What are Charismatic Megafauna?

Uncategorized

“Charismatic Megafauna” is a term straight out of a J.J. Abrams movie, describing some epic new robot. Charismatic Megafauna is a sort of model for conservation that came up in the ‘80s. The theory is that the general public will support conservation of animals they think are charismatic. Main examples are Elephants, Giraffes, Tigers, Rhinos, Zebra… the list goes on and on. Zoos will plaster images and facts of these animals all over their flyers, all over their websites, and even on their main entrance!

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One of our resident giraffes, Mate

It turns out that this system mostly works. The
zoos and safaris that have these animals as their flagship generally gain attendance and, in proportion, funds to support the conservation of these flagship animals and the other animals in the zoo.

So why is this not a perfect system? Studies say this model creates real, quantifiable bias against  less charasmatic animals. In many cases, a smaller less cute animal can be more important that the big, cute ones that the people love. San Diego Zoo Global representative Christina Simmons said in an email interview with Howstuffworks.com, “… the global extinction crisis has changed how we look at extinction.” She explains that the San Diego Zoo’s model focuses on saving species critical to their environment. “We … work with species that we have the expertise and programs to support with the idea that if we can recover these species they can become agents in the recovery of their habitat.”

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Wildlife Safari’s hippos, “Blippo” and “Padron”

The Pacific pocket mouse and the Hawaiian crow the Alala are two examples of very important species that people have never heard of! In theory, the extinction of large charismatic animals like Rhinos or Pandas only effect themselves, however extinction of the Pocket mouse or the Alala will affect the entire ecosystem in addition to the species itself.

The facts above are harsh, but they are truth. However that doesn’t mean all zoos, aquariums, and safaris should stop using this model. Even the San Diego Zoo still uses this as advertising, showing Pandas, Polar Bears, and Leopards at the very top of their website. If everyone stopped using this model, it’s believed that actual attendance and tourism would drop, being detrimental to conservation as a whole.

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Wildlife Safari supports a wide variety of animals, but our big export is the cheetah. Cheetahs are an example of charismatic megafauna, but because of the advertising, tourism, and inherent amazement and cuteness of the cheetah, we have been able to breed two hundred and fourteen cubs in our facility alone. Along with our flagship Cheetah, Safari contributes funds, time, and research to the International Elephant Foundation and the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

Safari is a great example of what a zoo should be today. In addition to being the top Cheetah breeding facility in North America, Wildlife Safari supports more than 15 other species by participating in AZA sponsored SSP’s (Species Survival Plan). By participating in these SSPs, we help conserve animals that aren’t as charismatic as our cheetahs or tigers, like the waterbuck or the white-bearded gnu. Attending AZA institutions will always support the fight against extinction, so thank you!

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George enjoying the elephant’s water hole exhibit

 

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The Importance of Research in Zoos

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When people think of research in zoos, they think of what zoos do for populations out in the wild. They do not think that reseIMG_E9091arch on the animals inside the zoos are just as important. However, they allow improvement of animal welfare for captive populations, findings can be used elsewhere, and the research that is conducted can be used as a teaching moment.

The research that is conducted can range from yard usage to behavioral studies. For instance, an animal can be relocated from one enclosure to a new one that is thought to be more suitable. A study over yard usage can show statistically which aspects of the yard are used more often than others. Those aspects that seem to be more favorable can then be supplied more often or at a greater quantity. Behavioral studies can be used in instances of introduction of a new member to the group.

These findings don’t have to stop at the observed population, they can be sent off to other departments, zoos, or even wild populations. Zoos are always striving to make their captive populations as comfortable and true to their species as possible. If one zoo finds something that agrees with their population they will often share it with others to better the whole. Especially with behavioral studies, the information can be used for wild populations in order for them to be able to flourish. For example, being able to understand the language between elephants is helping the fight against poachers due to the conversation elephants have amongst each other.

 

Welcome to Safari, Sally!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Creature Feature, Uncategorized, Ungulates

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On March 4, 2018, Wildlife Safari’s group of giraffes had a new addition – baby Sally was born! At birth, Sally was 5’10” tall and weighed approximately 147 pounds. Sally is the second giraffe born at Wildlife Safari and her parents are safari resident giraffes Erin and Mate.

