All about Bears!

Carnivores

 

Wildlife Safari has 4 brown bears; Mak, Oso, Russell, and Claire. While all these bears are apart of the brown bear species, they are actually distinct subspecies; Mak and Oso are grizzly bears, where as Russell and Claire are Alaskan coastal brown bears. In total, there are 8 sub-species of brown bear and they are the most widely distributed of all bears species. They can be found in tundra, forests, mountain ranges, or coastlines depending on the subspecies. They range throughout North America and Northern Eurasia, including Russia, central Asia, China, Canada, the United States, and Scandinavia. Historically the grizzly’s bear range covered much of North America from the mid-plains westward to California and from central Mexico north throughout Alaska and Canada. However, currently, only 1% of grizzly bears original range in the contiguous United States remains. In fact, 95% of the brown bear population in the United States can be found in Alaska.

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Russell and Claire during Party at Bear Island

 We also have 3 American black bears at the park, Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna. Unlike brown bears, black bears are only found in North America, and they are the continent’s smallest and most widely-distributed bear species. Currently, American black bears can be found throughout forested mountainous areas from the Appalachian Mountains in the east; to the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Cascades to the west; south to Mexico; and all the way north throughout Canada and Alaska; and many places in between. Despite being named “brown bears” and “black bears,” color is never an indicator of either species. Both species can range from almost white, to blonde, to pure black, and many color phases in between depending on age, sex, and even the season. Even our black bears don’t look alike; Takoda is referred to as a Cinnamon black bear because he has a reddish-brown coat of fur, reminiscent of the spice–hence the name. Generally, black bears can be distinguished from brown bears by their smaller size, their less concave skull profiles, shorter claws, and the lack of a shoulder hump.

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Chochmo: one of our North America black bears takes a swim!

Brown and black bears are omnivorous animals and will eat almost anything. In fact, brown bears are one of the most omnivorous animals in the world and have been recorded consuming the greatest variety of foods of any bear. However, both bears’ diets are extremely variable throughout the year and depend on the season, area, and on opportunity. The vast majority of their diet– as much as 80%!–consists of vegetation, such as roots, grasses, and fruits. At Wildlife Safari, apples are a favorite among our brown bears. Despite their large sizes, both bears will eat insects and grubs when they can get them. For example, brown bears in Yellowstone eat an enormous number of army cutworm moths during the summer, sometimes consuming as many as 40,000 moths in a single day! And they can get up to half of their annual caloric intake from these insects. When available, brown and black bears will also feast on spawning trout and salmon. Most bears don’t actively hunt, but will scavenge off dead animals or prey killed by other predators.

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Oso enjoying a section of ribcage

It is a common misconception that bears hibernate during winter. While bears do slow down their metabolism during the winter, they are not true hibernators. Black and brown bears go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor. During true hibernation, the animals will not wake up when they hear a loud noise or even if they are moved or touched. While in torpor, the animal can wake up quickly and easily. During true hibernation, the animal has a low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate. During the bear’s torpor, their breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate are low, but their body temperature remains relatively high. Animals undergo torpor, or hibernation, as a way to to conserve energy, survive when food is scarce, and minimize their need to face the elements in the cold winter months. To prepare for hibernation, bears need to eat a lot during the fall to store up body fat. During the months before torpor, bears undergo hyperphagia and can eat up to 90 pounds of food every day, and put on up to 3 pounds of weight each day. Bears can weight twice as much before hibernation as it will in the spring. And but the time torpor is over, bears can lose 15-20% of their body weight.

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Claire during the hibernating bear encounter (offered during winter months)

Mak, Oso, Claire, Russell, Takoda, Chcochmo, and Donna are intelligent, curious, charismatic, lovable animals–not just animals that deserve caution when hiking.

 

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Polar Bear-Grizzly Bear Hybrids

Carnivores

The cross breeding of species to create hybrids has been done throughout human history. In recent years, however, hybrids have been popping up in the wild with no direct human influence. A hybrid is two individuals of different species brought together while under human care to create an offspring that is a mix of both parents. Some of the commonly known hybrids are the mule, a cross between a horse and donkey, and the liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. These are species who are either domestic animals or whose home ranges are far apart and would never interact without human intervention. 

In recent years, wild hybrids have been found. These hybrids were not created in human captivity and have attracted both the public and scientific interest. One of these wild born hybrids caught the public interest in 2006 when a hunter shot what he assumed was a polar bear in Banks Harbor, Canada. This bear had the creamy fur coloring found on polar bears. A closer inspection of the bear revealed the bear had features of a grizzly bear, including the hump on the back, long claws, and a grizzly bear head shape. 

