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!

 

                                      

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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!

Growing Fast!

Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s recent littler of cheetah cubs are 6 months old! While to their keepers it feels like only yesterday they arrived on the scene, they are now 6 months old, around 35 lbs and eating the same amount of meat as their mother.

Cheetah cubs eating dinner – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

Even little Kiume, the foster cub from another litter, is fast catching up to the others. Although he is 3 weeks younger than his adopted siblings, he is the most curious and adventurous of the bunch.

Curious little cubs – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

They are little bundles of energy, they love playing together and watching people go by. All that play is exhausting though, and they can often be found all in a pile on top of mom while they rest.

Moonfire and her cubs, Clark 2, David, Rebel, Jezabelle and Kiume

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?

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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!

Training for Healthy Bodies and Minds

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

People tend to think that training involves ridding an animal of its natural instincts in order to tame it. In fact, our training is just the opposite. Animal training at Wildlife Safari is not used for the sole purpose of public entertainment. Our training actually reinforces natural behaviors and is used to evaluate and maintain the health of our animals.

Daily observations of our animals allow us to assess their health status. It is generally easy to tell if an animal is not feeling 100%, but it is not as easy to identify the source of the problem. Some parts of the animal’s body are difficult to see with just passive observation. For example, it is hard to see inside of a bear’s mouth, or to inspect a lion’s paw pads. This is where training becomes extremely valuable.

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A keeper training one of our female lions

Keepers can check for injuries on the bellies of lions during training sessions.

We can ask for a variety of behaviors that allow us to see parts of the animal’s body that are usually difficult to evaluate, such as the animal’s mouth, paw pads, and belly. For example, the lions and tigers are trained to put their paws up on the fence, allowing keepers to inspect the paw pads for any sign of injury or infection. Our ambassador cheetahs can also show us their paw pads, but the behavior is more similar to asking a dog to shake.”

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

With the cheetahs we can both look at and feel their pads to check for scrapes or other damage. The specific behavior we ask for varies slightly depending on the animal species, but the purpose is the same.

The lions, tigers, bears, and cheetahs are also trained to show off their bellies. The lions and tigers will put both paws on the fence, either from a sitting or standing position. The bears will stand on their hind legs. The cheetahs will lay on their sides in the ‘flop’ position, a very natural pose for them. The bears and hippos are also trained to open their mouths (to read more about hippo training, check out Healthy Happy Hippos). We actually discovered that one of our brown bears needed a root canal because he was trained to show us his teeth.

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Keeper Melissa Fox during a Brown Bear training session. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Other behaviors that we ask for are useful for medical procedures such as drawing blood or putting an animal under anesthesia. Sometimes our animals do get sick and we need to run tests on them, but we want to minimize the stress that this puts on them. To do this, we work with them to simulate medical procedures. For example, we are currently working with our lions to approach the fence and allow keepers to gently poke their thigh. This imitates the feeling of a needle. If we ever had to put the lion under anesthesia, we could inject the anesthetics by hand. They would approach the fence as they usually would, get poked, and that time they would happen to fall asleep. This limits stress because the process is very familiar to them. We are also working on blood draw training with many of our big cats. For a test as simple as a blood draw, we want to limit stress and avoid putting the animal under anesthesia.

With our ambassador cheetahs we can simply shave a small patch at the base of their tail and draw blood from there. It takes a little bit of time for them to get used to us touching their tail. But, unlike our ambassador cheetahs, most of our carnivores were not hand-raised and the process is therefore more difficult.

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to "station"

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to “station”

We always work protected contact with our lions, tigers, and bears. This means that there is always a fence between us and them. Keepers cannot simply waltz into the tiger enclosure to draw blood. Because of this, we are training the tigers to approach the fence and allow us to gently pull their tails through the fence so that we can draw blood from their tails while they are still awake. For the bears, we actually draw blood from the arm, but the goal is the same. This training does not happen overnight. There is a process and each animal is in a different stage of the process.

Training these behaviors is just the first step. After the animal has learned the behavior, it is imperative that the behavior is maintained. We reinforce behaviors with an audible click and a food reward. The animals are trained to hold a behavior until they hear a click. Then they get a bite-size snack as a reward for doing the behavior correctly. The clicker is an important tool in training because it allows keepers to stay consistent. If we were to reinforce behaviors with a verbal cue, such as saying “good”, the animals might get confused because each keeper has a different voice and tone. Clickers produce an identical sound, so all keepers are giving the exact same cues to prevent confusion.

