The Big Times – Working with Elephants

Elephants, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is home to many creatures, from the tiny to the huge! The Elephant department looks after the biggest of the bunch. With five elephants, this herd keeps their care takers pretty busy! George (35 yrs), Tava (38), Valerie (34) and Moja (34) are African elephants, with their characteristic large ears and overall body size. Liz (52) is the only Asian elephant in the troop, but this doesn’t stop her from being in charge. As the matriarch of the group she demands respect. “She’s a tough cookie,” says Elephant Supervisor Dinah Wilson about Liz. “She has strength, attitude, confidence –  comfortable in any setting.”

All the elephants have their own distinct personalities, and their keepers love getting to know them and spending time with them. George wins everyone’s hearts with his charm and sweet disposition; Tava loves her training sessions – she strives for perfection and loves to learn; Moja is very inquisitive (with the largest ears anyone has ever seen); and Valerie is super playful – toys or no she’ll find a way to have fun, even if it’s throwing dust!

Tracy with Tava

Keeper Tracy with Tava, an African elephant

 

With five large animals there is a lot of cleaning to be done, which takes up most of the keepers’ day. Then comes the husbandry work, the time where keepers make sure everyone is happy and healthy. Bathing, brushing, foot checks and overall health checks are important parts of making sure the elephants are at their best. “Then there is the training and interaction,” says Tracy Moser, Elephant Keeper. “Where we work with the elephants, giving them the chance to do exercises or physical therapy, do things that are stimulating and enriching for their brains as well as bodies – and of course letting guests meet the elephants!”

Keeper Tracy with Moja, an African Elephant

Keeper Tracy with Moja, an African Elephant

Working with such large and intelligent animals is incredible, but comes with a unique set of challenges.”You have to be a couple steps ahead, because they’ll be a couple steps ahead of you,” says keeper Courtney. “Everything here is big – large yards, gates, everything. Enrichment items are also very big, so you have to be pretty strong.”

Their intelligence makes training sessions particularly interesting. “You’re not just training an animal to robotically perform a behaviour – they will work in tandem with you to make it the way you want it. It’s really neat – different from any other animal,” says Courtney.

Smiles

 

“Seeing how intelligent they are, that’s the most impressive thing about them. They have such distinct personalities and the way you can bond with them,” says Wilson, who has worked with elephants for 40 years. “It’s complex, there are a lot of different aspects to providing proper care, and safety too.” Safety considerations are vital when working with such huge, smart creatures. With trunks that stretch so far, and the strength to pick up large objects, keepers need to be aware at all times, and considerable thought needs to go into what toys they can play with.

Although there are an abundance of wonderful things about being close to such amazing animals, Wilson says that what she loves most about her work is seeing the bond that keepers form with the animals. Watching her staff develop their training relationships with the elephants is the most rewarding part of her job as supervisor. “It’s so much fun to see those relationships develop,” she says.

Full of rewarding hard work and fun with the elephants, staff love each day there, and love introducing people to these amazing animals. “No day is boring here,” says Wilson – so come and see it for yourself!

 

 

 

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For the Love of Learning!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Nestled in behind Safari Village is the Wildlife Safari Education building. Home to snakes, birds, cavies and many more, the Education building is always a hive of activity. The Education department hosts tours, day camps, overnight adventures, and zookeepers-in-training. Since teaching people about animals and the environment is a vital part of conservation, the Education team have an important role.

Julianne w ponderosa

Education Lead, Julianne with Ponderosa the Red Tail Boa

Everyday involves a mix of animal husbandry and working with people of all ages. “We provide a lot of really hands on encounters with the animals, which is very rewarding for us, as well as for the public – to have those intimate interactions with the animals,” says Kendra Hodgson, Summer Camp Coordinator “It’s cool how much our senses are involved in education with the things that we do, many people need to touch and create, and see things close up – it really builds those connections.”

As well as the hands on animal work that they do, Education staff love sharing their passion for conservation and their interest in animals. It’s a unique joy to see people connecting with the animals and the smiles as they understand the amazing ways animals are built and behave. Harleena Franklin, who is interning with the department says that her favorite part of the job is interacting with people and watching them learn. “It’s instant gratification to see someone understand something,” she says.

