Kelley’s first adventures!

Uncategorized, Ungulates

Wildlife Safari’s first baby giraffe, Kelley, has started adventuring further afield, taking his first trips into the main park! In the months since his birth, Kelley has stayed in the giraffe yard, staying close to the barn and getting used to people and the sight of cars.

kelly-3

Baby Kelley explores his new surroundings – Photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

kelley-and-mom

Kelley sticks close to Aunt Erin while he checks out his new surroundings – Photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

It’s going to be a slow transition, just short trips out to start with, especially with cold weather meaning little Kelley will need to stick close to the barn (and the heaters!). Kelley’s keepers are very excited about this new step for the not-so-little guy.

kelly-4

Kelley and Aunt Erin – Photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

“Kelley has been such a joy for all his keepers and guests!” Shares Erica Sherrow, Lead Ungulate Keeper and one of the keepers that gets to spent time with Kelley. “It has been an amazing experience to watch him grow and for his mom, Miya, to be a great first time mom. We are excited to start bonding with Kelley through some training which he loves. He is his mother’s son and loves all things orange (carrots and yams)!”

kelley-miya-and-erin

Kelley, Miya and Erin get a snack while on their morning outing – Photo courtesy of Erica Sherrow

As he gets used to it, Kelley will be able to spend longer periods of time playing in the main drive through – so keep an eye out for him!

kelly-6

 

 

“Spot” light on Cheetahs

Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

There are a couple of large cat species that are spotted, including cheetahs, leopards and jaguars. While each species has a unique kind of spot, many people find it difficult to tell the difference at a glance.

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

Cheetahs, however, have a unique identifying mark that can be used to tell the difference with just a quick look. Cheetahs are the only spotted cat that hunt in the day time, an adaptation to avoid direct competition with bigger, stronger predators. The give-away marking that shows this is the black tear line that runs down on either side of a cheetah’s face. This black mark stops the sunlight from reflecting into their eyes – just like the eye black that athletes wear.

img_4395

Cheetah’s spots are referred to as “true” markings – they are marked on their skin as well, not just their fur. As well as the spots themselves, there are lots of other differences between the spotted cat species, including size, anatomy and behavior, but the tear marks are a good, quick way to distinguish.

So the next time you see a spotted face peeking from a zoo enclosure (or even the wild!), you’ll know if it’s a cheetah that’s watching you!

Mohawk

 

Bear-y Interesting….

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

During the warmer parts of the year you will see our two Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear girls, Russell and Claire, and our two Grizzly Bear boys, Mak and Oso, in our Brown Bear drive through area.

Surprisingly, the biggest distinction between brown and black bears isn’t the color of their fur, as they can both range from light brown to black in color, but rather their affinity for either climbing or digging. Brown bears are great diggers and can dig a hole the size of a small car in about 2 days. They have a huge muscle on their back and long front claws which help them dig and forage underground. Black bears are great climbers and are often found in trees. They have larger hips and shorter, curved claws to help them climb.

img_6932

Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Bears live to be around 30 years old in the wild and in captivity. For their weight, it is amazing that they can run up to 30 mph. They can outrun a horse, out swim an Olympian, kill a cow with one blow, and drag a full grown elk uphill. This is the reason why we have “protected contact” with our bears, meaning there is always a barrier between us and them. Even if our bears just wanted to give us a hug, it would not turn out well for us.

img_7302

Black Bear – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

They have an amazing sense of smell. Bears can detect odors 6 inches underground through solid dirt, normal odors 3 miles away, and strong rancid odors 15-20 miles away.

Bears are omnivorous scavengers so they’ll pretty much eat anything they can find. Our bears all have their favorite foods, just like we do; Mak and Oso love their produce while Russell and Claire love their meat. A human eats about 2,000 calories a day while a bear can eat over 15,000 calories in a day. Their main sources of protein in the wild are fish and insects. However, fishing is a learned behavior that has to be taught. Mak and Oso are 11 years old and have been with us most of their live, and it wasn’t until last summer that Mak caught his first fish from their pond – he was as surprised as we were! Bears are social learners and learn by watching other bears.

img_6887

Photo Courtesy of Mandy Ho

We train our bears by capturing their natural behaviors. This not only helps stimulate the bears mentally but also helps us perform stress-free health checks on them. For instance, our bears are trained to show us their teeth and paws so we can check their oral health and paw pads for any injuries. We exercise positive reinforcement training, meaning we reward our animals when they do well, and ignore it if they do not. We never say ‘no’ or give out punishment when they do something wrong. We also always ask our animals to come do something, we never force them. Usually, a tasty snack is motivation enough for our animals to come train with us.

