will eat almost anything. In fact, brown bears are one of the most omnivorous animals in the world and have been recorded consuming the greatest variety of foods of any bear. However, both bears’ diets are extremely variable throughout the year and depend on the season, area, and on opportunity. The vast majority of their diet– as much as 80%!–consists of vegetation, such as roots, grasses, and fruits. At Wildlife Safari, apples are a favorite among our brown bears. Despite their large sizes, both bears will eat insects and grubs when they can get them. For example, brown bears in Yellowstone eat an enormous number of army cutworm moths during the summer, sometimes consuming as many as 40,000 moths in a single day! And they can get up to half of their annual caloric intake from these insects. When available, brown and black bears will also feast on spawning trout and salmon. Most bears don’t actively hunt, but will scavenge off dead animals or prey killed by other predators.

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Oso enjoying a section of ribcage

It is a common misconception that bears hibernate during winter. While bears do slow down their metabolism during the winter, they are not true hibernators. Black and brown bears go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor. During true hibernation, the animals will not wake up when they hear a loud noise or even if they are moved or touched. While in torpor, the animal can wake up quickly and easily. During true hibernation, the animal has a low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate. During the bear’s torpor, their breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate are low, but their body temperature remains relatively high. Animals undergo torpor, or hibernation, as a way to to conserve energy, survive when food is scarce, and minimize their need to face the elements in the cold winter months. To prepare for hibernation, bears need to eat a lot during the fall to store up body fat. During the months before torpor, bears undergo hyperphagia and can eat up to 90 pounds of food every day, and put on up to 3 pounds of weight each day. Bears can weight twice as much before hibernation as it will in the spring. And but the time torpor is over, bears can lose 15-20% of their body weight.

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Claire during the hibernating bear encounter (offered during winter months)

Mak, Oso, Claire, Russell, Takoda, Chcochmo, and Donna are intelligent, curious, charismatic, lovable animals–not just animals that deserve caution when hiking.

 

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Polar Bear-Grizzly Bear Hybrids

Carnivores

The cross breeding of species to create hybrids has been done throughout human history. In recent years, however, hybrids have been popping up in the wild with no direct human influence. A hybrid is two individuals of different species brought together while under human care to create an offspring that is a mix of both parents. Some of the commonly known hybrids are the mule, a cross between a horse and donkey, and the liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. These are species who are either domestic animals or whose home ranges are far apart and would never interact without human intervention. 

In recent years, wild hybrids have been found. These hybrids were not created in human captivity and have attracted both the public and scientific interest. One of these wild born hybrids caught the public interest in 2006 when a hunter shot what he assumed was a polar bear in Banks Harbor, Canada. This bear had the creamy fur coloring found on polar bears. A closer inspection of the bear revealed the bear had features of a grizzly bear, including the hump on the back, long claws, and a grizzly bear head shape. 

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Polar-grizzly hybrid

 

DNA samples were sent in to investigate. The bear was found to be a first generation hybrid, with a polar bear mother and a grizzly bear father. Before this case, it was known that these two species could hybridize as they had done so in captivity. This bear became the first documented case of a polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild. Since the discovery of this bear, 8 other bears have been found to be hybrids. Of these 8 bears, 4 are first generation hybrids and 4 are the offspring of a hybrid and a grizzly bear. 

What does this mean for the two species? 

The hybridization of these two species could mean one of two things for these species. First, is that this is a random occurrences.The second is that this is the foretelling of a breakdown of species barriers and mating between these species will become commonplace. 

Both are possible outcomes and only time will tell which will be the true outcome. Both of these results have occurred in the wild. With the first, the hybrids are not as successful at surviving in their range as their parent species. The hybrids still pop up in the wild but due to the hybridization lack something that is essential to their survival in the wild.

For breakdown of species barriers the offspring are for one reason or another more successful at surviving in their home range than either of their parents. For this to occur the offspring must be able to produce offspring of their own. It is unusually for hybrids to be able to reproduce but there are cases where they do so successfully. Since second generation hybrids have been found in the wild, we know that the polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids are able to reproduce. This could result in genetic material entering the population that has a negative impact on the population.

These two species also only split on the evolutionary tree a mere 150,000 years ago. So their genetic material is very similar and the males will be attracted to females of both species. The hybridization between these two bears has the potential to lead to the creation of a new species of bears. So even as the parent species dies of there is the creation of  a new species. Either way there is much we can learn from the hybrid offspring of these bears.

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Cheetah Vet Check Up!