J talk w Kotori

Julianne with Western Screech owl, Kotori

Although they work with people of all ages, with camps and school outreaches, the Education team has a big focus working with kids. While this often makes work more fun and games than “work” it definitely poses it’s challenges. “Kids are in need of a lot more stimuli than adults, so it can be a lot more fun, but a lot more challenging than working with adults,” says Hodgson. Having kids around can also take your day in some unexpected directions. Caitlin Huff, Junior Zookeeper Coordinator, says that last year she became safe-keeper of a tooth that had fallen out. A very important job for sure, but not quite what she had expected earlier in the day. (Update: the tooth made it safely to the tooth fairy.)

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Painting, making crafts, showing kids how to move like animals, the list goes on – this team definitely has its share of fun and games, but that’s only part of the reward staff get from being involved. The kids bring a special attitude and enthusiasm that the Education team loves to see. “Kids always have very unique ideas and approaches, they’re a lot easier to get engaged and caring about things,” says Huff.

“Kids ask a ton of questions, so it can be a lot of fun to be around a group of really engaging kids that want to learn things, says Mack Stamper, an intern in the education department. “They’re very receptive to answers – they are genuinely curious.”

Another unique and rewarding program is the partnership Wildlife Safari has with the Dillard Alternative High School. In this program, students spend 4 days a week at Safari and are able to complete their high school credits in a non-traditional way. They are taught High School English, Science and Math, while interacting with the animals and completing special animal projects. “This program is important to high school students who are unable to learn in a formal classroom setting,” explains Leila Goulet, Director of Education. “These classes allow students to learn in a hands-on way and use various forms of assessment to evaluate the students rather than traditional testing. This program has been highly successful and is even gaining tread with other schools!”

Staff, adults and kids all have tons of fun with our education programs, so keep an eye out on the Wildlife Safari website for chances to come join in!

Keeping it Cool

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

With the hot summer sun heating up our days, many of the animals at Wildlife Safari are getting ice treats!

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Bandit the American Badger enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Pancake, Wildlife Safari's youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Pancake, Wildlife Safari’s youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Whether it’s ice to cool down or play with, or popsicle treats, its a good way for the animals to cool down and a more challenging way to get a snack!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!

 

Elephant Artists

Behind the Scenes, Elephants, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized
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Painting supplies at the elephant barn – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Elephants are known for their intelligence, but not everyone knows about their finesse as artists! At Wildlife Safari, our elephants paint as an enrichment activity – something fun for them to do – but it also allows people to take home a unique keepsake. Not everyone has a painting done by an elephant in their gallery!

IMG_0765

Keeper Courtney cleans up after a painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

The elephants paint on a lot of their encounters. It makes a good training exercise for them, and elephants are always happy for their snack rewards! “It’s fun for the elephants to do, but it’s also fun for the guests to watch,” says Tracy Moser, one of the Elephant Keepers at Wildlife Safari. “We work with the elephants to hold onto a sponge,” she explains. “We figured a sponge would work better than a paint brush since elephants have a lot of moisture in their nose which can drip down onto the canvas. While they hold onto the sponge, one of the staff will hold the canvas in front of them and they’ll stretch out their nose and paint however they like!”

Typically a painting will have three or four colors before it is pronounced complete. Then comes the clean up part of the session. “When they are done they will politely hand their sponge back to their trainer,” says Moser. Then it’s time for some trunk cleaning to get rid of any paint drips on the artist’s nose.

IMG_0763

Elephant painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

The elephant’s also make foot print paintings! For these the elephants take a more laid back approach, allowing their keepers to paint and stamp with their feet rather than compose the painting themselves. “George in particular has impressive feet since he is our largest elephant. so we do a lot of foot prints with him,” says Moser. “We do back and front foot pints, and what’s neat about that is they look completely different, because the shape is different.”

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Keeper Nick holds the canvas for an elephant painting session – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Every painting is different and is an expression of that elephant artist’s personality, whether they are slow and careful or fast and eccentric. “All of our elephants have a different style to their paintings, a different technique,” says Moser.

Just some paint, a sponge and an elephant and you end up with a master piece!

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The finished product! – photo courtesy of Tracy Moser

Keeper Pets

Behind the Scenes, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

The keepers at Wildlife Safari have a real love for animals. Not only do they choose to work with and look after animals everyday at the park, many keepers also have animals at home too! These animal family members come in all shapes and sizes, from furry to scaly.

Because we love our animals at home just as much as the wild and wonderful ones at work, the keepers of Wildlife Safari have some pictures of their little ones to share!

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks with Carnivore keeper, Jordan

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor's hands full!

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor’s hands full!

This whacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

This wacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure - Even when shes trying to sleep.

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure – Even when shes trying to sleep.

Gatsby takes a short rest - stealing all keeper Mikaely's socks sure is exhausting!