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Sally’s mother, Erin, is a first time mom and is doing an amazing job raising Sally. Baby giraffes learn how to use their tongues from their mothers, and luckily Erin is an expert at using her 15 inch long tongue. Sally is quickly learning from her! Wildlife Safari Ungulate keepers hang up different types of enrichment to encourage Sally to start practicing using her tongue. Some of Sally’s current favorite enrichment items are boomer balls, Madrone tree branches, and even a metal kitchen spoon! As seen in the above picture, Sally likes to take short naps throughout the day while laying down on a hay bed that keepers set up for her. Typically, adult giraffes only sleep around 4 hours a day in the form of short naps and stand up while they sleep, but it’s normal for baby giraffes to sleep more as well as sleep laying down.

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On average, female giraffes are pregnant for around 15 months. Since our keepers knew Erin was pregnant, they were able to keep a close watch on a video feed from cameras set up in our giraffe barn. They were also able to watch the birth live! Giraffes give birth while they are standing up so their baby drops about six feet down to the ground. While this may seem like a big drop to us, it helps break the umbilical cord and gets the baby to start breathing. Within a few hours of being born Sally was up and walking around, and within the first 24 hours she was able to run. Baby giraffes nurse from mom for about 12 months even though when they are a few weeks old they are able to start eating leaves as well.

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Recently, Sally was able to explore our outside yard for the first time. While the outdoors was a little overwhelming for Sally at first, luckily she had her mom with her as well as some fun enrichment toys to make her feel more comfortable. Sally was also recently introduced to one of our other three giraffes, Miya. The introduction went amazing – Miya is the mother the first giraffe calf born at the park- Kelley. Miya is used to babies running around and was very gentle with Sally.  Once the weather starts improving as we go into summer, Sally will be able to be introduced to our other giraffes and eventually go out into the drive-through. Next time you come visit Wildlife Safari look for Sally as she continues to grow and explore!

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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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Sounds of Safari

Uncategorized

With around 100 animal species at Wildlife Safari, you are sure to encounter some unique sights and sounds when you visit! From elephants and big cats to primates and birds of all sizes, each of our animals has their own ways of communicating that may seem strange at first. Here’s a list to help you identify some of the more surprising sounds you might hear while exploring the Safari!

Cheetah: Chirp – Khayam, one of Wildlife Safari’s ambassador cheetahs

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One sound you may hear in our Cheetah Drive-Through is a loud, bird-like chirp. Do not be fooled though – it may actually be a cheetah! Cheetahs have over 30 different vocalizations, including chirps, stutters, growls, meows, yowls, hisses, purrs, and more. Their loud chirp can be heard from a mile away and is often used as a call between family members; such as a mother and her cubs. If a mother cheetah is trying to locate her cubs in the tall grasses of the African savannah it is useful for them to sound like birds so they are disguised from any nearby predators looking for a snack!

Elephant: Rumble – George, one of our African elephants

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Aside from the noisy trumpet blasts, roars, and snorts elephants are known for, low-frequency vocalizations like rumbles actually make up a pretty large part of elephants’ communication. Rumbles can have many different meanings and uses such as greeting, bonding, threatening, soliciting a mate, soothing, or coordinating group movement. These sounds may be a bit more difficult to detect though, since many elephant rumbles are too low for us to hear! Elephants often use infrasound (sound with frequencies below 20 Hz; the lower limit of human hearing) because it travels well through dense underbrush and across long distances.

Lion: Caroling – Upepo, one of our two and a half year old lions

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Some of the loudest animals at Wildlife Safari are the lions. Lions have the loudest roar of any big cat and can be heard from 5 miles away! In the mornings and evenings we often hear our lions ‘caroling,’ which is when they all roar together as a group. It is similar to a roll call, with one lion starting and all the others eventually joining in. Lions can identify each other’s voices within their chorus.  This makes it a good way for the pride to communicate and figure out where everyone is.

