Hunting How-To: Animal Hunting Styles

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Lions

Lions are nocturnal animals so they generally hunt at night. Most of the foods they consume include wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, waterbuck, warthogs, and in riskier instances, giraffes and buffalo. Lions will stalk prey from a very close distance during the day and then wait until after dark to strike. Although they have reputations as apex predators, there are some deficiencies in their hunting tactics. Due to their reliance on eyesight, they often inadvertently reveal their hiding spot because they peak their head out to monitor the movement of their prey. They also do not pay attention to the direction of winds so their scent is easily detected. Finally, they can only get up to 50 mph, which is much slower than their prey.

Despite these hunting deficiencies, lions remain successful hunters because of the numerous prey in the area and the fact that lions hunt in groups. A lion only eats about 25 to 30 animals per year and their prey is highly abundant so they have plenty of options to choose from. Lions are the only cats that hunt in a group, which is the main reason why they are able to take down larger prey. They close in on their prey as a group and attack from the rear or side. The final kill is made by crushing their prey’s windpipe leading to asphyxiation or rupturing major arteries in the neck. The female lions do most of the hunting in prides but they only eat after the adult males, then its the cubs turn. Each lion consumes about 40 pounds of meat in one sitting and over the next couple days they will rest and recuperate to repeat the hunting process all over again.

Some of our lion cubs enjoying a rib cage together – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Tigers

As nocturnal animals, tigers mainly rely on their vision to help stalk their prey. Unlike cheetahs and lions, they mostly live in habitats that have a lot of vegetation making camouflage with their surroundings more effective. Tigers generally hunt alone and will silently stalk their prey nearby for a very long time. Once close enough, they will pounce and either snap their victim’s spinal cord or grab their throat, which contains essential arteries. Tigers are able to reach speeds of 30 to 50 mph and can jump 30 feet horizontally, which also helps them take down their prey. They will then drag their meal to an isolated area and will often hide the remnants to finish the next day.

A tiger can eat one fifth of its body weight in 24 hours and over a year they average 50 deer-sized meals. In terms of what they eat, tigers like to consume many different species, which vary depending on the region the tiger inhabits. Overall, their prey consist of moose, pigs, cows, horses, buffalo, goats, deer species, and occasionally tapirs, elephants, rhinoceros calves, small bear species, leopards, and wild dogs. Unlike other cats, tigers are great swimmers and occasionally they will hunt in the water and catch animals like fish and crocodiles.

 

Kemala the Sumatran Tiger showing off her exceptional jaw strength – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Cheetahs

Cheetahs are the only big cats that are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. They are also solitary animals so they hunt alone, however in some instances a few males will hunt together forming coalitions. Due to the fact that cheetahs don’t have the cover of night to hide them like most predators, they have had to adapt very unique hunting techniques. Cheetahs have binocular vision that allows them to see up to three miles away very clearly and spot prey long before their prey can see them. On top of their incredible sight, cheetahs also utilize stealth and camouflage when approaching their target. They will use the tactics of any good hunter such as moving low in tall grasses, approaching from downwind to conceal their scent, and using natural rises in the land like hills or termite mounds to hide behind.

Despite using all of these precautions, hunting remains a challenge because their prey live in herds, meaning they are constantly on watch for any potential danger. A cheetah’s diet generally consists of smaller hoofed animals like wildebeest, gazelles, and impalas. Although the cheetahs are excellent hunters, their greatest advantage in capturing prey is their speed. Cheetahs can run up to 70 mph, but they are only able to run at this speed for about 20-30 seconds. Since they are only able to run at fast speeds for around 500 meters, they must position themselves as close as possible to their prey before attacking. This is why it is essential for cheetahs to have both speed and superior camouflage. Cheetahs are successful in killing their prey 1 out of 10 tries, however most of the time their meal gets taken away by larger carnivores like lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards. They might be predators, but they know when to walk away from a fight. An injury could be life threatening, so they are better off giving up their meal and trying again.

 

Mchumba licking up every bit of her mid-day snack – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Bears

Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty animals, the majority of a bear’s diet is actually herbivorous. Bears are generally omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of meats and plants. The two most common bears in North America are the black bear and brown bears. Although, black bears are not as well equipped as brown bears to dig, 85% of a black bears’ diet consists of vegetation including grasses, roots, berries, acorns, nuts, grass and other plants. Furthermore, they receive most of their protein from insects, especially bees. The idea that bears like honey actually originated from the fact that bears enjoy feeding on bee larvae because of the high nutritional value. In addition to insects and vegetation, some black bears will catch salmon, trout, suckers, and catfish depending on the availability in their habitat.

 

Donna enjoying the sunshine and waiting to get fed – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

  Brown bears, on the other hand, are excellent diggers so almost 90% of their diet comes from vegetation. They eat a variety of plant life such as berries, grasses, flowers, acorns, nuts, pine cones, as well as mosses, fungi, and mushrooms. Similarly to black bears, brown bears feed on insects and most will get half of their yearly calories from moths alone. Brown bears also feed on fish more often than black bears, which is why they are a larger species. Despite the fact that both species mostly consume plant life, they still get some of their calories from meat. Although they are capable of and in rare cases do hunt, bears actually prefer to scavenge off other animals’ kills. Why catch your own when someone else has already done the work? In more recent years, as urban development has expanded, bears have been also using human-created food sources as a reliable meal, which has become dangerous to both parties. 

Mak eating his daily dose of greens while helping us with landscaping – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Enjoying the sunshine!

Uncategorized

Spring has definitely arrived at Wildlife Safari. All our animals have been enjoying the beautiful weather this week, sun baking and taking naps in the shade!