Gatsby takes a short rest – stealing all keeper Mikaely’s socks sure is exhausting!

The biggest little one at Safari

Keeper Chats, Ungulates

This month is a very special time at Wildlife Safari as we celebrate the birth of our first giraffe calf born here since the park began. Little Kelley came into the world at over 6 feet tall, though he looks small next to mother, Miya, our 4 year old reticulated giraffe, and even smaller next to father, Mate, our 17 year old Rothschild giraffe who is our tallest at 18 feet.

 

Baby Kelley and mom Miya – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

The birth has been much anticipated. Since giraffe gestation is around 14 months, keepers have had a while to get excited for this spotted little one! Katie Graves, one of the giraffe keepers and trainers at Wildlife Safari talks about the anticipation through the pregnancy. “Gestation is typically 13-15 months,” she says, and with such a wide window for the due date, keepers were carefully watching for signs of labor long before the birth. “They’re big babies so they have a little longer to bake. They usually come out around 6 ft tall and anywhere from 100-200 lbs at birth. At birth, Kelley was about 6 foot 3 inches and weighed 175 lbs. So he’s very robust and healthy.”

 

Baby giraffe, Kelley -photo courtesy of Tanda Schmidt

Unlike many other animals, herd animals like giraffes need to be able to move by themselves soon after birth to escape predators. “He stood up just a couple of hours after birth and shortly afterwards took his first steps,” says Graves. “He was very strong, he even caught himself when he stumbled.”

 

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Kelley’s birth is cause for celebration at the park as he is the first giraffe to be born here. “For all of us this is the first time we’ve been through a giraffe pregnancy and birth, so we’re all excited,” says Graves. “Being there for the birth was an amazing experience, and a huge learning experience.”

 

Kelley nursing – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

At the moment, Kelley is mostly spending time in the barn with his mother, but he has been meeting lots of new friends as guests of the park can sign up to meet him! It’s very special to be able to see a young giraffe, so come see his while he’s “small”! Encounter times may change as he grows, so check with Guest Services before signing up.

 

 

Big Plans for a Little Cub

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari has one of the most successful cheetah breeding programs in the world, with 190 cheetahs born at the park. Meet Number 190! His name is Kitwana (Swahili for ‘pledged to live’) and he was born last month. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t producing milk for him. When it became clear that the mother cheetah was not going to be able to care for him, keepers stepped in to hand raise him.

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

For the next 3 weeks or so, Kitwana’s keepers bottle fed him every 2-4 hours, including night feedings, which meant lots of zoo sleepovers! After watching him grow in size, ability, and personality, Kitwana was moved to another facility so that he could have brothers and sisters to grow up with. He found his new home at Cincinnati Zoo when there was a litter born not long after him that also needed to be hand raised.

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers - all tuckered out after a feeding

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers – all tuckered out after a feeding

Sarah Roy, Carnivore and Cheetah Supervisor talks about how arrangements were made for Kitwana (nicknamed Kit) to go to his new home. “We work closely with the 7 other breeding centers in North America and were able to pin point another litter,” she says. “That way he could have litter mates and grow up in a social setting.”

Cross-fostering, as it is called when they place a cub with another litter in this way, has been successful in the past. Sometimes cross-fostering is possible with a mother raised litter, but can also be done with a litter of cubs being hand raised, like in Kitwana’s case.

 

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

If it is not successful for Kitwana, then he may become an ambassador instead, going out into the community with his keepers to teach people about cheetahs. “Ambassadors are, in a way, just as important as breeding cheetahs,” says Roy. “The ambassadors are out there meeting people and kids everywhere, spreading the word of how cool cheetahs are and why we need to save them.”

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Keepers work closely with their animals, but there is an even stronger bond formed in a hand raising situation. But keepers know what it takes to work in conservation, and there are times when you need to say goodbye to an animal to see it goe where it is needed. Whether it needs to go somewhere to grow up happier, or leave to join another breeding program, it can be a bitter sweet feeling for the staff involved. Roy has worked in the cheetah breeding program and is very used to situations Kitwana’s. “It’s hard, he’s the sweetest little boy, but I think looking at the big picture we’re happy to see them go to a good situation that will help the cheetah program as a whole.”

A Tower of Giraffes

Creature Feature, Keeper Chats, Ungulates

Last year Wildlife Safari added another member to our group of giraffes (called a tower). Erin has joined our other two giraffes, Miya (4 years old) and Mate (17 years old), and is getting along great! A very curious and adventurous young female, Erin (2 years old) is often the first to greet keepers.

