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.

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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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Paper bag lunches!

Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized

It’s that time of year, and while kids are heading back to school, the animals of Wildlife Safari celebrated with packed lunches! Delivered to them in brown paper bags, our animals had a blast opening their lunches!

Bandit the American Badger enjoys his packed lunch

Our badger and skunk particularly enjoyed them! As well as being a different way for them to eat their meal, the paper bags help them to work their brains a little bit – they have to think about how to open them or how best to tear them!

Thistle the Striped skunk found her way inside her bag. It was a great hiding spot even after her lunch was finished!

So if you see bags, boxes, or strange items in our animal enclosures, it may be something that we gave them to play with or eat from! Of course, everything is safety checked first to make sure the animals won’t hurt themselves. If it all checks out, then it’s play time!

Enrichment like this is also a great way for keepers to use recycled materials to make the animals’ lives interesting! Instead of these bags or boxes going straight to the trash, they are used to make our animals happy!

Not Always Majestic….

Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized

While we often think of animals as majestic figures, poised and ready to survive in their unforgiving wild environment, this is not always the case…. Keepers at Wildlife Safari often see our animals in a more relaxed state, looking – well… less than majestic.

Here are some of the adorable and ridiculous faces we see!

Our female lion, clearly more concerned about where the snacks are than about posing – Photo courtesy of Bryanna Bright

Bandit the American Badger caught doing his morning yoga – Photo courtesy of Bryanna Bright

One of our Sumatran tiger sisters cuddling the wall

Rhinos can be silly too – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

Lion cub, Dunia, investigating her toy – Photo courtesy of Ashley Lane

Curious Sika deer – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

Giraffe extreme close up – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

One of our Sika males with his homemade hat – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

 

For the Love of Learning!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Nestled in behind Safari Village is the Wildlife Safari Education building. Home to snakes, birds, cavies and many more, the Education building is always a hive of activity. The Education department hosts tours, day camps, overnight adventures, and zookeepers-in-training. Since teaching people about animals and the environment is a vital part of conservation, the Education team have an important role.

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Education Lead, Julianne with Ponderosa the Red Tail Boa

Everyday involves a mix of animal husbandry and working with people of all ages. “We provide a lot of really hands on encounters with the animals, which is very rewarding for us, as well as for the public – to have those intimate interactions with the animals,” says Kendra Hodgson, Summer Camp Coordinator “It’s cool how much our senses are involved in education with the things that we do, many people need to touch and create, and see things close up – it really builds those connections.”

As well as the hands on animal work that they do, Education staff love sharing their passion for conservation and their interest in animals. It’s a unique joy to see people connecting with the animals and the smiles as they understand the amazing ways animals are built and behave. Harleena Franklin, who is interning with the department says that her favorite part of the job is interacting with people and watching them learn. “It’s instant gratification to see someone understand something,” she says.

J talk w Kotori

Julianne with Western Screech owl, Kotori

Although they work with people of all ages, with camps and school outreaches, the Education team has a big focus working with kids. While this often makes work more fun and games than “work” it definitely poses it’s challenges. “Kids are in need of a lot more stimuli than adults, so it can be a lot more fun, but a lot more challenging than working with adults,” says Hodgson. Having kids around can also take your day in some unexpected directions. Caitlin Huff, Junior Zookeeper Coordinator, says that last year she became safe-keeper of a tooth that had fallen out. A very important job for sure, but not quite what she had expected earlier in the day. (Update: the tooth made it safely to the tooth fairy.)

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Painting, making crafts, showing kids how to move like animals, the list goes on – this team definitely has its share of fun and games, but that’s only part of the reward staff get from being involved. The kids bring a special attitude and enthusiasm that the Education team loves to see. “Kids always have very unique ideas and approaches, they’re a lot easier to get engaged and caring about things,” says Huff.

“Kids ask a ton of questions, so it can be a lot of fun to be around a group of really engaging kids that want to learn things, says Mack Stamper, an intern in the education department. “They’re very receptive to answers – they are genuinely curious.”