Maned Wolf: Roar-Bark – Sabara, our female maned wolf 

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Native to South America, maned wolves are not actually wolves at all, and are not closely related to any other canid species. One of their most unique features is a vocalization known as the ‘roar-bark.’ It sounds nothing like the howls you may hear from a wolf, coyote, or your own pet dog, and instead sounds, as you may expect: a cross between a roar and a bark! A maned wolf’s roar-bark is loud and clear and can carry over long distances, and is most likely used for marking their territory.

Red Ruffed Lemur: Mob Roar – Leland, one of our red ruffed lemurs enjoying a delicious watermelon

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One sound that might surprise you is the ‘mob roar’ from our red ruffed lemurs! Ruffed lemurs have a wide range of unique vocalizations such as the roar/shriek, mob roar, pulsed squawk, wail, bray, quack, growl, growl-snort, chatter, whine, grunt, huff, mew, cough, grumble, squeak, and squeal, and each has a distinct meaning. The mob roar usually consists of a repeated low roar with occasional high chatters, and is used for group coordination and spacing. Even though these lemurs aren’t very big, they definitely make a huge noise!

Sumatran Tiger: Chuff – Riya, one of our beautiful Sumatran tigers

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Tigers are part of the big cat family, which means they can roar like a lion, but one of the quietest sounds they can make is a chuff. This sound is usually a friendly way for tigers to say hello, and our tiger sisters Riya and Kemala often chuff to each other in greeting. They make this noise by keeping their mouth closed while exhaling through their nose. It’s not very loud, but you might hear it if you are lucky!

White-cheeked Gibbon: Duet – Benny (blonde) and Mel (black with white cheeks), our white cheeked gibbon pair

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The white-cheeked gibbon duet is one of the most complex calls you will hear at the park, if you visit early enough in the morning to hear it! Gibbon pairs, like our own Benny and Mel, sing this complicated duet every morning to establish their territory and let other pairs know where they are. The duet is made up of two parts: rising notes sung by the female that start slow but increase in speed, followed by a series of modulating and staccato notes sung by the male. Young white-cheeked gibbons typically learn the duet from their parents by copying the female’s song until they reach maturity, at which point males will switch to the male’s part of the duet.

Now that you are familiar with some of the unique sounds of the animals at Wildlife Safari, see how many you can hear the next time you visit!

Wildlife Safari’s Safe Haven for the Scimitar-horned Oryx

Community, Creature Feature, Uncategorized, Ungulates

While Wildlife Safari is one of the foremost cheetah breeding facilities in the world, our mission is focused on conservation for many different animals. In addition to our favorite big cats, the park is home to hundreds of animals, including the majestic Scimitar-horned Oryx! Currently Safari is home to three Oryx: Romeo, Juliet and Stubs! Originally, this species was found in abundant herds of over 10,000 individuals in the early nineteen hundreds. As a result of various environmental and anthropogenic factors, sadly the species recently endured a period of complete extinction in the wild. But with the help of conservation programs, new populations of Scimitar-horned Oryx are gradually being reintroduced.

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Pictured left to right, Romeo, Stubs, and Juliet enjoy resting in straw piles when they are not busy grazing.

While natively found within the Sahel region of Northern Africa, summers in Oregon share similar characteristics with this dry, arid grassland. Extreme heat and long periods of little rainfall are the very things a Scimitar-horned Oryx’s body is built for. The typical internal body temperature for any species of ungulates is around 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with 105 to 106 degrees rendering the animal’s brain dead. But the Scimitar-horned Oryx can withstand an internal body temperature of up to 116 degrees! A network of fine blood vessels carries blood from their heart to their brain but first makes a pass across their nasal passageway. This allows the blood to cool by up to five degrees before reaching the most heat sensitive organ in the body, the brain.
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An adorable Scimitar-horned Oryx poses for her closeup.

With a high tolerance to the heat, their bodies can conserve water by perspiring very little. Despite the drinkers and ponds found all throughout the park that allow our animals access to as much water as they please, the Scimitar-horned Oryx’s body is built to go months without it. Primarily stripping moisture from the plants they eat, the production of dry fecal pellets and highly concentrated urine helps their bodies to retain every possible drop.