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

The Wildlife Safari Cheetah and Carnivore teams does a lot to make sure our animals are healthy on a regular basis. One of the things we do with our animals is voluntary health check ups. With our lions, tigers, and bears this is easiest to see with the training behaviors we do. We look at the pads of their feet, their bellies and even get up close to see their teeth! One health check up that we do with our cheetahs is voluntary x-rays.

Voluntary x-rays are very important to our team and the cheetahs we work with for a variety of reasons. The first reason is seeing if one of our cheetahs is pregnant. We are the number one breeding facility for cheetahs in the United States, having 214 cubs so far! One of the reasons we have been so successful with breeding cheetahs at the park is through voluntary x-ray training with our females. We are able to determine if they are pregnant around day 56 of a 91 day pregnancy! This helps us better prepared for litters.

 

We also work on voluntary x-rays with our hand-raised ambassador cheetahs. Khayam and Mchumba, our 7-year old ambassadors are just learning this skill. When they were younger, mobile x-ray machines were harder to use than the one we have now! Khayam is very nervous around the machine so we are working to desensitize, or get him used to the machine. Cheetahs don’t have great vision so we are actually able to use cardboard boxes in place of the x-ray machine until he gets more comfortable.

 

Khayam Jr, or KJ, is only 7 months old and we just started his voluntary x-ray training. He was a total pro from the beginning! We will continue to practice with him so ensure that he is fine with it in the future as well. With the voluntary x-ray training, we are able to take x-rays of our cheetahs if we notice them acting different without going through an anesthesia procedure, which are stressful on them. We hope that in the future the majority of our cheetahs will be able to go through the voluntary x-ray training!  

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KJ, the 7 month old ambassador, doing his first x-ray practice.

Birthday Parties and Easter Fun

Ambassador Days, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community

This week was a fun and eventful weekend for the carnivores here at the park. On Friday, our two tiger girls, Riya and Kemala turned 7! We celebrated with the girls by giving them one of their favorite summer treats, blood popsicles. They even got some fun birthday decorations with some of their favorite meat snacks hidden inside.

On Saturday, our two ambassador cheetahs, Khayam and Mchumba celebrated their 7th birthday with tons of guests and their keepers. Our wonderful docents provided a cat friendly birthday cake (which they loved) and tons of fun paper mâché (all safe for the animals) and birthday decorations to play with. We shared the love with some of the other cheetahs, including KJ and Rhino.

On Sunday, we celebrated Easter with all our animals by providing Easter baskets, made by our docents, and giants Easter eggs filled with snacks. Check out some pictures of our animals enjoying their enrichment! And a special thank you to all our wonderful volunteers who created all these specials treats and enrichment.

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Meet Dumai

Carnivores, Creature Feature

Say hello to Wildlife Safari’s newest Sumatran Tiger, Dumai. Dumai came to us in January from Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. He was born and raised at PDZ and stole many hearts there over the last six years. Dumai is such a great new addition to our team and we are very excited to have him.  He is such a loveable guy and very easy going.

He was brought to us as part of the Species Survival Plan (also known as the SSP). He was recommended as a mate for our two female Sumatran tigers, Riya and Kemala. What is the SSP? It is basically like match.com for endangered or vulnerable species. This programs has each individual’s genetics on file and pairs them with a match that will produce the most unique genetics. This prevents any in breeding or one male or female from producing all the offspring. This is helping save wild populations. The Sumatran tiger is one of the most endangered living species of tigers. They only live on the island of Sumatra and are facing many challenges. One of these challenges is small population size, in turn leading to in breeding. This leads to many other health concerns. Zoos can help save this species by having a backup genetic pool. By making sure our population is healthy and diverse, the goal is we can possibly AI females in the wild with our genetics in order to prevent more inbreeding from happening, which will help keep the wild population healthy. Come see Dumai and our two females in the cheetah drive through.

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Snow Zone!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Elephants, Ungulates


This past week, Wildlife Safari was transformed into a winter wonderland when the park experienced the most snow in recent history. Although the park had to close for the time, the animals sure had fun experiencing some snow and enjoying extra browse from fallen trees. Animals that are more sensitive to cold temperatures were not left out for the full day, only in short segments in order for keepers to clean inside holdings and for them to enjoy the snow. All animals in the park have access to heat lamps and covered shelter if needed. Even our smallest cheetah and dog duo got to pop outside for a few minutes to experience their first snowfall! The park is working hard to clear snow and any debris and getting ready to reopen the park!


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

 

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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