Another unique and rewarding program is the partnership Wildlife Safari has with the Dillard Alternative High School. In this program, students spend 4 days a week at Safari and are able to complete their high school credits in a non-traditional way. They are taught High School English, Science and Math, while interacting with the animals and completing special animal projects. “This program is important to high school students who are unable to learn in a formal classroom setting,” explains Leila Goulet, Director of Education. “These classes allow students to learn in a hands-on way and use various forms of assessment to evaluate the students rather than traditional testing. This program has been highly successful and is even gaining tread with other schools!”

Staff, adults and kids all have tons of fun with our education programs, so keep an eye out on the Wildlife Safari website for chances to come join in!

Keeper Pets

Behind the Scenes, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

The keepers at Wildlife Safari have a real love for animals. Not only do they choose to work with and look after animals everyday at the park, many keepers also have animals at home too! These animal family members come in all shapes and sizes, from furry to scaly.

Because we love our animals at home just as much as the wild and wonderful ones at work, the keepers of Wildlife Safari have some pictures of their little ones to share!

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Brody has trouble staying awake after his walks with Carnivore keeper, Jordan

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor's hands full!

Hudson is growing fast and keeping keeper Taylor’s hands full!

This whacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

This wacky boy loves adventures with keeper Melissa

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Buddy loves the wind in his hair while keeper Sarah drives

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure - Even when shes trying to sleep.

Pandora likes to use keeper Allison as a climbing structure – Even when shes trying to sleep.

Gatsby takes a short rest - stealing all keeper Mikaely's socks sure is exhausting!

Gatsby takes a short rest – stealing all keeper Mikaely’s socks sure is exhausting!

Arctic Adventure Camps

Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

At Wildlife Safari, we’re still excited about animals no matter the weather, and we know kids are too! We run camps for children between the ages of 4 and 12 several times a year, spring, summer and winter. This year’s winter camp is arctic themed! Kids at camp learned all about animals that live in cold environments, and how different animals act in the colder seasons.

They learned about narwhals and wales, and how animals keep warm, such as blubber or feathers. Snowy owls are also arctic dwelling animals, so campers discussed their adaptations, including fluffy feathers and coloration.

Aviary winter camp

Getting to know our birds in the aviary

“They had so much fun,”says Lead Educator Julianne Rose. “We had super inquisitive kids.”

Rose has been with Education at Safari for several years, and has seen many seasons of campers come through. “It reminds me how kids get excited about everything!” she says.”They’re so excited to be here and to be around animals. Its really enjoyable to see them making those nature connections and learning all about things they didn’t know before.”

Crafts on Arctic Adventure Camp

Crafts on Arctic Adventure Camp

 

Camp is a great way for the educators at the park to share their love of animals and conservation. It’s a unique way of showing the kids from a young age that the world around them is exciting and full of wonderful and weird animals. Rose thinks it is an important way to teach kids about animals and the environment. “Especially with younger ones, a lot of how they learn is hands on, active, and through play,” she says. “We can let them connect literally with the animals we have here at wildlife safari. The fact they get to be hands on with the animals, that really helps what we’re teaching them hit home. These are things that are going to stick with them.”

Campers also got up close to our sleepy, hibernating bears as they learned about animals that stay tucked in bed through the winter.

Kids on hibernating bear encounters for winter camp

Kids on hibernating bear encounters for winter camp

Most of the time when people think of cold weather animals they think of polar bears and penguins, but there are a number of other animals that live in the cold too! Some birds have specially adapted feathers to keep them warm in the colder months.

Of course, no camp is complete without some creative activities! “One of their favorite crafts, and mine as well, is turning their footprint into a narwhal,” says Rose. “There was much creative license, lots of crazy colors and designs!”

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Camps are held every season, with fun new themes each time. Kids of all ages can come and have fun, and learn while they do it. Now that’s vacation time well spent!