The Scimitar-horned Oryx isn’t the only genus of Oryx found at Wildlife Safari. The park is also home to Gemsbok. Both native to Africa and roaming together within the park, the species are still easily distinguishable. The Scimitar Oryx, named for its scimitar-like horns, reach up to three to four feet in length and are slightly curved. Their primarily white pelage works to reflect the heat of the sun while the skin beneath their fur is black, aiding against sunburn. A Scimitar-horned oryx also bears a unique reddish-brown neck, while the Gemsbok is primarily tannish grey in color.
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While global efforts continue to help reintroduce the Scimitar-horned Oryx back into the wild, Wildlife Safari is proud to help aid in the care and conservation of such a unique species. Be sure to keep an eye out for Romeo, Juliet, and Stubs on your next adventure through the Safari!

Learning from History: How We Can Help Tigers Today

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is home to two 5-year-old Sumatran tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala. Sumatran tigers are currently one of the most endangered tiger subspecies in the world.  There are less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in their native habitat, the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.  Two other islands in Indonesia were also previously home to tigers, the Javan and the Balinese, but those two subspecies are now extinct.

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Before the 1900s, there were nine subspecies of tigers: the Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China, Javan, Siberian, Balinese, Sumatran, Malayan, and the Caspian.  There are now 6, as the Caspian tiger has gone extinct along with the Javan and the Balinese subspecies. These three subspecies have been driven to extinction in the last 100 years, showing how rapidly the populations of tigers can decline. Hunting, habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat, and loss of prey are the main causes of extinction among tigers.

In Sumatra, the main struggles the native tigers face are habitat loss and fragmentation due to palm oil production, and poaching by hunters who value them for their furs and other parts of their bodies.  Unfortunately, there is a high demand in Chinese medicine where their eyes, bones, teeth, and whiskers are seen as having healing properties.  Laws and regulations are in place for poaching, but unfortunately, poachers are still able to hunt endangered species regardless of them.  Palm oil is used in a wide variety of different products such as makeup, food, soaps, detergents, and biofuel.  The majority of palm oil is harvested in Indonesia and Malaysia, and much of it is not harvested using sustainable sources.  As a result, the habitats of the Sumatran and Malaysian tigers are being broken up and are shrinking down as palm oil production increases.

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Fortunately, tigers have many organizations and individuals willing to aid them in their continued survival.  There is a lot people can do to help out tiger conservation! Supporting conservation efforts through donations, “adopting” a tiger, or even volunteering your time will help those that are trying to directly impact the conservation of tigers.  Learning more about how to purchase products that are made with sustainable sources of palm oil (or that don’t use palm oil at all) can help reduce the impact that palm oil plantations are having on tiger habitats in Southeast Asia.  Lastly, educating others about the status of tiger subspecies, conservation efforts, and how they can assist will help spread the word and hopefully inspire others to get involved!

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Exotic Pets

Community, Uncategorized

“I want one!”

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It is almost impossible not to think this when seeing animals at a zoo or videos on social media of people with exotic pets. They might appear to be calm and sweet, but caring for exotics can be a lot more difficult and dangerous than many people realize. Although most people know the danger to themselves of living with a large exotic animal as a pet, it can also be very dangerous for the animal, and potentially have a negative impact on the survival of the species. That is why exotic animals belong in the care of zoos and parks with professionals.

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Even though most exotic pet owners love their animals, they do not know the proper way to take care of them. Feeding these animals a proper diet can be complicated or expensive and many pets are either malnourished or overweight. Both of these can be damaging to their health and cause problems for them as they grow older. Sadly, animals that are viewed as dangerous, like big cats, are often declawed or can have their sharp canine teeth removed to make them less dangerous for their owners. These practices are harmful to the animals and can take away from their quality of life. Although most people are not intentionally harming their animals, they can still cause a lot of damage.  