Our brown bears have been loving the warm weather!

While the rain might be back for now, here are some happy faces to brighten your day and give you a sneak peak of Safari in Summer!

Laying back and relaxing – Grizzly bears Mak and Oso sun baking

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!

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!

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.

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!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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!

Rise and Shine!

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Uncategorized

Spring is here and the bears at Wildlife Safari have started venturing out and stretching their legs after a long four months of hibernation. Although still a little sleepy, the bears are looking happy and healthy, having lost a substantial amount of weight during their time of rest.

One of the black bears surrounded by snacks and enrichment

One of the black bears, Chochmo surrounded by snacks and enrichment – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

When the bears first get up, they ease into eating again, starting on small amounts of simple foods and slowly increasing as summer approaches.

The black bears typically hibernate for longer than the brown bears, but are also starting to emerge for the spring.

Grizzly brothers, Mak and Oso, enjoying the spring sunshine - photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Grizzly brothers, Mak and Oso, enjoying the spring sunshine – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Sunshine adventures

Little Boy on sunshine adventures – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

In the wild, spring is the time when cubs are around, emerging from their dens with their mothers for the first time. Bears will give birth while hibernating, with cubs nursing on their snoozing mother through the winter. By the time spring rolls around, cubs are big enough to explore and play while their mothers find food.

This may seem like a good way to raise small young, and it is not just good timing that allows them to give birth during hibernation. Bears can actually delay implantation of fertilized eggs to make sure their pregnancy goes through these resting months. “Delayed implantation is a really cool feature of the bear reproductive cycle,” says Melissa Fox, primary bear trainer at Wildlife Safari. “Bears will typically mate in late spring, but the fertilized egg won’t attach to the uterine wall until fall, and only if the female has gained enough weight to sustain her – typically around 150lbs.” If the female does not gain that weight, the pregnancy will be terminated. This pregnancy will only last 2 months, giving the little cubs time to grow before the end of the hibernation period. Cubs are born tiny and hairless, though they are much bigger and stronger when they leave the den. “They are born early so they can switch to mammary nourishment (milk) sooner,” explains Fox. “It’s more energy efficient.”

Takoda the black bear saying hello to his keepers

Little Girl, the black bear saying hello to her keepers – photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

As their primary, Fox spends a lot of time with both the brown and black bears. “I love how intelligent and playful they are,” she says. “It makes them so much fun to work with.”

Once they are awake and ready to eat, bears are mostly foragers – eating whatever is around. While they do eat meat, they won’t generally hunt, preferring to eat prey that another animal has caught, although they will also fish.

The black bears love their ponds

The black bears love their ponds – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Bears 2

Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

Big Bear encounters have started, so if you haven’t met our brown bears, now is the perfect time to come and see them!

Hibernation Season

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Creature Feature, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

While many of us wish we could hibernate through the winter, for most it is just wishful thinking while we’re out in the cold. However, for bears – including those of Wildlife Safari, this dream is their reality every winter!

Now, this may not seem very special, after all, bears are well known for their hibernating habits. However, hibernation is actually a learned behavior, something they need to be taught, rather than a built in instinct.

Hibernation is a learned behavior, something they need to be taught, rather than instinct.

This means that when orphan bears end up in captivity, it can be difficult to teach them to hibernate.

All the bears at Wildlife Safari hibernate during the winter. But we will focus on our four brown bears. There are several different subspecies of brown bear, distinguishable from black bears not by color but by the hump of muscle between the shoulders that makes brown bears such strong diggers. Our two boys (Mak and Oso) are Grizzly bears, and our girls (Claire and Russel) are Alaskan Coastal brown bears.


The bears at Wildlife Safari hibernate from November to February.”It’s an extremely healthy process for them,” says Taylor Sherrow, one of the Carnivore Keepers looking after the bears. “They can loose between 150- 200 lbs while hibernating.”

Bears are cued to hibernate by changes in light, temperature and food availability. As it gets cold and dark, and food becomes scarce, bears will slow down and eventually build the den which will be their winter home. Keepers spend weeks gradually adjusting the bears diets to mimic food availability in the wild (decreasing yummy foods like fruits, and increasing less appealing vegetables). This change in diet also helps them get the fiber they need to block up their system as they won’t ‘go to the bathroom’ until they emerge in the spring.

One of our Grizzly boys all snuggled up

While they all tend to go to sleep at around them same time, if one wakes up before the others, that will usually wake the rest. “The girls normally decide when it is time to wake up,” says Sherrow. How do keepers know when they are ready to wake up for spring, you may ask? Well, its pretty clear. The girls will knock on the door to their yard, generally making quite a racket, to let their keepers know its time.
We’re glad our bears hibernate as it has a variety of health benefits. If only humans could fix health problems by sleeping for months at a time! Their winter weight loss  prevent obesity and related diseases, and they can also heal fairly serious injuries while sleeping, and have been known to give birth and nurse during this time!

At Wildlife Safari, the Grizzly boys, Mak and Oso, will share their den space, snuggling up to each other. The Alaskan Coastal girls, Claire and Russel, have their own den rooms for one very simple reason… Russel hogs the bed. Once each has been given their pile of hay to bed down in, Russel will take all of it and build herself a giant bed – leaving her sister on the floor. However, keeping them separate means that Claire, too, can sleep in comfort.

During the winter, guests can join the keepers in checking on the sleeping bears with our Hibernating Bear encounter. So if you’d like to meet our brown bears up close, you can have the rare opportunity of seeing hibernation in ‘action’!

The Grizzly bears when they are up and active