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Healthy Happy Hippos

Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized, Ungulates

Meet Wildlife Safari’s resident hippos! Blippo and Padron, like many of the animals at the park, have regular training sessions with their keepers. As they are such large animals, these sessions are vitally important for their care – being able to ask them to show their teeth allows keepers to make sure they’re healthy everyday, and catch any issues before they become a real problem.


Without using behavioral training for health checks, keepers and veterinarians would need to sedate these large animals to do any kind of check up-which can be stressful for the animal. 

While being able to move the hippos is definitely helpful, it is the open mouthed dental checks that are particularly important. “Our hippo trainers Allison Trout and Tanda Schmidt have done an amazing job communicating with our hippos to do voluntary tooth trims, if need be,” says Erica Sherrow, Lead Ungulate Keeper. “We have been utilizing a drummel to slowly trim their teeth to give them a natural wear. Blippo seems to take delight in the vibrations of the drummel, its almost like a tooth massage! Padron is a bit more shy, but is becoming braver every day.”

Hippos have large incisors that dig up the grasses and vegetation they eat, with the help of incredibly powerful jaws. Since hippos are quite tough on their teeth, regular dental checks can catch cracks or damage before they become too serious.

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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

Zoobillee

Community

Wildlife Safari was full of ZOOmbies last month as the park celebrated Halloween! Each year Safari’s Zoobillee event is packed with fun activities, stalls and delicious Halloween themed food and this year was certainly no exception.

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The Haunted Hay ride took guests through the story of a witch who, with the help of her animal friends, grew and carved an incredible pumpkin. Throughout the ride, zoo zombies (ZOOmbies) wandered around in search of adventure.

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Face painting booths transformed visitors and staff from plain old humans to all sorts of animals, ghouls and goblins!

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With fresh face paint to liven up their costumes, and yummy treats in their bellies, guests settled down to watch the production of Dr Frankenstein and the Super Species Serum performed both by staff and animals!

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Palm Oil – a little known, BIG threat to tigers

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Palm oil is found in a huge number of products found in your local stores.  Although most people are unaware of its use as an ingredient, it is a serious conservation issue, especially since the majority of palm oil is non-sustainable.  This means that most of this palm oil is not coming from farms but from forests.  These forests are in places like Sumatra and India, important areas for tiger populations.

Sumatran Tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala

Sumatran Tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala

Tiger populations are dangerously low worldwide and are continuing to decline.  There are more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than there are left in the wild.

Wildlife Safari is home to two tigers, Riya and Kemala.  These sisters are four year old Sumatran tigers, the smallest subspecies.  There are only around 300 individuals of this sub species left on earth and only six sub species of tigers left in the world.  The rate of loss of this species is a serious concern, and palm oil harvesting is exacerbating the situation.

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Riya having a rest after her training session

People have been attempting to mass-produce this palm oil by clear-cutting forests – decreasing animal’s habitats so fast that it is driving many species to extinction.

However, there is a sustainable way to produce palm oil that does not involve clear cutting forests, so it is important to do your research on what kind is in the products you use in your home. While this sustainable option is slowly increasing in populations, only about 10% of palm oil containing products currently use sustainable palm oil.

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You can help forests from becoming clear-cut by choosing products that use sustainable palm oil – if that is what people are demanding, then companies will need to change their practices in order to meet their consumer’s preferences.  There are free apps available that tell you which products are sustainable versus non-sustainable – check out which one is right for you!

Some products have also added a symbol on their packaging that lets consumers know that they can feel good about their sustainable choice.

If we can make the change to sustainably sourced palm oil we can help wild tigers to keep their homes. That would help keep tigers just like Riya and Kemala safe and happy!

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.

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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.

 

Russel relaxing after a swim

Russell and Claire

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Russell and Claire are Alaskan Coastal Brown bears. They make up half of Wildlife Safari’s population of brown bears, and at 27 and 28 years old they are the old ladies of the group. Bears are one of few species that has a similar lifespan in captivity and in the wild – into their 30s. So the girl’s are getting close to the upper end on that life expectancy, but are still healthy, strong, and active.

Russel and Claire

Russell and Claire – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Like most of the brown bears in captivity in the US, they were orphaned at a young age. They had, however, been through at least one winter with their mothers – long enough for them to easily slip into the hibernation routine. This is important, since it is something they learn, it isn’t built in to their instincts – which means most orphaned bears in captivity do not hibernate. This means they go without that healthy time to heal wounds and lose up to 14 percent of their body weight – leaving them vulnerable to obesity and related diseases. This is why Russell and Claire are so healthy – they hibernate for four months a year!

Russel relaxing after a swim

Russel relaxing after a swim – Photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

The girls have very distinct personalities: Claire loves to sleep and is very into finding all kinds of weird and wonderful positions to sleep in for maximum comfort. Russell, on the other hand, loves to be out and exploring. She is also bold and confident – and has no issues nudging Claire into joining her for adventures.