Erin and Miya, our females, are both Reticulated giraffes, and Mate, our resident male, is a Rothschild giraffe – much darker in color.

Miya, Mate and Erin, Wildlife Safari’s three resident giraffes – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erica Sherrow, Giraffe Keeper and one of their primary trainers, says they all have their distinct personalities and are loveable in their own ways.

Erin and Miya trying for some keeper attention (or some snacks...) - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya trying for some keeper attention (or some snacks…) – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya get along great, as seen by their snuggle time - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Erin and Miya get along great, as seen by their snuggle time – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes are sometimes called the ‘watchtowers of the Serengeti’, since their height lets them be the first to spot danger and alert any other animals nearby. If they start running, so do any other animals nearby, even if they can’t yet see the danger – no one wants to wait to find out if there really is a lion nearby or not!

Giraffes going for a stroll - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes going for a stroll – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes have no vocalization that is audible to humans, they use body language to communicate. Keepers enjoy their expressions when working with them. “They give a lot of sass,” says Sherrow.

During the winter, the giraffes spend more time inside their heated barn. Giraffes are built to live in hot environments, so if it gets below 50 degrees they stay close to their barn.

Our giraffe keepers do training sessions just like with many of our other animals. The giraffes are trained to do some behaviors that make it a little easier to look after them. For example, presenting their feet for checks, or going into their barn and over to the scaffolding that allows keepers to stand at eye level with their tall, spotted friends. This training is mostly to get them used to being handled so that veterinary procedures, checkups and hoof trims can be conducted easily and without stress to the animals. Mate is entirely comfortable being worked on and touched, while Miya is a little more wary, and Erin has been making leaps and bounds with her training. “Erin has been moving through our training program like lightening,” says Sherrow. “We’ve already had her in the chute and been able to touch her.” Keepers use a chute that giraffes stand in, with panels that open to allow keepers to reach through and handle where ever needs attention, keeping a barrier between keepers and those long, strong legs.

Numbers in the wild are dwindling. There are about 80,000 giraffes altogether left in the wild, with less than 1,100 Rothschild and 4,700 Retuculated giraffes. “Mostly through habitat fragmentation and poaching,” says Sherrow. “They’re poached for their hide and tails.” Both poaching and habitat fragmentation are serious threats. If their habitat is lost, they end up having nowhere else to go, since the closest habitat for them may be too far away.

Giraffes in their feeder - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes in their feeder – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

They have extremely long tongues (1 inch for every foot they are tall) designed to reach up into branches and grab leaves. These tongues are tough, so they can eat much tougher, spinier foliage than other grazers, including the leaves of the Acacia tree, a spiky plant that is one of their favorites.

For a little while, our Tower had an honorary member, and a stripey one at that! Ruckus, our new Damara zebra took his time finding his way into our zebra herd, choosing instead at first to find some taller friends. He followed the giraffes around for about a week before deciding to join his fellow zebras.

Mate, Miya and Erin with their friend Ruckus the Zebra

Mate, Miya and Erin with their friend Ruckus the Zebra

 

Giraffes with their Zebra friend - photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

Giraffes with their Zebra friend – photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

 

 

Arctic Adventure Camps

Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

At Wildlife Safari, we’re still excited about animals no matter the weather, and we know kids are too! We run camps for children between the ages of 4 and 12 several times a year, spring, summer and winter. This year’s winter camp is arctic themed! Kids at camp learned all about animals that live in cold environments, and how different animals act in the colder seasons.

They learned about narwhals and wales, and how animals keep warm, such as blubber or feathers. Snowy owls are also arctic dwelling animals, so campers discussed their adaptations, including fluffy feathers and coloration.

Aviary winter camp

Getting to know our birds in the aviary

“They had so much fun,”says Lead Educator Julianne Rose. “We had super inquisitive kids.”

Rose has been with Education at Safari for several years, and has seen many seasons of campers come through. “It reminds me how kids get excited about everything!” she says.”They’re so excited to be here and to be around animals. Its really enjoyable to see them making those nature connections and learning all about things they didn’t know before.”

Crafts on Arctic Adventure Camp

Crafts on Arctic Adventure Camp

 

Camp is a great way for the educators at the park to share their love of animals and conservation. It’s a unique way of showing the kids from a young age that the world around them is exciting and full of wonderful and weird animals. Rose thinks it is an important way to teach kids about animals and the environment. “Especially with younger ones, a lot of how they learn is hands on, active, and through play,” she says. “We can let them connect literally with the animals we have here at wildlife safari. The fact they get to be hands on with the animals, that really helps what we’re teaching them hit home. These are things that are going to stick with them.”

