Bear Island

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Through the week of spring break Wildlife Safari has been offering $5 feed-me cups so guests can feed the bears! The bears love their new enrichment, it’s a fun interaction for them and they are always keen for snacks. It is also a wonderful way for visitors to connect with the animals, which is what we’re all about here at Safari!

Claire, our Alaskan Coastal brown bear foraging for snacks

Now before you worry about our bears’ waist-lines, you should know these snacks are a carefully considered part of their diet. We keep track of how many calories they are consuming every day so we can keep them nice and healthy!

To our Grizzly boys, snack time is the best time – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

On days when they are not getting snack cups, keepers will go out at intervals through the day and throw snacks into their enclosure. This grazing through the day helps us to mimic the natural foraging behavior of wild bears, so we spread their snacks over their enclosure so they can sniff them out!

Russell, another Alaskan Coastal brown bear, takes a quick snooze

This experience is now available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm. So if you haven’t met our bears, now is an excellent time!

Violet the Virginia Opossom

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

You may have encountered a face like this in your backyard at night, but Violet here has a special job here at Wildlife Safari. Violet, a Virginia Opossum, is one of the park’s ambassador animals. She visits schools and community events with her keepers to help teach people about wildlife. She also helps tell people about her species, that they are more than just creatures that steal from your trash cans!

Violets curious little face – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Virginia opossums are the only marsupial in North America. Their gestation period is only 13 days because their young spend the first 3 months of their life in their mother’s pouch, and the next few months clinging to her back wherever she goes!

Despite popular belief, opossums are incapable of carrying the rabies virus because their body temperature drops too low when they play dead to sustain the virus. They also help reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease – since ticks are a favorite food of theirs, they will eat about 5000 ticks in a season which cuts down your chance of getting one along with any disease they carry!

Nap time for a tired Opossum – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Violet was found an orphan at Wildlife Safari and hand-raised by keepers. When she was found she could fit easily in the palm of your hand, but she soon grew up into an active and very agile little girl! “She’s very comfortable around humans and loves to use them as her own personal jungle gym,” says Education Intern Sarah Cutting, who works with Violet everyday.

Violet at only a few weeks old

Because her daytime eyesight is fairly poor, violet mostly explores her environment with her nose, and her mouth!

“Violet enjoys any kind of taste enrichment, from new sorts of bugs to munch on to the occasional tropical fruit, as well as rubber kongs” says Sarah.

Swinging from her house – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

“Unfortunately, opossums get a bad rap in the public eye,” Sarah tells us.”One of my favorite things about taking Violet on outreach is how surprised people are by how cute, soft, and clean she is. Violet is a great animal ambassador because she fights opossum stereotypes wherever she goes!”

Growing Fast!

Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s recent littler of cheetah cubs are 6 months old! While to their keepers it feels like only yesterday they arrived on the scene, they are now 6 months old, around 35 lbs and eating the same amount of meat as their mother.

Cheetah cubs eating dinner – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

Even little Kiume, the foster cub from another litter, is fast catching up to the others. Although he is 3 weeks younger than his adopted siblings, he is the most curious and adventurous of the bunch.

Curious little cubs – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

They are little bundles of energy, they love playing together and watching people go by. All that play is exhausting though, and they can often be found all in a pile on top of mom while they rest.

Moonfire and her cubs, Clark 2, David, Rebel, Jezabelle and Kiume

Nature or Nurture?

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Innate vs Learned Behaviors

In any discussion of animal behavior arises the question of nature or nurture. Some behaviors are built into an animal’s instincts – they never need to learn them, they just come naturally. Instinctual, or innate behavior, is defined as “behaviors that occur naturally in all members of a species whenever they are exposed to a certain stimulus.”

Other behaviors have to be learned for an animal to exhibit them (or at least, exhibit them successfully) – they’ll usually be taught these by their mothers. Learned behavior is defined as a behavior which “an organism develops as a result of experience.”

For example, cheetahs do not have to be taught how to hiss, it is an instinctual behavior. On the other hand, while bears are often known for their fishing ability, this is actual something their mother needs to teach them.

So now let’s put you to the test… How well are you able to tell which behaviors are instinctual and which are learned?

Do bears learn to hibernate or are they born knowing how?

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Russel, an Alaskan Coastal brown bear, snuggled up during hibernation – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: It’s a learned behavior!

