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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Sounds of Safari

Uncategorized

With around 100 animal species at Wildlife Safari, you are sure to encounter some unique sights and sounds when you visit! From elephants and big cats to primates and birds of all sizes, each of our animals has their own ways of communicating that may seem strange at first. Here’s a list to help you identify some of the more surprising sounds you might hear while exploring the Safari!

Cheetah: Chirp – Khayam, one of Wildlife Safari’s ambassador cheetahs

cheetah chirp

One sound you may hear in our Cheetah Drive-Through is a loud, bird-like chirp. Do not be fooled though – it may actually be a cheetah! Cheetahs have over 30 different vocalizations, including chirps, stutters, growls, meows, yowls, hisses, purrs, and more. Their loud chirp can be heard from a mile away and is often used as a call between family members; such as a mother and her cubs. If a mother cheetah is trying to locate her cubs in the tall grasses of the African savannah it is useful for them to sound like birds so they are disguised from any nearby predators looking for a snack!

Elephant: Rumble – George, one of our African elephants

Elephant rumble

Aside from the noisy trumpet blasts, roars, and snorts elephants are known for, low-frequency vocalizations like rumbles actually make up a pretty large part of elephants’ communication. Rumbles can have many different meanings and uses such as greeting, bonding, threatening, soliciting a mate, soothing, or coordinating group movement. These sounds may be a bit more difficult to detect though, since many elephant rumbles are too low for us to hear! Elephants often use infrasound (sound with frequencies below 20 Hz; the lower limit of human hearing) because it travels well through dense underbrush and across long distances.

Lion: Caroling – Upepo, one of our two and a half year old lions

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Some of the loudest animals at Wildlife Safari are the lions. Lions have the loudest roar of any big cat and can be heard from 5 miles away! In the mornings and evenings we often hear our lions ‘caroling,’ which is when they all roar together as a group. It is similar to a roll call, with one lion starting and all the others eventually joining in. Lions can identify each other’s voices within their chorus.  This makes it a good way for the pride to communicate and figure out where everyone is.

Maned Wolf: Roar-Bark – Sabara, our female maned wolf 

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Native to South America, maned wolves are not actually wolves at all, and are not closely related to any other canid species. One of their most unique features is a vocalization known as the ‘roar-bark.’ It sounds nothing like the howls you may hear from a wolf, coyote, or your own pet dog, and instead sounds, as you may expect: a cross between a roar and a bark! A maned wolf’s roar-bark is loud and clear and can carry over long distances, and is most likely used for marking their territory.

Red Ruffed Lemur: Mob Roar – Leland, one of our red ruffed lemurs enjoying a delicious watermelon

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One sound that might surprise you is the ‘mob roar’ from our red ruffed lemurs! Ruffed lemurs have a wide range of unique vocalizations such as the roar/shriek, mob roar, pulsed squawk, wail, bray, quack, growl, growl-snort, chatter, whine, grunt, huff, mew, cough, grumble, squeak, and squeal, and each has a distinct meaning. The mob roar usually consists of a repeated low roar with occasional high chatters, and is used for group coordination and spacing. Even though these lemurs aren’t very big, they definitely make a huge noise!

Sumatran Tiger: Chuff – Riya, one of our beautiful Sumatran tigers

Tiger Chuff

Tigers are part of the big cat family, which means they can roar like a lion, but one of the quietest sounds they can make is a chuff. This sound is usually a friendly way for tigers to say hello, and our tiger sisters Riya and Kemala often chuff to each other in greeting. They make this noise by keeping their mouth closed while exhaling through their nose. It’s not very loud, but you might hear it if you are lucky!

White-cheeked Gibbon: Duet – Benny (blonde) and Mel (black with white cheeks), our white cheeked gibbon pair

White cheeked gibbon duet

The white-cheeked gibbon duet is one of the most complex calls you will hear at the park, if you visit early enough in the morning to hear it! Gibbon pairs, like our own Benny and Mel, sing this complicated duet every morning to establish their territory and let other pairs know where they are. The duet is made up of two parts: rising notes sung by the female that start slow but increase in speed, followed by a series of modulating and staccato notes sung by the male. Young white-cheeked gibbons typically learn the duet from their parents by copying the female’s song until they reach maturity, at which point males will switch to the male’s part of the duet.

