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!”

Bandit the Badger

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature

Normally found in either his den or his dig box, Bandit the American Badger has a pretty relaxed life here at Wildlife Safari. Aptly named, Bandit tends to steal people’s hearts with his wonderful personality and incredible good looks.

Bandit the American Badger

Bandit the American Badger

Like all badgers, Bandit has a passion for digging. Whether its in his dig box, or in the gardens while on a walk with his keepers, once he starts digging he won’t stop until he finds something interesting or has a big enough hole to lay down in. “Being a fossorial animal, he absolutely loves digging,” says Leila Goulet, Director of Education at Wildlife Safari, and one of Bandit’s keepers. Which leads us to another of Bandit’s passions: napping.

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Badgers go into what we call a torpor during the winter months, which is a kind of hibernation. It isn’t as complete as other forms of hibernation, for example bears will not eat or go to the bathroom for their entire four months. Instead, badgers will choose to sleep through many of the colder days of winter, relying on their stores of fat built up in the summer months, but will get up and find food if the weather is mild enough.

Bandit in his den box

Bandit in his den box

Badgers are omnivores, which means they eat meat, vegetables and fruit. For their meat they will usually eat mice, small birds or chicks, eggs and insects. The rest of their food they will forage for and it will depend on what is growing in their area, changing seasonally. Bandit loves berries of any kind, the juicier the better! He is not, however, a fan of anything green. Whenever keepers try to see if broccoli or green beans are acceptable to him, they usually find them in his dig box the next day – apparently the offending vegetable must be put out of site. His attitude towards greens does change though if they are slathered in mashed raspberries!

Badgers are known for their aggression – they are solitary creatures and quite territorial. “Badgers are very spunky animals,” says Julianne Rose, Lead Educator at Wildlife Safari and one of Bandit’s keepers. “An American Badger will challenge large animals like bears that wander into their territory.” Bandit, however, has been hand raised. Orphaned when he was young and taken in by a family who passed him along to Wildlife Safari when he became too rambunctious. Since he is used to human contact and attention, rather than being aggressive, Bandit is actually quite affectionate towards his keepers. He is particularly fond of back scratches.

Bandit enjoying a cardboard box

Bandit enjoying a cardboard box

Bandit is trained to do a number of things that make it easier for his keepers to look after him, including going into his travel crate and stationing on a mat for his harness to be put on. Badgers are very clever creatures, which is helpful for foraging for food, and for learning things with training, but can lead to some stubbornness. If an animal is smart enough to work out how to do something, they are generally smart enough to work out how NOT to do it. “Bandit is extremely intelligent, which means that he also has the luxury of being extremely stubborn,” Goulet explains. “When we were teaching him how to go into his travel crate on his own, he realized what we were asking him to do and went inside. The only catch was that he didn’t want us to close the door, so he made sure that he stuck his back paw outside so that we wouldn’t be able to close it!”

One of the ways Bandit charms everyone he meets is through his playfulness. Although, this can hinder some of the duties his keepers need to complete. “One afternoon while I was cleaning his enclosure, he attempted to pull the broom out of my hands. When this failed, he ran to the dustpan, kicked everything out and sat on it,” says Rose.

Bandit helping his keepers clean his enclosure

Bandit “helping” his keepers clean his enclosure

While Bandit’s “help” with cleaning is just for his keepers to handle, you can see him displaying his digging skills in Safari Village! Check the sign on the dig box outside of the gift shop to see what time he’ll be arriving to play!

Bandit's dig box in Safari Village

Bandit’s dig box in Safari Village

Adventures of an Opossum

Behind the Scenes, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Tucked under blankets, all snuggled up in her house in the education building, lives Wildlife Safari’s ambassador Opossum, Violet. Violet was orphaned at 4 weeks old and would not have survived without her keepers hand raising her. Since then she has grown from a little one that could fit in the palm of your hand into a full grown adventurer. She loves meeting people and teaching them about her species, the only marsupial not native to Australia. She loves walking with her keepers (she is harness trained), and napping in her nest box (which she fills full of blankets so its just right).

Violet snuggled up in a pouch

Violet snuggled up in a pouch – photo courtesy of Julianne Rose

A very curious little one, Violet has to investigate any cameras around – photo courtesy of Julianne Rose

The Virginia Opossum is native to North America and is the Northern hemisphere’s only marsupial (a mammal with a pouch to carry their young). Although they are commonly called ‘possums’ in the US, they are a different species entirely from true possums – species native to Australia.