Come check out our animal encounters to see training in action!

 

Pancake

Ambassador Days, Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s ambassador cheetah, Pancake, and her companion dog, Dayo, have been together since they were six weeks of age. Pancake was born as a single cub and her mom, like all cheetah mothers, could not produce milk for just one cub. In the wild, cheetahs often abandon small litters because the costs of raising a small litter typically exceed the benefits. Sometimes, a mother will have a small litter and still try to raise them, but the small litter will not stimulate the mother’s milk glands enough to produce milk.

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Wildlife Safari’s youngest Ambassador cheetah, Pancake – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Since Pancake’s mother couldn’t raise her, her keepers stepped in to rescue her. We hand-raised her to become an ambassador for her species. This route is a course of last resort – we will only ever step in and hand raise if it comes down to the life of the cub. One of the chief drawbacks to humans raising a cub is that it cannot acquire the natural instincts its mother would impart upon it. For example, if Pancake were to be introduced to a male cheetah, she would not know what to do. Although hand raising a cub is an incredible and unique experience, it is better in the long run to have a mother-raised cheetah so it can enter the breeding population and diversify the cheetah gene pool.

Dayo, Pancake's companion, looking regal - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Dayo, Pancake’s companion, looking regal – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Still, ambassadors play an invaluable role in allowing the public to develop personal ties to wildlife. Since Pancake is hand-raised and leash trained, we can take her off site to events and outreaches. Cheetahs in the wild are a concept that is hard to envision, but seeing Pancake’s adorable face and hearing her purr makes the plight of her species very real. She performs a special role for cheetah conservation by captivating the public and informing them about cheetahs in the wild.

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Pancake – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Cheetahs are the only large carnivores we have free contact with here at Wildlife Safari. That means we can actually go into the same enclosure with our cheetahs. This is because cheetahs are flight-responsive animals. If anything stresses or scares them, they run away instead of fighting back. With lions, tigers, and bears, there is always a barrier between us and the animal (in what is referred to as “protected contact”).

Cheetah cubs are born just under a pound, and have a mantle that imitates the appearance of a honey badger. Mothers move their cubs every few days and chirp to them in mimicry of birds to ward off predators. Cubs stay with their mom until around age two. Females will then separate to start their own families, while males may live together for the remainder of their lives in what are referred to as “coalitions.”

Pancake and Dayo - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Pancake and Dayo – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

At Wildlife Safari, we are proud to say that we are among the top two cheetah breeding facilities in the world, with over 200 cubs born since we began our mission. Wildlife Safari’s expansive property allows our cheetahs privacy, which is important for this high stress species Enrichment for cheetahs comes from new sights, smells, places, and other cheetahs. We frequently rotate our cheetahs into different enclosures so they can experience these exciting new things.

 

Cheetah Traits

A typical adult cheetah weighs anywhere from 70 to 120 pounds and has a lifespan of 9 years in the wild and 10 to 15 in captivity. We actually had the oldest cheetah on record here at Wildlife Safari that lived to be a whopping 18 years old! At almost age two, Pancake weighs about 50 pounds, and will stay on the lower end of that scale because she was not afforded the benefits of mom’s milk early in life. Dayo, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, was donated to us and chosen to be Pancake’s companion because Ridgebacks typically have body masses and lifespans similar to cheetahs.

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One of Wildlife Safari’s newest cheetah cubs

In the wild, cheetahs can go from 0 to 70 miles per hour in under three seconds. However, they can only run at maximum speed for about 30 seconds, any longer and their body would overheat, causing brain damage. Accordingly, a cheetah’s hunt lasts about a minute. Because cheetahs in captivity do not have to hunt for their food, they lack the muscle capacity to reach 70 mile-per-hour speeds. While Pancake is definitely a fast runner, she could not reach those top speeds – which is good for Dayo, or he’d never be able to keep up!

Cheetahs can produce approximately 30 different vocalizations, some of which can be heard miles away. Most of their sounds mimic small cats or birds, a vocal camouflage. There is a fine line between purring and roaring. Every cat the size of a cheetah or cougar or smaller will purr, and any larger cat will roar. Cats do one or the other, not both.