Campers also got up close to our sleepy, hibernating bears as they learned about animals that stay tucked in bed through the winter.

Kids on hibernating bear encounters for winter camp

Kids on hibernating bear encounters for winter camp

Most of the time when people think of cold weather animals they think of polar bears and penguins, but there are a number of other animals that live in the cold too! Some birds have specially adapted feathers to keep them warm in the colder months.

Of course, no camp is complete without some creative activities! “One of their favorite crafts, and mine as well, is turning their footprint into a narwhal,” says Rose. “There was much creative license, lots of crazy colors and designs!”

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Camps are held every season, with fun new themes each time. Kids of all ages can come and have fun, and learn while they do it. Now that’s vacation time well spent!

Doctors with patients on the wild side…

Behind the Scenes, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized
Ribbon cutting at the new animal health clinic

Ribbon cutting at the new animal health clinic

Wildlife Safari was thrilled to officially open its new animal hospital at the end of last year. The clinic has been designed with consideration of the needs of its sometimes quite large visitors, with large roller door and spacious indoor monitoring enclosures. It even has comfortable study and teaching spaces for the veterinary students that come from around the world to learn about caring for exotic animals, a break room so tea can keep everyone on their feet for long hours, and facilities for staff to stay overnight when around the clock care is required.

New Clinic Opening

New Clinic Opening Ceremony

The park is home to over 500 animals, all cared for by Safari’s dedicated Vet staff. It’s a demanding job, with never a dull moment. Between cheetahs with stomach aches, goats with sore feet, ferrets with fleas, and a myriad of other concerns, large and small, our Vet staff are in high demand. Without them it would be impossible to keep our animals healthy and happy.

Zebra

But what makes these stethoscope wielding creatures tick? What does it take to be a veterinarian at a wildlife park? Benji Alcantar, DVM and Kirsten Thomas, DVM, our resident veterinarians give us an insight into the animal health care side of Wildlife Safari.

“Emergency procedures, preventative care and vaccination, annual health exams… Those are usually our mornings,” says Dr Thomas. Afternoons often involve alot of paper work, on top of any emergencies that come up. Veterinary externs help with a lot of the daily work.

Veterinarian Benji Alcantar

Veterinarian Benji Alcantar

Vets on staff swap weekends on call so someone is always available. Unfortunately animals aren’t always considerate of the time or day they get sick or injured. There are a lot of long hours and emergency call outs. It is intense and exhausting work, but that, Dr Alcantar says, is all part of the job.

One of the best parts is being involved in a team, across every department. Clear communication with every department, about every animal, is extremely important. Animal care staff see their animals every day, they know them well and so are the main line of communication with the veterinarians.

Veterinarian Kirsten Thomas with one of our red ruffed lemurs

Veterinarian Kirsten Thomas with one of our red ruffed lemurs

Tough decisions are always a part of it. Especially since good care makes for long living animals – animals they then grow to know and love, so the end of their long lives can be very hard. Being a part of the conservation efforts in maintaining and increasing a healthy population is one of DrAlcantar’s favourite things about being here at the park.

“It’s a unique group of animals,” says Dr Thomas. “Not many people get to work with this group.” She also particularly loves the conservation aspect of their work. “That’s why I got into veterinary medicine in the first place,” she says. Another big perk is simply working with animals. “It’s the best job in the world!”

“Having a baby lion in your hands, or a baby cheetah, and being able to raise them, its very special,’ says Dr Alcantar. “Not everyone gets to do that.” It’s the sort of thing you dream about as a kid, he says, but for these guys its a part of their everyday lives.

Their love of animals is not the only thing that makes their jobs enjoyable. They also relish the challenge. Dr Thomas talks about these challenges that push them constantly to improve on things and find better methods. “Veterinary medicine has a lot of standards. But here, we do everything MacGuyver-ey. There is no design, so you constantly have to be coming up with new plans. Its fun, its MacGuyver medicine, I like it. You’re contributing to the zoo community with each procedure.”

Dr Alcantar agrees this is a very fluid and ever changing area of veterinary medicine.”Its still developing compared with domestic animal medicine. We’re still developing new procedures, new medicines… ”

Our animals are lucky to have this dedicated team of veterinarians. Together with our keepers, they spend everyday working to conserve species one individual animal at a time.