These two LOVE their meat, as well as melons and pineapple – though they get lots of variety with every meal. As omnivores they would eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as they foraged, as well as any meat or easy prey they would come across.

Russel - photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

Russel – photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

Claire and Russel always brighten their keepers’ days, and we hope they brighten yours too!

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Welcome to the World, Little Cheetahs!

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is excited to announce the birth of four cheetah cubs! Mother Moonfire gave birth late last month to four healthy, active little ones – all getting bigger everyday! This litter is particularly special for the park as it takes our cheetah cub count up to 201 since the start of the breeding program.

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The litter is genetically valuable for the captive breeding population, so they have a bright hopeful future.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

For now, the Cheetah team is enjoying watching them grow and play.

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Moonfire is a doting mother, taking excellent care of her cubs.

Moonfire and her cubs

Moonfire and her cubs – Photo courtesy of Maddy Tweedt

New black bear climbing structure

Extreme Makeover – Carnivore Edition

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are constantly working to enrich the lives of the animals under our care. Enrichment comes in many different forms, from spraying perfume on enclosure trees for scent enrichment to behavioral training, puzzle toys and climbing structures. Here is a look at some of the exciting new enclosure enrichment brought to you by the Carnivore Department of the Wildlife Safari.

 

Just Lion’ Around

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If you drive through the lion loop nowadays, you may see a lion or two lounging on their new favorite enclosure structure. This two tiered hammock, perfect for midday naps and relaxing, was built and designed by carnivore keepers Taylor and Jordan. While the first hammock tier is already complete and ready for lion enjoyment, the second tier is still in construction and will be added soon. Lions love their rest and sleep about 20 hours a day in the wild. Stop by the lion loop, near the beginning of our drive-through safari, and observe these sweet snoozers.

The hammock in the lion enclosure - newly renovated

The hammock in the lion enclosure – newly renovated

 

Bearobics

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American black bears survive in the wild by utilizing their hooked, non-retractable claws for tree climbing, reaching impressive heights with remarkable speed. Here in the carnivore department of the Wildlife Safari, we are very excited to have a new climbing structure for our oldest black bear, Donna. The structure, built by the dedicated maintenance staff of the Safari, took two weeks to complete, stands 14 feet high, and consists of over a dozen logs. Not only is the structure designed to help Donna practice those natural climbing abilities, it also provides another area for keepers to spread food enrichment that will be tricky and exciting for Donna to find. Keep climbing Donna!

 

New black bear climbing structure

New black bear climbing structure

 

Run Cheetah, Run!

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Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can run rates of 70 miles per hour in pursuit of prey. Although their bodies are perfectly adapted for sprinting, it still takes time and practice to build up the muscle mass and technique for reaching these top speeds.

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Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are hoping to increase our cheetahs’ speeds through the introduction of a lure pulley system. The system works by attaching a large portion of meat onto a wire-pulley system that rapidly pulls the tempting treat across the ground over a 300 foot distance.

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

 

Cheetahs will chase the bait from one side of the pulley to the other, gradually developing their running skill to more closely mirror that of their wild cousins. Construction of the lure system is already underway, and the flat land that will serve as the running track can be seen to the right of the road near the exit of the Cheetah drive-through loop.

Treasured Tigers 

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Sumatran Tigers are the rarest subspecies of tiger, with only approximately 400 left in the world. With populations of these beautiful creatures shrinking, breeding the remaining Sumatran Tigers is essential to subspecies survival. Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are lucky to have two Sumatran sisters, Riya and Kemala. The Wildlife Safari, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), is hoping to begin a Sumatran Tiger breeding program soon when a male Sumatran Tiger is available. More tigers means more space.

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Fundraising from the Ladies Auxiliary of Wildlife Safari’s (LAWS) 20th annual auction night this year will go toward a major enclosure upgrade for our girls and any future Safari tigers. In years passed, LAWS events have raised money to create major Safari projects such as the new veterinary clinic and elephant watering hole. This year, the auction was named, “Hold that Tiger” with an old Hollywood theme. Money raised over the course of the evening will go towards our Sumatran Tiger improvement project.

Stay tuned for more exciting innovations in our carnivore department!

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Summer Swims

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores

This summer the tigers and lions had fun in the sun with sprinklers and pools! Although the lions were uncertain at first, they soon decided that sprinklers were a great way to beat the heat.

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Our lion family enjoying the sprinklers

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The lion pride’s first sprinkler playtime

The tigers took a while to venture into their pond this year, but they spent the last few weeks of summer making up for it!

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Tigers playing in their pond – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Sumatran tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala, consider a swim on a hot day – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Pool party! – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim