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

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“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).

tiger yard 1

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!

Hunting How-To: Animal Hunting Styles

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Lions

Lions are nocturnal animals so they generally hunt at night. Most of the foods they consume include wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, waterbuck, warthogs, and in riskier instances, giraffes and buffalo. Lions will stalk prey from a very close distance during the day and then wait until after dark to strike. Although they have reputations as apex predators, there are some deficiencies in their hunting tactics. Due to their reliance on eyesight, they often inadvertently reveal their hiding spot because they peak their head out to monitor the movement of their prey. They also do not pay attention to the direction of winds so their scent is easily detected. Finally, they can only get up to 50 mph, which is much slower than their prey.

Despite these hunting deficiencies, lions remain successful hunters because of the numerous prey in the area and the fact that lions hunt in groups. A lion only eats about 25 to 30 animals per year and their prey is highly abundant so they have plenty of options to choose from. Lions are the only cats that hunt in a group, which is the main reason why they are able to take down larger prey. They close in on their prey as a group and attack from the rear or side. The final kill is made by crushing their prey’s windpipe leading to asphyxiation or rupturing major arteries in the neck. The female lions do most of the hunting in prides but they only eat after the adult males, then its the cubs turn. Each lion consumes about 40 pounds of meat in one sitting and over the next couple days they will rest and recuperate to repeat the hunting process all over again.

Some of our lion cubs enjoying a rib cage together – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Tigers

As nocturnal animals, tigers mainly rely on their vision to help stalk their prey. Unlike cheetahs and lions, they mostly live in habitats that have a lot of vegetation making camouflage with their surroundings more effective. Tigers generally hunt alone and will silently stalk their prey nearby for a very long time. Once close enough, they will pounce and either snap their victim’s spinal cord or grab their throat, which contains essential arteries. Tigers are able to reach speeds of 30 to 50 mph and can jump 30 feet horizontally, which also helps them take down their prey. They will then drag their meal to an isolated area and will often hide the remnants to finish the next day.

A tiger can eat one fifth of its body weight in 24 hours and over a year they average 50 deer-sized meals. In terms of what they eat, tigers like to consume many different species, which vary depending on the region the tiger inhabits. Overall, their prey consist of moose, pigs, cows, horses, buffalo, goats, deer species, and occasionally tapirs, elephants, rhinoceros calves, small bear species, leopards, and wild dogs. Unlike other cats, tigers are great swimmers and occasionally they will hunt in the water and catch animals like fish and crocodiles.

 

Kemala the Sumatran Tiger showing off her exceptional jaw strength – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Cheetahs

Cheetahs are the only big cats that are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. They are also solitary animals so they hunt alone, however in some instances a few males will hunt together forming coalitions. Due to the fact that cheetahs don’t have the cover of night to hide them like most predators, they have had to adapt very unique hunting techniques. Cheetahs have binocular vision that allows them to see up to three miles away very clearly and spot prey long before their prey can see them. On top of their incredible sight, cheetahs also utilize stealth and camouflage when approaching their target. They will use the tactics of any good hunter such as moving low in tall grasses, approaching from downwind to conceal their scent, and using natural rises in the land like hills or termite mounds to hide behind.

Despite using all of these precautions, hunting remains a challenge because their prey live in herds, meaning they are constantly on watch for any potential danger. A cheetah’s diet generally consists of smaller hoofed animals like wildebeest, gazelles, and impalas. Although the cheetahs are excellent hunters, their greatest advantage in capturing prey is their speed. Cheetahs can run up to 70 mph, but they are only able to run at this speed for about 20-30 seconds. Since they are only able to run at fast speeds for around 500 meters, they must position themselves as close as possible to their prey before attacking. This is why it is essential for cheetahs to have both speed and superior camouflage. Cheetahs are successful in killing their prey 1 out of 10 tries, however most of the time their meal gets taken away by larger carnivores like lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards. They might be predators, but they know when to walk away from a fight. An injury could be life threatening, so they are better off giving up their meal and trying again.

 

Mchumba licking up every bit of her mid-day snack – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Bears

Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty animals, the majority of a bear’s diet is actually herbivorous. Bears are generally omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of meats and plants. The two most common bears in North America are the black bear and brown bears. Although, black bears are not as well equipped as brown bears to dig, 85% of a black bears’ diet consists of vegetation including grasses, roots, berries, acorns, nuts, grass and other plants. Furthermore, they receive most of their protein from insects, especially bees. The idea that bears like honey actually originated from the fact that bears enjoy feeding on bee larvae because of the high nutritional value. In addition to insects and vegetation, some black bears will catch salmon, trout, suckers, and catfish depending on the availability in their habitat.