For a bear to be able to go through hibernation, they have to be taught by their mothers. Bears in the wild receive cues from the environment such as the changing of light, temperature and food availability to help signal the time to hibernate. If all the bears needed were the cues from the environment, then all bears in captivity would be able to hibernate, but that’s not the case. Because hibernation, or torpor, is learned, captive bears are often unable to hibernate because they were orphaned as cubs; they didn’t get to learn how to hibernate from their moms.  Our brown bear boys Mak and Oso are a great example of two cubs who weren’t able to learn how to hibernate before becoming orphaned. Fortunately for them, our brown bear girls, Claire and Russel, were able to learn before being orphaned and they have been able to help show Mak and Oso how it is done… and it only took three winters.

Are lions born hunters or do they have to learn to hunt?

Wildlife Safari's Lion pride playing outside - photo courtesy of Cori

Wildlife Safari’s Lion pride playing outside – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: Lions have to learn to hunt!

Lions hit maturity at the age of two and from birth to the age of two, cubs are learning all they need to know to survive. They are born with the instinct to pounce but the actual act of killing and eating of prey is learned from the pride. We are often asked if we give live prey to our captive lions. The answer is no for a couple of reasons

  • It’s not much fun for the prey animal- we’re all animal lovers here and we never want to see an animal stressed.
  • The lions were not taught what to do with the live prey – they may never get to eat if they had to catch it!

Although it seems natural for them, if we put a live animal in with the lions they would pounce and play with it like a toy and because they are large animals, they may actually kill the prey. That being said, there is no guarantee of what would happen with the introduction of live prey because our lions weren’t taught to kill and then consume.

Last question!

Do cheetahs have to learn to to run?

One of Wildlife Safaris ambassador cheetahs out on a walk - photo courtesy of Cori

One of Wildlife Safaris ambassador cheetahs out on a walk – photo courtesy of Cori Pearson

Answer: It’s instinctual!

Cheetah’s, just like humans and many other animals, are born with the instinct to sleep, to walk, and to run. They don’t need to learn this from a parent. An orphaned cheetah in the wild, or a human raised cheetah cub in captivity will automatically do these things. At Wildlife Safari we have our very own hand-raised cheetah ambassadors: Pancake, Khayam, and Mchumba. We love taking them for walks!

Carmen the Cockatoo 

Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Meet Carmen! This happy girl is a Moluccan, or Salmon-crested, Cockatoo. Native to Indonesia and Australia, they can live into their 70s, so Carmen is still young at 21 years of age.

Cockatoos have incredibly loud voices, and Carmen definitely uses hers! She enjoys chatting to her keepers, though her ‘talking’ is not quite what you would think; although cockatoos can say words, they are only mimicked sounds rather than words with meaning for them. Carmen enjoys announcing that she is a ‘pretty girl’ to anyone that will listen!

 

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Carmen with keeper Tim – photo courtesy of Tim Dirksen

They live on a diet of fruit, nuts and seeds – cashews are Carmen’s favorite treat! They have terrifically strong beaks designed to crack open nuts or get through tough foods. They use these picks to pick things up and play as well – Carmen LOVES using hers to shred cardboard. “That’s her favorite activity,” says keeper Tim Dirksen. As her primary trainer, Tim spends time with Carmen for her training and enrichment – socialising her and making sure she’s healthy and happy. She can be very picky about who she works with – not every keeper makes into her good graces. Tim, however, is a firm favourite!

Play time for Carmen! - photo courtesy of Tim Dirksen

Play time for Carmen! – photo courtesy of Tim Dirksen

Since cockatoos are very intelligent, they need a lot of attention or they become easily bored. Carmen gets lots of love, toys, and fun things in her day to keep her occupied. “She particularly loves it when people speak or sing in Spanish to her,” Tim tells us.

Carmen lives in the aviary section of the Wildlife Safari Village – come and meet her in person!

Enrichment – Making Life Fun!

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores

The primary job of keepers at Wildlife Safari is to ensure that all of our animals are happy and healthy. This requires a little extra effort on the part of the keepers. The key is to give the animals new things to interact with every single day. The public helps with this because every car that comes through the drive through gives the animals something new to look at and to smell. The animals can interact with the cars, or not, as they choose. They can run away, they can hide, they can passively watch the car pass, or they can investigate.

Even tigers like to sit in boxes. Photo courtesy of Mikaely Riley.

Even tigers like to sit in boxes. Photo courtesy of Mikaely Riley.

