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!

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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!”

Asanti's Family

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.

Prehensile Tail Porcupine

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.  

Lion Cubs

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.

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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Carnivore Enrichment

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

To enrich means “to improve or enhance the quality or value of.” Therefore, at Wildlife Safari and similar facilities, enrichment can be defined as anything that enhances the daily lives of the animals living there. Enrichment comes in many forms: it can be a special treat, something different from an animal’s usual diet, or it can be a toy, a scent, a sound, or something for visual use. It all depends on the general interests of the targeted species and particular individuals of that species.

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One of our year old cheetah cubs enjoys foraging for meat chunks hidden inside a paper mache’ toy for their birthday.

Food-based Enrichment

           Our carnivores often receive special treats as enrichment. The bears receive fruit, biscuits, nuts, and other treats throughout each day except for the months when they are in hibernation and the weeks leading up to hibernation. Sometimes, we make them popsicles using crushed berries and water. Our big cats occasionally enjoy bloodsicles as something different and refreshing, especially on a hot day.

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Claire, one of our Alaskan brown bears, chilling out with a berry popsicle.

Toys

             Large, heavy-duty plastic barrels and balls are a popular toy for our carnivores. They also enjoy logs and boxes, both of which can be used to hide treats in or be sprayed with scents. Our big cats especially love the smell of strong perfume or cologne; they will rub themselves all over something that has been sprayed with a scent! Our 2 year old lion “cubs” have a large rope that is used for tug-of-war sessions against keepers and interns. As soon as it is ready for them, they playfully run over and get to work, using their teeth and paws to tug on it! Shredded paper is also a favorite of our big cats. It is fun to watch them roll around in, though less fun to clean up.

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Large blue barrels like this one are often used to increase foraging time for our black bears. We like to hide some of their food inside them!

Natural Enrichment

       Our brown bears have access to built-in ponds in their outdoor enclosures, simulating nature. You can even catch Mak and Oso, our Grizzly bear boys, wrestling in the water when it’s hot outside! In October, we like to give pumpkins to bite, scratch, and play with. Our lions, tigers, and cheetahs enjoy receiving giraffe sand taken from the giraffe barn. It may sound gross to humans, but just like a nice perfume, they like to rub themselves all over the stuff; it is like catnip to them!

Disappearing Stripes

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Illegal poaching is a direct cause of decreasing population size for multiple animal species. One of the main reasons for poaching is due to a variety of animals having what is called high “market value.” This is when a species has value as an item and there is, in turn, a high market demand for a supply of these “exotic” animal parts. The demand for animal parts can be anything from elephant ivory to a lion’s pelt.

Here at Wildlife Safari, we have two Sumatran Tigers named Riya and Kemala. These girls and their conspecifics (members of the same species) are listed as critically endangered under The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with fewer than 400 remaining individuals in the wild. All sub-species of tigers and other cats such as lions and leopards are sought after and exploited due to the increasing market for valuables such as their fur, teeth, bones, organs, as well as being continually hunted because they are considered “trophies.”

Riya enjoying her afternoon

Kemala enjoying the cooler weather

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Wildlife Fund conducted a study on population viability of Sumatran Tigers and found that close to 80% of wild tiger deaths within the past few decades have been due to an increase in poaching because of a high market demand for tiger parts with an increasing portion of deaths stemming from a recent trend of palm oil production (“Sumatran Tiger”, n.d.). Harvesting palm oil can be such a destructive process to natural ecosystems and is often an unsustainable practice; this can severely hinder wild tiger population growth and cause isolated patches of habitat and even complete habitat loss. Tigers need large patches of territory because they are solitary animals, but the palm oil industry has been wreaking havoc on the surrounding ecosystem leading to increased competition for dwindling resources among tigers. This trend of habitat loss decreases genetic diversity and causes a higher probability of inbreeding amongst genetically similar tigers which makes it difficult to increase healthy wild tiger populations.

Conservation is an effort made by multiple disciplines that work together to bring the best in research, education, and management. Here at Wildlife Safari, we adhere to this sentiment with great pride. Wildlife Safari is a non-profit organization as well as being an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institute. Through the AZA, we work with multiple other programs, such as the SSP (Species Survival Plan), to pair genetically diverse animals to create successful breeding initiatives for healthy captive populations. Wildlife Safari is currently working on a Sumatran Tiger breeding program to increase the captive population genetics of Sumatran Tigers. Lastly, one dollar from any encounter that you partake at Wildlife Safari goes to support one of three conservation campaigns we are partnered with this year: International Elephant Foundation, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, and finally, Tiger Conservation Campaign! We thank you for your donations and your continuous support. Riya, Kemala and all the animals here at Wildlife Safari also thank you for giving them a voice to be heard!

Kemala posing for a photo

“Sumatran Tiger.” World Wildlife Fund. n.d. Retrieved from

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sumatran-tiger

“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.

 

Opening of Our Tiger Oasis

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Uncategorized

 

Wildlife Safari is proud to announce the unveiling of our new Tiger Oasis expansion!  This project allowed the remodeling of our tiger huts, current tiger enclosures, and the addition of a new enclosure.  The Tiger Oasis will allow Wildlife Safari to become a Sumatran tiger breeding facility through AZA and the SSP (Species Survival Plan).

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Room 5 tigers

Why will this new breeding program be important?

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered with less than 400 in the wild.  Their main threats are deforestation, mainly from palm oil plantations, and poaching.  The oil palm industry grows at about 9% per year with 80% of all palm oil coming out of Indonesia and Malaysia (where the Island of Sumatra resides).  Sadly, only about 10-15% of this palm oil is sustainable; meaning that it does not affect the tiger’s survival.

Riya & Mala

Our new breeding program will allow the captive population of Sumatran tigers to become genetically diverse and prevent inbreeding from occurring.  This new expansion will also aid in us keepers providing better health check-ups and educate the public on the plights that these animals face every day.