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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Cheetah Vet Check Up!

Ambassador Days, Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

The Wildlife Safari Cheetah and Carnivore teams does a lot to make sure our animals are healthy on a regular basis. One of the things we do with our animals is voluntary health check ups. With our lions, tigers, and bears this is easiest to see with the training behaviors we do. We look at the pads of their feet, their bellies and even get up close to see their teeth! One health check up that we do with our cheetahs is voluntary x-rays.

Voluntary x-rays are very important to our team and the cheetahs we work with for a variety of reasons. The first reason is seeing if one of our cheetahs is pregnant. We are the number one breeding facility for cheetahs in the United States, having 214 cubs so far! One of the reasons we have been so successful with breeding cheetahs at the park is through voluntary x-ray training with our females. We are able to determine if they are pregnant around day 56 of a 91 day pregnancy! This helps us better prepared for litters.

 

We also work on voluntary x-rays with our hand-raised ambassador cheetahs. Khayam and Mchumba, our 7-year old ambassadors are just learning this skill. When they were younger, mobile x-ray machines were harder to use than the one we have now! Khayam is very nervous around the machine so we are working to desensitize, or get him used to the machine. Cheetahs don’t have great vision so we are actually able to use cardboard boxes in place of the x-ray machine until he gets more comfortable.

 

Khayam Jr, or KJ, is only 7 months old and we just started his voluntary x-ray training. He was a total pro from the beginning! We will continue to practice with him so ensure that he is fine with it in the future as well. With the voluntary x-ray training, we are able to take x-rays of our cheetahs if we notice them acting different without going through an anesthesia procedure, which are stressful on them. We hope that in the future the majority of our cheetahs will be able to go through the voluntary x-ray training!  

KJ 7 month old voluntary x-ray

KJ, the 7 month old ambassador, doing his first x-ray practice.

Carnivore Enrichment

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

To enrich means “to improve or enhance the quality or value of.” Therefore, at Wildlife Safari and similar facilities, enrichment can be defined as anything that enhances the daily lives of the animals living there. Enrichment comes in many forms: it can be a special treat, something different from an animal’s usual diet, or it can be a toy, a scent, a sound, or something for visual use. It all depends on the general interests of the targeted species and particular individuals of that species.

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One of our year old cheetah cubs enjoys foraging for meat chunks hidden inside a paper mache’ toy for their birthday.

Food-based Enrichment

           Our carnivores often receive special treats as enrichment. The bears receive fruit, biscuits, nuts, and other treats throughout each day except for the months when they are in hibernation and the weeks leading up to hibernation. Sometimes, we make them popsicles using crushed berries and water. Our big cats occasionally enjoy bloodsicles as something different and refreshing, especially on a hot day.

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Claire, one of our Alaskan brown bears, chilling out with a berry popsicle.

Toys

             Large, heavy-duty plastic barrels and balls are a popular toy for our carnivores. They also enjoy logs and boxes, both of which can be used to hide treats in or be sprayed with scents. Our big cats especially love the smell of strong perfume or cologne; they will rub themselves all over something that has been sprayed with a scent! Our 2 year old lion “cubs” have a large rope that is used for tug-of-war sessions against keepers and interns. As soon as it is ready for them, they playfully run over and get to work, using their teeth and paws to tug on it! Shredded paper is also a favorite of our big cats. It is fun to watch them roll around in, though less fun to clean up.

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Large blue barrels like this one are often used to increase foraging time for our black bears. We like to hide some of their food inside them!

Natural Enrichment

       Our brown bears have access to built-in ponds in their outdoor enclosures, simulating nature. You can even catch Mak and Oso, our Grizzly bear boys, wrestling in the water when it’s hot outside! In October, we like to give pumpkins to bite, scratch, and play with. Our lions, tigers, and cheetahs enjoy receiving giraffe sand taken from the giraffe barn. It may sound gross to humans, but just like a nice perfume, they like to rub themselves all over the stuff; it is like catnip to them!

Carnivore Foot Care

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

The most important part of a Keeper’s job is making sure the animals are happy and healthy. One of the things we look for every day is the health of their feet!

Everyday, the carnivore Keepers at Wildlife Safari will get a good look at paws to make sure everyone has beautiful feet.

We look for any peeling, abrasions or cuts and if we need to we can disinfect them. We do this through their training – if they show us their paws in exchange for a treat its a very low stress check up!

 

One of our female lions showing her “sit up” behaviour

While we check this through the fence with our larger carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears, we can get much more hands on with our ambassador cheetahs. These guys will hand keepers their paw so we can not only visually check, but also feel for anything sore or tender.

Khayam the cheetah gives his keeper his paw during a training session

Keepers will also regularly put moisturizing oil on the floor of the huts where the animals sleep at night. As they walk through, this oil helps paw pads stay supple and healthy.

If keepers notice anyone with dry paw pads, they will increase how often this moisturizing oil is used. This helps our animals’ feet to stay healthy in all weather!

 

                                      

Welcome to the Wildlife Safari Blog!

Uncategorized

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Wildlife Safari is home to over 500 animals, not to mention the keepers! One of the top cheetah breeding facilities in the world, we are known mostly for our conservation efforts for these spotted speeders. However, Wildlife Safari also supports conservation of many other species. We recently had our first lion cubs born in 23 years, and now have six cubs in our pride. Here, you’ll be learning more about our variety of animals, and you’ll be getting updates on their lives and behavior.

Two of our 6 lion cubs - Arnold and Sharptooth

Two of our 6 lion cubs – Arnold and Sharptooth

Our animals help people to appreciate the other species we share our world with. They make conservation personal – people see them and realize they are amazing creatures that may not be around for very long if we don’t act to protect them.

Conservation is at the heart of Wildlife Safari’s mission, and we seek to educate our community on conservation issues by going out to schools and community centers with our ambassador animals. Caring about conservation at large goes hand in hand with love for each and every animal that lives at the park. Our keepers have a bond with the animals they care for and you can see their passion in how they interact with the animals; how carefully they prepare food for each one (some are particularly picky); and how hard they work to keep enclosures clean and the animals healthy and happy. Every keeper is here for the love of it and we’ll be hearing from some of them about their experiences and daily life at the park in weeks to come.

Mtai, our female lion being trained by one of our carnivore keepers Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

Mtai, our female lion being trained by one of our carnivore keepers
Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

We look forward to sharing the goings on of Wildlife Safari with you and hope you get to know and love our animals as much as we do!