For animals that are in smaller spaces, keepers also provide daily enrichment, something to make the animal think “What is that?!” Enrichment comes in a huge variety of forms and allows keepers to show off their creative sides. It is important for enrichment to excite one of the senses, whether it be sight, touch, taste, sound, or smell. The best forms of enrichment cover multiple senses at once and make the animal think.

Brown Bears playing with a firehose ball. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Brown Bears playing with a firehose ball. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Tactile Enrichment

This may be the simplest form of enrichment because it is just giving the animal something to play with or touch. Each day, the lions and tigers get a variety of toys; both in their yards, where they spend the day, and in their huts, where they spend the nights. Generally, there is at least one toy in every room of a hut and those toys get moved around or swapped out with other toys every day. All of the animals have their favorite toys. The tigers love their big blue barrels. They chew on them, roll them around, and push them over.

If you throw a ball for Pancake, the cheetah, she will usually chase it and bat it around. Other tactile enrichment can be boxes, pumpkins, shredded newspaper, paper chains, and paper-mache. Really, the sky is the limit. But we do have to be careful of one thing – many of our animals like to chew their toys, so we have to make sure that there is nothing that could harm them if they were to eat it.

One of our male lions playing tug-o-war

One of our male lions playing tug-o-war

Sight enrichment

Sight enrichment involves giving the animal something new to see. Sometimes animals don’t play with the toys that they are given, sometimes they just look at them. But that is also a form of enrichment. Sight enrichment can also involve moving an animal to a new enclosure. Here, the animal has new neighbors to look at and sniff (doubling as scent enrichment) and a new area to explore. In the winter, when the brown bears are hibernating, we have the unique opportunity to bring cheetahs out into the bear enclosure. We simply close the gates and allow them to roam freely within the drive through bear enclosure. It gives them a little extra space to run around in, if they choose, but they can also look at animals they don’t get to see every day. It is like a field trip for them.

Cheetahs out on "Cheetah Watch" where they can explore cheetah Drive thru before the park opens

Cheetahs out on “Cheetah Watch” where they can explore cheetah Drive thru before the park opens – Photo courtesy of Sheila Swanson

Scent Enrichment

Scent enrichment can involve anything from spraying perfume on toys or trees to moving animals into different enclosures. Most of our animals mark trees or toys in their enclosure, so when a new animal is moved in or a toy is moved out and given to another animal, there is something new to smell.

We can also do things like putting elephant scat in with the carnivores. This enrichment is a favorite of the tiger girls, Riya and Kemala. They love to roll around in it and to play with it. But as always, safety first! In order to keep our animals safe and healthy, we make sure to freeze the scat for a couple of days to make sure there are no microbes in it that could make the tigers sick. Freezing the scat also adds to the enrichment, because the tigers have to work to break up the large scat into smaller pieces to play with!

Perfumes and spices are also usually a hit with the animals. We can put these out in the yards, in their huts, or on their toys.

One of our lions playing with a paper-mache ghost around Halloween. Photo courtesy of Caroline Harris.

One of our lions playing with a paper-mache ghost around Halloween. Photo courtesy of Caroline Harris.

Taste Enrichment

This form of enrichment is used for animals all across the park, from carnivores to giraffes, to emus. This form of enrichment includes giving the animal some type of food that they don’t get every day, or perhaps an extra snack. Examples of taste enrichment include tossing apples or lettuce to hoof stock in the drive through, hanging browse for the giraffes, and pouring protein drinks on toys for the lions and tigers. An important thing to remember here is that this enrichment is in addition to, not in replace of, their regular diets. Because many of our animals are highly food-motivated, we can also exercise their minds and make them work to get their food, as they would in the wild. We can put food into puzzle feeders or hang it from something. This requires the animal to think about how to get to the food. For example, we will put bear food into barrels. The barrels have holes that are big enough for the bears to reach and grab a snack, but it requires that the bear reach in and work for that food.

Bandit the American Badger enjoying a strawberry - his favorite!

Bandit the American Badger enjoying a strawberry – his favorite!

Sound enrichment

Sound enrichment is often easy to overlook, but is equally as important as other forms of enrichment. One of the simplest forms of sound enrichment is to play music. It could also be something like putting crinkly newspaper in a hut. We can also use toys for sound enrichment. The lions have a rattle, that was made by putting rocks in an enclosed PVC pipe. We recently gave the cheetah cubs a toy that squeaked. They loved it!