img_7277

Donna, one of Wildlife Safari’s resident Black Bears – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Bears are not very vocal animals. In the wild, you’ll never see a bear stand up on its hind legs and roar like in the movies. They actually only take that stance when they are trying to pinpoint a smell. Bears are very wobbly on their hind legs and it exposes their stomach to potential attacks. If they really wanted to scare you, they’d plant themselves firmly on all fours. Fortunately, bears in the wild like to stay away from humans and will run off if they see/smell/hear you coming. This means you will likely never come across a bear unless it was so engrossed in something that it didn’t mind you approaching.

img_6905

Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

There are 8 types of bears: American black bear, Asian black bear, brown bear, giant panda, sloth bear, sun bear, polar bear, and spectacled bear (also called Andean bear). There are about 16 recognized subspecies of brown bears and their size differs by region with the Yukon grizzly around 400 pounds and Kodiak brown bear up to 1500 pounds.

Hibernation

Here at Wildlife Safari we are fortunate to be able to hibernate all our bears. Hibernation is not an instinctual behavior but rather a learned one, like fishing. Our girls came to us knowing the basics of hibernation, so when our boys came to us they learned from the girls over a 3 year period. They each get bales of hay to bed down for the duration of their sleep, from November to late February. During this period, our girls have to be separated because Russell is a bed hog. However, our boys stay together and will actually cuddle for the duration of their sleep.

img_6923

Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear, Russell – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Daylight, temperature, and food availability are all cues for hibernation. When there’s less sunlight, it gets colder and food gets scarce, the bears prepare for hibernation. Here at Wildlife Safari, we can control their hibernation to some degree. Beginning in early October, we start giving them foods they don’t particularly like: broccoli, brussell sprouts, etc. This mimics the decrease in food availability in the wild and is their final cue to settle down to hibernate. Essentially, they decide they would rather go to sleep than eat another brussell sprout! During hibernation, they have a slowed metabolism, heart rate, and respiration. They lose 15% of their body weight and this is also the time when any lingering injuries will heal.

img_6916

Grizzly Bears, Mak and Oso – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Ninety-five percent of female bears give birth during hibernation, usually in early January. Bears will mate during breeding season but fertilized eggs aren’t implanted in the uterus until the fall when she is ready to hibernate. This is an important process; if she doesn’t gain enough weight to carry her through winter, the embryo will not implant and is reabsorbed by the body. Cubs are born blind, hairless, toothless, and weigh less than 1 lb. They stay with mom until they’re 2 years old, are sexually mature at about 5 years, but continue growing until about 10 years.

Though we use the term “hibernation” when referring to this process for bears, they are not true hibernators. This process is actually referred to as torpor or carnivore lethargy. Like true hibernators, they do not eat, urinate, or defecate during their hibernation. But unlike true hibernators, their metabolism and body temperatures do not drop as low. If you were to wake a true hibernator they would not survive because their body wouldn’t be able to bring their metabolism and temperature up quickly enough. Bears, however, will re-adjust their position to stay comfy, and may even raise their heads to check if they hear a noise, then fall back to sleep just fine.

Conservation

Despite their conservation status of “least concern”, their numbers in the wild are doing relatively well so most facilities do not breed brown or black bears. Their main threat is habitat loss and climate change. Their natural habitats are being reduced by human expansion into their territories and climate change threatens their survival by interrupting their hibernation – if it’s too warm they won’t want to settle down to sleep and will therefore lose the chance to shed excess weight and heal their wounds fully. When it comes to human conflict, wild bears typically have a 3 strike policy, meaning if a bear comes into contact with humans more than 3 times, they must be relocated into a facility or put down.

img_6945

Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

The bears that find a new home, like Mak, Oso, Russell and Claire, get to live happy lives with people looking after them. If you’d like to come and meet our bears, we actually have encounters through the winter. You can come see our sleepy ones in a ‘hibernating bear’ encounter now being offered daily!

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.

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.

img_9555img_9548

 

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.

img_9550img_9552

 

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

img_9551

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!

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.

img_2679

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.

img_3979

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.

lion-tongue-barbs

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.

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.

img_2235

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.

 

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!