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Polar-grizzly hybrid

 

DNA samples were sent in to investigate. The bear was found to be a first generation hybrid, with a polar bear mother and a grizzly bear father. Before this case, it was known that these two species could hybridize as they had done so in captivity. This bear became the first documented case of a polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild. Since the discovery of this bear, 8 other bears have been found to be hybrids. Of these 8 bears, 4 are first generation hybrids and 4 are the offspring of a hybrid and a grizzly bear. 

What does this mean for the two species? 

The hybridization of these two species could mean one of two things for these species. First, is that this is a random occurrences.The second is that this is the foretelling of a breakdown of species barriers and mating between these species will become commonplace. 

Both are possible outcomes and only time will tell which will be the true outcome. Both of these results have occurred in the wild. With the first, the hybrids are not as successful at surviving in their range as their parent species. The hybrids still pop up in the wild but due to the hybridization lack something that is essential to their survival in the wild.

For breakdown of species barriers the offspring are for one reason or another more successful at surviving in their home range than either of their parents. For this to occur the offspring must be able to produce offspring of their own. It is unusually for hybrids to be able to reproduce but there are cases where they do so successfully. Since second generation hybrids have been found in the wild, we know that the polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids are able to reproduce. This could result in genetic material entering the population that has a negative impact on the population.

These two species also only split on the evolutionary tree a mere 150,000 years ago. So their genetic material is very similar and the males will be attracted to females of both species. The hybridization between these two bears has the potential to lead to the creation of a new species of bears. So even as the parent species dies of there is the creation of  a new species. Either way there is much we can learn from the hybrid offspring of these bears.

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Nilgai? Never “herd” of them!

Creature Feature, Ungulates

 

Nilgai (Boselaphustragocamelus), or blue bull, are the largest Asian antelope species and are native to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Mostly found in the lowlands of the Himalayan Mountains, they live in a variety of habitats including forest, shrubland, and open grassland, eating a variety of plants including grasses and tree leaves.

 

Nilgai have a very distinct appearance. Females are generally much smaller than males, light brown, with a small mane on the back of their neck. Females also have white patches around their eyes and throat and have black and white bands above each hoof.  Generally, young males look like females but are much larger, have small horns, and have a “beard” behind their white throat patch. Once males are fully mature, however, their coat turns a blue-grey color; thus the common name of “blue bull”. In fact, the name “nilgai” is derived from the Hindustani word for “blue” (nil) and the Persian word for “cow or bull” (gaw or gau).

 

Nilgai usually roam in loose herds that may change in membership over time and normally only include one breeding male. Males only join the herd when they want to breed; the rest of the year, males and females are separated. Females are pregnant for approximately 8.5 months and have one to three offspring. Calves can stand within an hour after being born, but mom will hide the calf for the first few weeks of its life when she forages for food.

Lacey Powers

Nilgai are quiet most of the time but can make loud noises when threatened. Tigers are their main predator in the wild, but nilgai can move quickly at nearly 30 mph to evade them. The lifespan of nilgai is unconfirmed but is thought to range from 10 years in the wild to 21 years in managed care.

 

Luckily, nilgai populations are very stable and are considered “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are an estimated 70,000 – 100,000 individuals in their native range and an additional 30,000 in Texas. They were introduced to North America through the game farming industry in the 1930s, and have done particularly well in the prairie and scrub forest of Southern Texas. In fact, they are now considered an invasive species in some areas due to a thriving free-ranging population on the Texas-Mexico border.

Ariel Bailey

Their booming population in their native land has often been attributed to the predominantly Hindu population of Northern India and their reverence towards the species; they consider them akin to cows which are also respected. They are also habitat and diet generalists,which means they can survive in a wide range of places.  However, nilgai do coexist with humans and farmlands in much of their range and are sometimes hunted because they can be agricultural pests. In Texas they are hunted for big game, often on private ranches.

 

We have a small herd ofnilgai at Wildlife Safari. Our nilgai enjoy each other’s company and like to stick together wherever they go. You’ll often see the tight knit group grooming one another and sometimes even grooming the other animals, like the sika deer!

Morgan Strite

While you can purchase a feed cup to treat the animals of our Asia section to a snack, you’d be very lucky to feed any nilgai. They are usually quite shy around people and are still very much wild animals. Not to worry though, the nilgai get plenty of treats from their keepers! They know them well and love to receive food from them. Some of the special treats keepers give them are heads of lettuce, bananas, or leafy tree branches! The nilgai also enjoy nibbling on the natural vegetation in the safari. Since the nilgai prefers open habitats and eats a variety of grasses, plants and trees, Wildlife Safari is the perfect environment for them!

