Meet Khayam & Mchumba, Wildlife Safari’s two Ambassador Cheetahs

Ambassador Days, Cheetahs, Creature Feature

 

Six years ago, Khayam and Mchumba were hand-raised by keepers beginning at just two days old. Taking care of baby cheetahs requires around-the-clock care, especially since the first few months are a cheetah cub’s most vulnerable time. Keepers needed to step in and hand-raise the two cubs because they were abandoned by their mother.

In general, cheetah mothers who have litters of 2 or fewer will abandon their cubs. Small litters do not stimulate the mother’s hormones enough to produce milk so she is unable to care for them. This is a survival adaption. Since cheetah cub mortality is so high, about 90%, the costs exceed the benefits of raising the small litter of cubs and the mother will breed again to hopefully have a larger litter. Khayam and Mchumba’s mom went on to successfully raise another litter.Khayam&Mchumba_05 23 12_DAlexander_7092

Hand-raising a cheetah is a last resort for keepers. If a mother cheetah ends up abandoning the cubs, we look to other AZA accredited zoos that have had cubs born recently. If so we can have the successful mother foster the abandoned cubs. There were no new cheetah cubs born around the same time so this option was not available in Khayam and Mchumba’s case so keepers stepped in to save them.
Because they are hand-raised cats, Khayam and Mchumba are very comfortable around people. Since they were hand-raised and will not be entering the breeding population, keepers trained them to become ambassadors. They now go on encounters for guests of the park to see and they help represent all cheetahs in the wild. They are comfortable on leash and can be seen being taken on walks around the park.aKhayam_05 30 12_DAlexander_7723

Khayam and Mchumba go on outreaches all across Oregon and the surrounding states. They go to events like birthday parties, company picnics, and other big events. Having people see a real live cheetah in person helps them to better imagine cheetahs in the wild and become aware of cheetah conservation.

There are less than 8,000 cheetahs left in the wild. A portion of every encounter purchase here at Wildlife Safari goes toward conservation of wild animals. Come see Khayam and Mchumba at the Cheetah Spot in the Village or on a cheetah encounter!

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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.

The Fastest Land Mammal on Earth

Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

If there is one thing almost anyone could tell you about a cheetah is that they are fast; the fastest land mammal on the planet in fact. Reaching top speeds of 70 mph, cheetah’s can go from 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds. That is faster than almost any sports car on the market! Running speed is made up of two things: stride length and number of strides taken. A cheetah’s stride length is between 20-25 feet. This makes them airborne for a distance more than 5 times their length. Their feet spend more time in the air when running than on the ground. At top speed they can have up to 4 strides per seconds. But what is it exactly that make cheetahs so fast?

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The short answer is that their entire bodies are literally build for speed, from head to tail. Their long and slender build is aerodynamically purposeful, constructed to cut through wind with minimum resistance. This, along with a lightweight frame, allows for their impressive acceleration. A cheetah’s head is the smallest size relative to their bodies of any cat. This not only contributes to the aerodynamic design, but also allows them to keep their head completely still while running at full speed. The black markings found under their eyes are called “tear marks” and serve like the black paint under an athlete’s eye. This helps to reflect the sunlight out of their eyes while hunting at dawn and dusk. These markings also act like the sight on a riffle, allowing the cheetah to “aim” and further focus on its prey while hunting. In addition to these tear marks, cheetahs also have what is known as binocular vision. This useful feature enables them to see up to 3 miles away, allowing for the ability to spot and stalk prey from great distances.

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Another similarity to athletes are their semi-retractable claws, which act like cleats to dig into the ground while running. Cheetahs also have fused ankle bones which function like braces, along with extended Achilles tendons for better shock absorption. The tail of a cheetah is long and flat which acts like the rudder on a boat to help steer and balance while at full speeds.

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Although slender, cheetahs have a large chest cavity with sizable lungs and heart to pump air and blood to muscles while running at full force. Their shoulder blades are reduced and free floating which act like tiny axles for sharp, tight turns, even in mid air. This, along with pivoting hips, allows the legs to stretch farther apart when fully extended and closer together when the feet come back under the body, increasing their stride length.

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Many similarities can be drawn between the cheetah and another notoriously fast human companion; the grey hound. However, one key difference between the two is where the power source of their speed comes from. In grey hounds their power comes from where most people would guess: their hind legs. In cheetahs, the main power source for their speed comes from their spine. A cheetah’s spine is proportionally the longest and most flexible of any large cat. When running, the spine flexes and stretches like a coiled spring, which increases stride length. This long flexible spine carries about 60% of the cat’s muscle mass. As a result, the cheetah can out run a grey hound at full speed by 25-30 mph. However, a cheetah can only hold these high speeds for very short sprints of only 30 seconds or up to about 500 meters. So, in a long distance race the grey hound would have the edge. Another fascinating comparison is a cheetah vs. a human. The fastest man in the world is Usain Bolt who holds the 100m world record at 9.58 seconds. At top speeds a cheetah could cover a similar distance of an entire football field in just over 3 seconds. Although cheetahs have the ability to reach these incredible speeds, they only have use for it while hunting. Here at Wildlife Safari our cheetahs don’t have to hunt for their food, so most days you will find them perfectly content being at rest!

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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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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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“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.

 

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!

 

                                      

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!