Everything on a cheetah’s body is built for speed. They don’t have large jaws or muscles like lions and tigers. Cheetahs can run quite fast, but if they are confronted by any predator, they must flee. Any injury means potentially becoming unable to run at top speeds and subsequent starvation.

Unlike lions and tigers, cheetahs hunt during the day. Their distinctive black tear lines help refract the sun’s glare from their eyes. Lions and tigers have white pigmentation under their eyes for attracting moonlight, in order to enhance nocturnal vision. Cheetahs have what is commonly called “binocular vision.” They can see clearly up to three miles away, but if they look at their feet, their vision is blurry.

Mom and cubs eating dinner

Mom and cubs eating dinner

Cheetah’s have adapted perfectly to reaching their top speeds. They have enlarged nasal passageways that allow for more airflow to help maintain high running speed. They have an enlarged heart, lungs, and arteries that help deliver oxygen to muscles. They also have semi-retractable claws that provide traction when they run. Their long tails function as a rudder or counter balance to their body weight, especially when making tight turns. Thomson’s gazelles, the second-fastest land animal and the most common prey of cheetahs, can run 65 miles per hour; they know they are unable to outrun a cheetah. Instead they try to weave and dodge to get away. A cheetah’s tail helps it change directions quickly, without having to stop and regroup, in order to take down a gazelle. Cubs will also follow their mother’s long tail in tall grasses.

They have on average 3,000 “true” spots (i.e., spots which go all the way down to the skin) that help cheetahs hunt prey and hide from predators by blending into their habitats. Cheetahs dissipate heat from their spots, which have longer, less densely packed fur. After reaching top speeds and taking down prey, a cheetah must wait about half an hour for their body temperature to cool down before eating. This results in about half of their kills being stolen by larger predators.

 

Conservation

 

With approximately 10,000 living in the wild today, cheetahs are classified as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Habitat loss, poaching, and hunting largely drive this phenomenon. Cheetah populations are also dwindling in part due to a common, unfortunate misconception. Since cheetahs hunt in the day, they are more visible to farmers that have lost livestock in the night to predation. This predation is usually from lions, because cheetahs are too small to take down livestock and can’t digest fat, so their prey has to be much leaner. Unfortunately, cheetahs will get blamed and hunted for these losses.

Programs in South Africa and Botswana are using dogs and raising them alongside livestock to protect the herd. If a cheetah is near, the dog will bark and scare the cheetah off. This is helping cheetahs stay away from farmlands and helping farmers protect their livestock. These guard dogs strongly bond to the herd and even put their lives in danger to protect the group. This relieves farmers from having to engage wild cheetahs and possibly shooting an endangered species.

Curious cub

Curious cub

As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Wildlife Safari takes part in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) to help breed endangered animals. SSP looks at the genetics of each individual and monitors breeding and placement to enhance species survival. This is especially important for cheetahs because thousands of years ago, a mass extinction event caused populations to be cut off from each other, leading to a ‘genetic bottleneck’. All cheetahs are so genetically similar that there must be careful breeding to have a healthy captive population. The short term plan of SSP is to create a stable captive population as a “backup” if wild populations continue to decline. The SSP long term plan is to research the possibility of releasing captive cheetah genetics back into wild population using artificial insemination.

At Wildlife Safari, we are proud to do our part in helping wild cheetahs. A part of every encounter is donated to help save endangered wild animals. Stop by Wildlife Safari and have your photo taken with Pancake, or sign up for one of our many encounters, and you’ll be helping save wild cheetahs!

“Spot” light on Cheetahs

Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

There are a couple of large cat species that are spotted, including cheetahs, leopards and jaguars. While each species has a unique kind of spot, many people find it difficult to tell the difference at a glance.

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

Cheetahs, however, have a unique identifying mark that can be used to tell the difference with just a quick look. Cheetahs are the only spotted cat that hunt in the day time, an adaptation to avoid direct competition with bigger, stronger predators. The give-away marking that shows this is the black tear line that runs down on either side of a cheetah’s face. This black mark stops the sunlight from reflecting into their eyes – just like the eye black that athletes wear.

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Cheetah’s spots are referred to as “true” markings – they are marked on their skin as well, not just their fur. As well as the spots themselves, there are lots of other differences between the spotted cat species, including size, anatomy and behavior, but the tear marks are a good, quick way to distinguish.