 

You can come visit our nilgai in the Asia section of the drive through!IMG_0668 copy 2

Meet Dumai

Carnivores, Creature Feature

Say hello to Wildlife Safari’s newest Sumatran Tiger, Dumai. Dumai came to us in January from Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. He was born and raised at PDZ and stole many hearts there over the last six years. Dumai is such a great new addition to our team and we are very excited to have him.  He is such a loveable guy and very easy going.

He was brought to us as part of the Species Survival Plan (also known as the SSP). He was recommended as a mate for our two female Sumatran tigers, Riya and Kemala. What is the SSP? It is basically like match.com for endangered or vulnerable species. This programs has each individual’s genetics on file and pairs them with a match that will produce the most unique genetics. This prevents any in breeding or one male or female from producing all the offspring. This is helping save wild populations. The Sumatran tiger is one of the most endangered living species of tigers. They only live on the island of Sumatra and are facing many challenges. One of these challenges is small population size, in turn leading to in breeding. This leads to many other health concerns. Zoos can help save this species by having a backup genetic pool. By making sure our population is healthy and diverse, the goal is we can possibly AI females in the wild with our genetics in order to prevent more inbreeding from happening, which will help keep the wild population healthy. Come see Dumai and our two females in the cheetah drive through.

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Snow Zone!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Elephants, Ungulates


This past week, Wildlife Safari was transformed into a winter wonderland when the park experienced the most snow in recent history. Although the park had to close for the time, the animals sure had fun experiencing some snow and enjoying extra browse from fallen trees. Animals that are more sensitive to cold temperatures were not left out for the full day, only in short segments in order for keepers to clean inside holdings and for them to enjoy the snow. All animals in the park have access to heat lamps and covered shelter if needed. Even our smallest cheetah and dog duo got to pop outside for a few minutes to experience their first snowfall! The park is working hard to clear snow and any debris and getting ready to reopen the park!


Meet our Ostriches!

Creature Feature
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Desi, waiting to say hello to guest entering safari.

At Wildlife Safari we have three ostriches living throughout our North and South Africa sections. Both Truffle, one of our male ostriches, and Cordial, our female ostrich have been at the safari for around six years. Desi, our other male ostrich, has been at the safari for twenty four years. Ostriches can live up to 45 years so all of our ostriches are still in their prime! Male and female ostriches look very similar but there are ways to tell them apart. Male ostriches feathers are mostly black whereas females feathers are mostly brown. Males can also grow considerably taller than females. Females can reach heights of between 5’7 and 6’7 and males range from 6’11 up to 9’2.

Although ostriches have wings, they are one of many species of flightless birds. What they lack in flying they make up for in running. With their long legs they can reach speeds of up to 43 mph making them the fastest land bird. That means they can run 16 miles faster the the fastest man in the world! Some of their closest bird relatives include rheas and emus, both of which you can see in the asia section of the safari. Ostriches can weigh a lot more than most of their other bird relatives. Adults can weigh anywhere from 140-320 pounds.

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Cordial saying hello to a passing car

Ostriches are omnivores meaning they eat both meat and plants, although a much larger portion of their diet is plants such as grasses, fruits, and flowers. Our ostriches always enjoy when they recieve extra produce in their diets! Because of what they eat, ostriches can often go days without water getting most of their needed moisture from the plants they ingest.

Ostriches have large eyes. Each of their eyes are about the size of a billiard ball. Because their eyes take up so much space, there isn’t much room left for their brains. Ostrich brains are smaller than their eyes. Although they do have smaller brains relative to other bird species, they are still quite intelligent and resourceful.

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Cordial, our female ostrich, relaxing

A common misconception about ostriches is that when they’re scared, they stick their heads in the sand. While this isn’t true they often sleep with their heads flat against the ground giving the illusion that they are hiding. When spotted by a predator, ostriches will use their strong, long legs to run away usually out running their predators in Africa.

Ostriches reach sexual maturity at between two and four years, and usually form groups of one male and two to seven females. Although males will breed with many females in the surrounding area, they will only form a bond with one special female. Ostriches are known for having large eggs. They produce the largest egg of any bird species with each egg weighing close to three pounds. Even though their eggs are the largest mass wise, they actually are the smallest size relative to how large the adults are. A three pound egg could be just 1% of how large the female is. By contrast, a kiwi’s egg has the largest mass relative to its body weight at 15-20% of the mothers mass.       