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It is not just the individual animal that can be harmed from being owned as a pet, but the species itself. When an animal is kept as a pet, whether it was taken from the wild as a baby or born in captivity, it looses it ability to hunt and survive in the wild. That means that the animal will never be able to return to the wild. Similarly, animals that are born to private breeders and sold as pets can not be a part of the species survival plan (SSP) which keeps a healthy population in accredited zoos to help increase their genetic diversity. Because the genetics of animals from private breeders is not often known, those animals can not become members of the SSP if they are ever given to a zoo. This means that every time an exotic animal becomes a pet, it is one less animal that can help increase their genetic diversity and help the species out in the wild.

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Exotic animals are beautiful and even though you might wish you could own one, they are better left in the wild or in responsible zoos with people who know how to care for them in the safest and healthiest way possible. Exotic animals in accredited zoos have the best chance to live happy and healthy lives in captivity, and become part of diverse population that will conserve the species for many more years to come.

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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Mountain Lions in Oregon: The Biggest Predator You Never See

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Just how likely are you to run into a fierce predator on your hike through a state park or national forest? Most of us assume it’s unlikely. The image that comes to mind is of rainforests or savannas housing tigers, lions and cheetahs. Those are half a world away from us, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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With a distribution over two continents and the ability to adapt to a variety of climates, the mountain lion could be considered king of the American jungle. This species is the most widely distributed mammal in the Americas, with 30 subspecies and a bundle of common names including the cougar, puma, and panther. Mountain lions are on the bigger end of the smaller cats, weighing around 120-190 lbs. Their tan and reddish fur provide good cover in the trees and rocky mountains of both North and South America, while their classic felid jaws and claws aid in their ambush method of hunting of which there is a 70% success rate. Like most other cat species mountain lions are solitary animals, with the exception of mating and females with cubs.

Worldwide mountain lions are a species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist with an overall estimation of 30,000 individuals, but their numbers are starting to decrease. In fact, they aren’t found in the Eastern United States, after being hunted out in the last 200 years. The Pacific Northwest has a good portion of the United States’ mountain lions, with numbers around a few thousand in each state. They don’t appear to be limited by human activity, but rather by the amount of prey species available. In Oregon, the mountain lion population is estimated at 6,400 as of April 2017.

Each state monitors their populations in slightly different ways, and here the mountain lions fall under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Their goal is to keep the population above the 1994 level of 3,000 individuals. They also monitor the number of conflict animals in the state, or animals that cause damage to people’s property or person. These animals will be removed if necessary, and if the number of conflicts is too high or the prey species are suffering losses from too many mountain lions ODFW is prepared to adjust the population. In other words they want a stable population of mountain lions, not too many or too few.

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In addition to monitoring the population status ODFW sets hunting regulations for the state. Mountain lions are listed as a big game species in Oregon, and are hunted using the same tag system as other big game. Hunters can take both males and females during the mountain lion season, but mothers with cubs are off limits. In the past it was legal to use hunting hounds to tree a lion, or track and corner a mountain lion in a tree. However, using hounds for hunting a mountain lion is illegal for sport hunters, which has lowered the success rates of mountain lion hunting in the state. There is some speculation that this could have caused an increase in the population, but as of now there is no research to support the theory.

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That’s not to say there is a lack of mountain lion research in Oregon, not by a long shot. There have been over a dozen research publications affiliated with ODFW in the last decade alone. They include subjects like establishing more accurate mountain lion densities and population growth rates, effects of lethal control, kill rates and prey selection, and the effects on population dynamics of elk (one of their prey species). In southwestern Oregon there was a long-term study from 1992-2003 that radio collared and captured mountain lions and gathered data on home ranges, prey interactions, reproduction, and dispersal. All of these pieces of research are important to the whole picture of the mountain lion-how it lives, factors that could affect its survival, and how to best live alongside one of our biggest top predators.

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So the next time you pick up your hiking boots, remember and respect the fact that you may not be as alone as you thought out there. Keep an eye out for tracks, because Oregon’s mountain lions can be seen if you know how to look.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Oregon Cougar Management Plan. ODFW.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Research in Oregon. ODFW Wildlife Division.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Management in Neighboring States. ODFW Wildlife Division.