At Wildlife Safari, we keep an enrichment calendar to help us keep track of the forms of enrichment we have done recently. It helps to ensure that we are covering every sense and that we are providing the animals with unique forms of enrichment. Think that you have a great idea for animal enrichment? Tell us about it in the comments! We are always looking for new, creative enrichment ideas!

One of our young cheetahs running off with a new toy. Photo courtesy of Katie Low.

One of our young cheetahs running off with a new toy. Photo courtesy of Katie Low.

Tiger Times

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Riya and Kemala are 4 year old sisters, that came to us 2 years ago from Texas. Sumatran tigers weigh in at about 200 lbs and are the smallest of the 5 subspecies, with Siberian tigers being the largest at 700 lbs. Tigers can live into their teens in captivity, but usually only reach 10 or so in the wild if they are lucky. Sumatran tigers have the most stripes and pigmentation of all subspecies and the largest canines of all big cats.

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Kemala, one of out Sumatran tigers – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Even though tigers are muscular and powerfully built, they can move silently because they are able to fully retract their claws. They aren’t built for speed, like a cheetah, so they must stalk prey closely until they can pounce and knock it down without having to pursue. Tigers hunt by stalking as close as possible and utilizing their sight and hearing. They leap onto their prey and strangle it with a bite to the throat or back of the neck. A carcass is often dragged off and hidden for future meals. They are powerful enough to take down prey twice their size. Tigers are only successful with 5% of their prey. Unlike most cats, tigers are very water oriented. They will chase prey into the water to take advantage of their superior swimming ability.

Riya - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Riya – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Tiger stripes are like fingerprints, each tiger’s striping is unique. They are nocturnal and have much better night vision than humans. The backs of their ears have white spots that mimic eyes to warn other animals even if they are looking from behind the tiger. Tigers are apex predators in their ecosystem, keeping prey species in check to release plant species from herbivore stresses. Because of the unpredictability of their hunts, tigers tend to gorge whenever they can because they don’t know when their next meal will be.

Relaxing in her hut - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Relaxing in her hut – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Tigers are solitary except when mating or rearing cubs. They gestate for 3.5 months and have litters of 3-4 cubs. Cubs are born blind and less than 2 lbs, but they are able to kill before their first birthday. They begin hunting at 6 months, but are dependent on mom until they’re 18 months years old. They mature at about 4 years old but half of all cubs don’t survive more than two years. Their major threats are predators, but as they mature, injury during a hunt is also a likely reason for cub mortality.

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The beautiful Kemala checking out her enclosure – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Less than 350 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, making them critically endangered. Sumatra is the only place where tigers live alongside rhinos, elephants, and orangutans. Human-tiger conflict and fear are the driving factors behind their decline. All 5 subspecies of tigers are endangered, with poaching and traditional medicine being the main culprit. Habitat destruction and fragmentation also contribute to their decline. Tigers need an undisturbed habitat to thrive and as human populations expand, haphazard developments put huge pressures on their habitat from grazing cattle and degrading forests.

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Riya keenly awaits her snacks – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

At Wildlife Safari, we are excited to start renovations on our tiger exhibits. Our facility will be able to help save tigers by initiating a tiger breeding program and having our very first tiger cubs! With so few left in the wild, breeding our Sumatran tigers is more important than ever before. Come meet Riya and Kemala on our tiger encounter and you’ll be helping to protect tigers in the wild.

Huckleberry 

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized

Meet Huckleberry, Wildlife Safari’s ambassador chicken. Although chickens are far from endangered, they are a common farm or even household pet and Huckleberry helps teach people about their behavior, care, and their place in ecological systems.

Huckleberry the chicken getting some snuggle time with a keeper

Chickens eat fruits, vegetables and a variety of insects that they find in the soil using their typical behavior of “scratching” where they dig up the ground with their feet.

Most people think birds are pretty silly, but many species are actually quite intelligent, and can be trained very effectively. Huckleberry can understand and react to several commands, including target (she pecks the end of her target stick) and station (she goes to stand on her little platform).

Interrupting a conference between Huckleberry and Bell, the Blue and Gold Macaw.

Since she is so well behaved and can be easily recalled, Huckleberry gets to wander around outside or inside for most of the day. When she needs to be brought in, her keepers simply call her name (which she will come to) and ask her to go inside (she runs along into the Education building), or even ask her to go home – with that command she will run all the way inside and into her house awaiting her treat and for her keepers to shut her door.