So the next time you see a spotted face peeking from a zoo enclosure (or even the wild!), you’ll know if it’s a cheetah that’s watching you!

Mohawk

 

Room to Run

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Every morning, before the park is open to visitors, the cheetah keepers give their animals a chance to stretch their legs. The gates to Cheetah Drive-through are closed, and a different cheetah everyday is let out into that space to run around!

Khayam and Mchumba, our cheetah ambassadors relaxing in the cheetah drive-through – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

The cheetahs love it, spending their time sniffing new things, exploring, and of course: finding a new spot to nap – they are cats after all! To make sure they stay safe, and keepers know where they are, a volunteer is always watching them from inside their vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

The reason we let out one cheetah, or a pair if they live together, is because cheetahs are normally solitary animals and may get upset with each other if they had to share a space.

Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Our cheetahs are quite happy taking turns though, especially since winter brings yet another fun space to play in: the Brown Bear Drive-Through. Since our bears are hibernating inside, keepers are able to take cheetahs out there for the day.

Cheetahs stretching their legs – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Kitty kisses with Khayam and Mchumba – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Soon our cheetahs will have even more chances to run as a lure course is currently under construction. This will also allow visitors to see our cheetahs running as fast as they can!

Cuddle time with Khayam and Mchumba – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

No kisses from these kitties!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

If you have pet cats at home, you’ll be familiar with their rough tongues. While most animals have smooth tongues, cats actually have barbs on theirs and the bigger the cat, the bigger those barbs. Lions, tigers and cheetahs have large barbs designed to help them tear meat and hide of their prey while they eat.

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Tongue barbs on one of our lions – photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

These are so effective that a lion could draw blood from skin in just a few licks! These barbs can also help them keep clean, assisting in removal of dirt when they groom themselves.

Cheetah Breeding

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is the number one cheetah breeding facility in the Americas and the second most successful in the world with 204 cheetah cub births.  Cheetahs are extremely difficult to breed in captivity as they become stressed very easily.  This can effect their estrus cycles and the mating behaviors that they will display to one another.

There are many reasons Wildlife Safari’s breeding program is such a success, including the number and size of enclosures. The park has more enclosures than cheetahs, and these enclosures are quite spacious since we have about 6 acres dedicated to our cheetah breeding – not including our cheetah drive through.  Finally, our cheetah breeding is off from public view, allowing the cats to live in a very low stress environment. The only human interaction the mother-raised cheetahs will obtain while they are in this area is from the keepers going in daily to give them their food, water, and clean up their pens.

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Barlow

Estrus

First up is the process of determining whether or not a female is in estrus or not.  Cheetahs have a very abnormal estrus cycle called spontaneous ovulation.  This means that these cats can go into estrus multiple times in a month or will only go into estrus once or twice a year.  This is one of the obstacles to breeding cheetahs in captivity.  However, Wildlife Safari’s many enclosures equip us to help stimulate this unpredictable estrus cycle, as cheetahs can sometimes be induced into estrus with a change in environment.

Breeding

Cheetah breeding can be quite a process – with stimulating a female into estrus, which males will confirm by giving out a call referred to as a stutter bark (exactly what it sounds like). To making sure the male and female get along with each other, we let them meet through a fence before allowing them to be in the same enclosure. Then we hope for successful breeding!

Gestation

After this breeding, the gestation period will be tracked (91 days).  At day 30 the female will be ultra sounded if they are comfortable with this method. If not, X-rays will be performed around day 55-60 to confirm cubs.  These procedures do require daily training to them used to it – making the actual procedure just another training session rather than a scary thing. This is done by giving them bits of meat while practicing the procedure – rubbing their belly for ultra sounds or practicing walking them into an “L” shaped chute for X-rays.  Around day 85-91 their dinners are split in half to be fed in the morning and evening. Signs of labor can include pacing, going in and out of the hut, panting, and loss of appetite.  When these occur the she is watched 24/7 until she gives birth and the cubs are old enough and healthy enough to be on their own.  This can be different for each litter, and depends on how well the mother and health of the cubs.

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

This breeding process happens almost all year round at Wildlife Safari. It is through this captive breeding program that we hope to help increase cheetah’s genetic diversity.

New arrivals

Last month Wildlife Safari has welcomed a new litter healthy cubs! We are very excited to announce that each one is gaining weight daily and there have been no complications!  We are looking forward to watching them grow and mature.