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Truffle dancing for his favorite keepers

There’s a lot to love about ostriches, especially all of our ostriches. Each of our ostriches have very different personality, so make sure you find all three at your next visit to Wildlife Safari!

 

The Importance of Research in Zoos

Uncategorized

When people think of research in zoos, they think of what zoos do for populations out in the wild. They do not think that reseIMG_E9091arch on the animals inside the zoos are just as important. However, they allow improvement of animal welfare for captive populations, findings can be used elsewhere, and the research that is conducted can be used as a teaching moment.

The research that is conducted can range from yard usage to behavioral studies. For instance, an animal can be relocated from one enclosure to a new one that is thought to be more suitable. A study over yard usage can show statistically which aspects of the yard are used more often than others. Those aspects that seem to be more favorable can then be supplied more often or at a greater quantity. Behavioral studies can be used in instances of introduction of a new member to the group.

These findings don’t have to stop at the observed population, they can be sent off to other departments, zoos, or even wild populations. Zoos are always striving to make their captive populations as comfortable and true to their species as possible. If one zoo finds something that agrees with their population they will often share it with others to better the whole. Especially with behavioral studies, the information can be used for wild populations in order for them to be able to flourish. For example, being able to understand the language between elephants is helping the fight against poachers due to the conversation elephants have amongst each other.

 

The Fastest Land Mammal on Earth

Cheetahs, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

If there is one thing almost anyone could tell you about a cheetah is that they are fast; the fastest land mammal on the planet in fact. Reaching top speeds of 70 mph, cheetah’s can go from 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds. That is faster than almost any sports car on the market! Running speed is made up of two things: stride length and number of strides taken. A cheetah’s stride length is between 20-25 feet. This makes them airborne for a distance more than 5 times their length. Their feet spend more time in the air when running than on the ground. At top speed they can have up to 4 strides per seconds. But what is it exactly that make cheetahs so fast?

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The short answer is that their entire bodies are literally build for speed, from head to tail. Their long and slender build is aerodynamically purposeful, constructed to cut through wind with minimum resistance. This, along with a lightweight frame, allows for their impressive acceleration. A cheetah’s head is the smallest size relative to their bodies of any cat. This not only contributes to the aerodynamic design, but also allows them to keep their head completely still while running at full speed. The black markings found under their eyes are called “tear marks” and serve like the black paint under an athlete’s eye. This helps to reflect the sunlight out of their eyes while hunting at dawn and dusk. These markings also act like the sight on a riffle, allowing the cheetah to “aim” and further focus on its prey while hunting. In addition to these tear marks, cheetahs also have what is known as binocular vision. This useful feature enables them to see up to 3 miles away, allowing for the ability to spot and stalk prey from great distances.

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Another similarity to athletes are their semi-retractable claws, which act like cleats to dig into the ground while running. Cheetahs also have fused ankle bones which function like braces, along with extended Achilles tendons for better shock absorption. The tail of a cheetah is long and flat which acts like the rudder on a boat to help steer and balance while at full speeds.

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Although slender, cheetahs have a large chest cavity with sizable lungs and heart to pump air and blood to muscles while running at full force. Their shoulder blades are reduced and free floating which act like tiny axles for sharp, tight turns, even in mid air. This, along with pivoting hips, allows the legs to stretch farther apart when fully extended and closer together when the feet come back under the body, increasing their stride length.

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Many similarities can be drawn between the cheetah and another notoriously fast human companion; the grey hound. However, one key difference between the two is where the power source of their speed comes from. In grey hounds their power comes from where most people would guess: their hind legs. In cheetahs, the main power source for their speed comes from their spine. A cheetah’s spine is proportionally the longest and most flexible of any large cat. When running, the spine flexes and stretches like a coiled spring, which increases stride length. This long flexible spine carries about 60% of the cat’s muscle mass. As a result, the cheetah can out run a grey hound at full speed by 25-30 mph. However, a cheetah can only hold these high speeds for very short sprints of only 30 seconds or up to about 500 meters. So, in a long distance race the grey hound would have the edge. Another fascinating comparison is a cheetah vs. a human. The fastest man in the world is Usain Bolt who holds the 100m world record at 9.58 seconds. At top speeds a cheetah could cover a similar distance of an entire football field in just over 3 seconds. Although cheetahs have the ability to reach these incredible speeds, they only have use for it while hunting. Here at Wildlife Safari our cheetahs don’t have to hunt for their food, so most days you will find them perfectly content being at rest!

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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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