Violet the Opossum considers grass for the first time

Violet the Opossum considers grass for the first time

Violet explores

Opossums are omnivores, eating fruits and vegetables, meat and insects. Violet particularly loves meal worms and cockroaches! They are nocturnal, foraging and hunting for food at night, and sleeping through the day. They have a prehensile tail which they use for stability amongst tree branches, although they can’t hang from them. Since they move around in the dark of night, they rely a lot on their sense of smell. “Violet primarily explores her world through smell and taste, so we get licked quite a lot,” says Julianne Rose, Lead Educator and one of those involved with raising Violet. Rose says the hand raising process is “exhausting but extremely rewarding” with regularly feedings throughout the night when she was small. Violet is now 8 months old and has her keepers charmed. “The education department wouldn’t be complete without her!” says Rose.

Violet

Violet settles in for a nap – being nocturnal, she sleeps for most of the day

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

It looks like a kangaroo and sounds like a guinea pig, but this little girl is a species all her own! Meet Paddy, one of Wildlife Safari’s resident Patagonian Cavies. One of the largest species of rodent in the world, Patagonian Cavies are native to South America, specifically Argentina. They are herbivores, enjoying a diet full of fruit, vegetables and foliage. They have the constantly growing teeth characteristic to rodents, which means they are almost always chewing and wearing those teeth down as they grow.

They typically live in areas with lots of shrub cover – helpful as both protection from predators and as a source of food.

Cavy enclosure

Cavies make grunting and squeaking sounds to communicate, similar to guinea pigs. They mostly walk or run, but are fast and agile – they can jump very high to be able to escape scrapes with predators.

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

They are monogamous animals, mating for life. Pairs can live life alone together or with other pairs in warrens, with up to 29 pairs sharing this space (that’s a lot of room mates!). Females will usually have just one litter a year, with a gestation of a little over 3 months.

Paddy being her curious, social self - photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy being her curious, social self – photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy is one of the education animals that acts as an ambassador, going to schools and community events to teach people about animals and conservation. Up until recently, Paddy lived off display in our education department, but she now has a new home in Safari Village! She alternates in this enclosure with Safari’s male Cavy, Lucas. Nestled between the Tamarin enclosure and the petting zoo, Paddy and Lucas have been investigating theie

new house in prime position to meet new people!

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

Painting with Paws

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

All of the animals at the park have unique personalities, but some of them are artists as well! They may not be able to hold a brush, but they still find a way to make some pretty amazing paintings.

A painting done by Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah and dog ambassador pair - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

A painting done by Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah and dog ambassador pair – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Our tigers and cheetahs paint by walking through a mat covered with paint and then onto a canvas.

Pancake doing a painting session - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Pancake doing a painting session – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Dayo, the dog paired with Pancake as an ambassador, doing a painting session - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Dayo, the dog paired with Pancake as an ambassador, doing a painting session – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Other animals take a more passive approach. The hippos only have to hold still while the keepers do all the work!

Padron the hippo making a 'hippo kiss' painting - photo courtesy of Allison Trout

Padron the hippo making a ‘hippo kiss’ painting – photo courtesy of Allison Trout

Although motivated by the keepers (also known as providers of snacks) and not by a need for artistic expression, the resulting paintings are amazing prints and splatters that are unique every time. If you are lucky you may even get a tail brush swipes!

An array of paintings done by Pancake and Dayo - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

An array of paintings done by Pancake and Dayo – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Coco and Swiper

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature

Coco and Swiper are domestic ferrets that live in the Education Department of Wildlife Safari. They spend their days meeting people of all ages as our animal ambassadors!

Many people are familiar with ferrets as pets, but not many know that here is the US we have a native ferret species: the black-footed ferret. Once common across most of the United States, black-footed ferrets are now endangered, mostly due to loss of prey (and predation) from feral cats. Cats will hunt the same foods that ferrets are hoping to catch, and will also actually catch a ferret if they can.

While they are not black-footed ferrets, Coco and Swiper still do a pretty good job of teaching people about what ferrets are like; what they eat, when they sleep, and the things they do all day (hint: mostly sleep).

Swiper loves to find new snuggle spots, here he has found some toilet paper for craft.

Swiper loves to find new snuggle spots, here he has found some toilet paper for craft.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they ONLY eat meat. They are extremely flexible, which allows them to move through holes and burrows in search for mice or other small animals.

They are crepuscular, a kind of nocturnal, which means they hunt in the early morning and evening.

The rest of the time they sleep. For ferrets, nap time takes up around 19 hours of the day.

Coco getting her sleep

Coco getting her sleep

The reputation they have for their characteristic smell comes from their musk gland, which they use both for marking territories and to tell each other apart. Their smell acts sort of like a name tag, and through this they can tell who is who, and even who is family. That’s a lot to tell from just a smell!