When inside she likes to nap near her keepers while they do office work, or undertake the never-ending job of preening her feathers to ensure she stays clean and beautiful!

Training for Healthy Bodies and Minds

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

People tend to think that training involves ridding an animal of its natural instincts in order to tame it. In fact, our training is just the opposite. Animal training at Wildlife Safari is not used for the sole purpose of public entertainment. Our training actually reinforces natural behaviors and is used to evaluate and maintain the health of our animals.

Daily observations of our animals allow us to assess their health status. It is generally easy to tell if an animal is not feeling 100%, but it is not as easy to identify the source of the problem. Some parts of the animal’s body are difficult to see with just passive observation. For example, it is hard to see inside of a bear’s mouth, or to inspect a lion’s paw pads. This is where training becomes extremely valuable.

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A keeper training one of our female lions

Keepers can check for injuries on the bellies of lions during training sessions.

We can ask for a variety of behaviors that allow us to see parts of the animal’s body that are usually difficult to evaluate, such as the animal’s mouth, paw pads, and belly. For example, the lions and tigers are trained to put their paws up on the fence, allowing keepers to inspect the paw pads for any sign of injury or infection. Our ambassador cheetahs can also show us their paw pads, but the behavior is more similar to asking a dog to shake.”

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

One of our Ambassador cheetahs gives his paw to a keeper

With the cheetahs we can both look at and feel their pads to check for scrapes or other damage. The specific behavior we ask for varies slightly depending on the animal species, but the purpose is the same.

The lions, tigers, bears, and cheetahs are also trained to show off their bellies. The lions and tigers will put both paws on the fence, either from a sitting or standing position. The bears will stand on their hind legs. The cheetahs will lay on their sides in the ‘flop’ position, a very natural pose for them. The bears and hippos are also trained to open their mouths (to read more about hippo training, check out Healthy Happy Hippos). We actually discovered that one of our brown bears needed a root canal because he was trained to show us his teeth.

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Keeper Melissa Fox during a Brown Bear training session. Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox.

Other behaviors that we ask for are useful for medical procedures such as drawing blood or putting an animal under anesthesia. Sometimes our animals do get sick and we need to run tests on them, but we want to minimize the stress that this puts on them. To do this, we work with them to simulate medical procedures. For example, we are currently working with our lions to approach the fence and allow keepers to gently poke their thigh. This imitates the feeling of a needle. If we ever had to put the lion under anesthesia, we could inject the anesthetics by hand. They would approach the fence as they usually would, get poked, and that time they would happen to fall asleep. This limits stress because the process is very familiar to them. We are also working on blood draw training with many of our big cats. For a test as simple as a blood draw, we want to limit stress and avoid putting the animal under anesthesia.

With our ambassador cheetahs we can simply shave a small patch at the base of their tail and draw blood from there. It takes a little bit of time for them to get used to us touching their tail. But, unlike our ambassador cheetahs, most of our carnivores were not hand-raised and the process is therefore more difficult.

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to "station"

Pancake knows to go sit on her board when keepers ask her to “station”

We always work protected contact with our lions, tigers, and bears. This means that there is always a fence between us and them. Keepers cannot simply waltz into the tiger enclosure to draw blood. Because of this, we are training the tigers to approach the fence and allow us to gently pull their tails through the fence so that we can draw blood from their tails while they are still awake. For the bears, we actually draw blood from the arm, but the goal is the same. This training does not happen overnight. There is a process and each animal is in a different stage of the process.

Training these behaviors is just the first step. After the animal has learned the behavior, it is imperative that the behavior is maintained. We reinforce behaviors with an audible click and a food reward. The animals are trained to hold a behavior until they hear a click. Then they get a bite-size snack as a reward for doing the behavior correctly. The clicker is an important tool in training because it allows keepers to stay consistent. If we were to reinforce behaviors with a verbal cue, such as saying “good”, the animals might get confused because each keeper has a different voice and tone. Clickers produce an identical sound, so all keepers are giving the exact same cues to prevent confusion.

Come check out our animal encounters to see training in action!

 

Happy New Year From Safari!

Uncategorized

Happy New Year! Wildlife Safari hopes the new year brings you as much joy as this strawberry brings to badger!

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Bandit the American Badger enjoys a strawberry

As you pack up this holiday season, don’t forget that we accept Christmas trees here at the park. Our animals love playing with or snacking on the trees, so spread some holiday cheer and bring them on down!

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Pancake the cheetah playing with her Christmas tree