 

Donna enjoying the sunshine and waiting to get fed – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

  Brown bears, on the other hand, are excellent diggers so almost 90% of their diet comes from vegetation. They eat a variety of plant life such as berries, grasses, flowers, acorns, nuts, pine cones, as well as mosses, fungi, and mushrooms. Similarly to black bears, brown bears feed on insects and most will get half of their yearly calories from moths alone. Brown bears also feed on fish more often than black bears, which is why they are a larger species. Despite the fact that both species mostly consume plant life, they still get some of their calories from meat. Although they are capable of and in rare cases do hunt, bears actually prefer to scavenge off other animals’ kills. Why catch your own when someone else has already done the work? In more recent years, as urban development has expanded, bears have been also using human-created food sources as a reliable meal, which has become dangerous to both parties. 

Mak eating his daily dose of greens while helping us with landscaping – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Bear Island

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Through the week of spring break Wildlife Safari has been offering $5 feed-me cups so guests can feed the bears! The bears love their new enrichment, it’s a fun interaction for them and they are always keen for snacks. It is also a wonderful way for visitors to connect with the animals, which is what we’re all about here at Safari!

Claire, our Alaskan Coastal brown bear foraging for snacks

Now before you worry about our bears’ waist-lines, you should know these snacks are a carefully considered part of their diet. We keep track of how many calories they are consuming every day so we can keep them nice and healthy!

To our Grizzly boys, snack time is the best time – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

On days when they are not getting snack cups, keepers will go out at intervals through the day and throw snacks into their enclosure. This grazing through the day helps us to mimic the natural foraging behavior of wild bears, so we spread their snacks over their enclosure so they can sniff them out!

Russell, another Alaskan Coastal brown bear, takes a quick snooze

This experience is now available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm. So if you haven’t met our bears, now is an excellent time!

Nature or Nurture?

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Innate vs Learned Behaviors

In any discussion of animal behavior arises the question of nature or nurture. Some behaviors are built into an animal’s instincts – they never need to learn them, they just come naturally. Instinctual, or innate behavior, is defined as “behaviors that occur naturally in all members of a species whenever they are exposed to a certain stimulus.”

Other behaviors have to be learned for an animal to exhibit them (or at least, exhibit them successfully) – they’ll usually be taught these by their mothers. Learned behavior is defined as a behavior which “an organism develops as a result of experience.”

For example, cheetahs do not have to be taught how to hiss, it is an instinctual behavior. On the other hand, while bears are often known for their fishing ability, this is actual something their mother needs to teach them.

So now let’s put you to the test… How well are you able to tell which behaviors are instinctual and which are learned?

Do bears learn to hibernate or are they born knowing how?

img_7015

Russel, an Alaskan Coastal brown bear, snuggled up during hibernation – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: It’s a learned behavior!

For a bear to be able to go through hibernation, they have to be taught by their mothers. Bears in the wild receive cues from the environment such as the changing of light, temperature and food availability to help signal the time to hibernate. If all the bears needed were the cues from the environment, then all bears in captivity would be able to hibernate, but that’s not the case. Because hibernation, or torpor, is learned, captive bears are often unable to hibernate because they were orphaned as cubs; they didn’t get to learn how to hibernate from their moms.  Our brown bear boys Mak and Oso are a great example of two cubs who weren’t able to learn how to hibernate before becoming orphaned. Fortunately for them, our brown bear girls, Claire and Russel, were able to learn before being orphaned and they have been able to help show Mak and Oso how it is done… and it only took three winters.

Are lions born hunters or do they have to learn to hunt?

Wildlife Safari's Lion pride playing outside - photo courtesy of Cori

Wildlife Safari’s Lion pride playing outside – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: Lions have to learn to hunt!

Lions hit maturity at the age of two and from birth to the age of two, cubs are learning all they need to know to survive. They are born with the instinct to pounce but the actual act of killing and eating of prey is learned from the pride. We are often asked if we give live prey to our captive lions. The answer is no for a couple of reasons

  • It’s not much fun for the prey animal- we’re all animal lovers here and we never want to see an animal stressed.
  • The lions were not taught what to do with the live prey – they may never get to eat if they had to catch it!

Although it seems natural for them, if we put a live animal in with the lions they would pounce and play with it like a toy and because they are large animals, they may actually kill the prey. That being said, there is no guarantee of what would happen with the introduction of live prey because our lions weren’t taught to kill and then consume.

Last question!

Do cheetahs have to learn to to run?

One of Wildlife Safaris ambassador cheetahs out on a walk - photo courtesy of Cori

One of Wildlife Safaris ambassador cheetahs out on a walk – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: It’s instinctual!

Cheetah’s, just like humans and many other animals, are born with the instinct to sleep, to walk, and to run. They don’t need to learn this from a parent. An orphaned cheetah in the wild, or a human raised cheetah cub in captivity will automatically do these things. At Wildlife Safari we have our very own hand-raised cheetah ambassadors: Pancake, Khayam, and Mchumba. We love taking them for walks!