Now that you are familiar with some of the unique sounds of the animals at Wildlife Safari, see how many you can hear the next time you visit!

It’s a Winter Wonderland

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community, Uncategorized

This winter season we had some fun events going on like Zoo Lights and Photos With Santa with a guest appearance from one of our cheetah ambassadors, Khayam and Mchumba!

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Guests had lots of fun walking through our spectacular holiday light show throughout our village, all synched to the playing music.  They also got to enjoy a show in the theater put on by the Village staff and hear a bit about cheetahs with Khayam and Mchumba with our Cheetah/Carnivore staff!

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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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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!

Extreme Makeover – Carnivore Edition

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are constantly working to enrich the lives of the animals under our care. Enrichment comes in many different forms, from spraying perfume on enclosure trees for scent enrichment to behavioral training, puzzle toys and climbing structures. Here is a look at some of the exciting new enclosure enrichment brought to you by the Carnivore Department of the Wildlife Safari.

 

Just Lion’ Around

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If you drive through the lion loop nowadays, you may see a lion or two lounging on their new favorite enclosure structure. This two tiered hammock, perfect for midday naps and relaxing, was built and designed by carnivore keepers Taylor and Jordan. While the first hammock tier is already complete and ready for lion enjoyment, the second tier is still in construction and will be added soon. Lions love their rest and sleep about 20 hours a day in the wild. Stop by the lion loop, near the beginning of our drive-through safari, and observe these sweet snoozers.

The hammock in the lion enclosure - newly renovated

The hammock in the lion enclosure – newly renovated

 

Bearobics

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American black bears survive in the wild by utilizing their hooked, non-retractable claws for tree climbing, reaching impressive heights with remarkable speed. Here in the carnivore department of the Wildlife Safari, we are very excited to have a new climbing structure for our oldest black bear, Donna. The structure, built by the dedicated maintenance staff of the Safari, took two weeks to complete, stands 14 feet high, and consists of over a dozen logs. Not only is the structure designed to help Donna practice those natural climbing abilities, it also provides another area for keepers to spread food enrichment that will be tricky and exciting for Donna to find. Keep climbing Donna!

 

New black bear climbing structure

New black bear climbing structure

 

Run Cheetah, Run!

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Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can run rates of 70 miles per hour in pursuit of prey. Although their bodies are perfectly adapted for sprinting, it still takes time and practice to build up the muscle mass and technique for reaching these top speeds.

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Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are hoping to increase our cheetahs’ speeds through the introduction of a lure pulley system. The system works by attaching a large portion of meat onto a wire-pulley system that rapidly pulls the tempting treat across the ground over a 300 foot distance.

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

Cheetah chasing the bait on a lure

 

Cheetahs will chase the bait from one side of the pulley to the other, gradually developing their running skill to more closely mirror that of their wild cousins. Construction of the lure system is already underway, and the flat land that will serve as the running track can be seen to the right of the road near the exit of the Cheetah drive-through loop.

Treasured Tigers 

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Sumatran Tigers are the rarest subspecies of tiger, with only approximately 400 left in the world. With populations of these beautiful creatures shrinking, breeding the remaining Sumatran Tigers is essential to subspecies survival. Here at the Wildlife Safari, we are lucky to have two Sumatran sisters, Riya and Kemala. The Wildlife Safari, in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), is hoping to begin a Sumatran Tiger breeding program soon when a male Sumatran Tiger is available. More tigers means more space.

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Fundraising from the Ladies Auxiliary of Wildlife Safari’s (LAWS) 20th annual auction night this year will go toward a major enclosure upgrade for our girls and any future Safari tigers. In years passed, LAWS events have raised money to create major Safari projects such as the new veterinary clinic and elephant watering hole. This year, the auction was named, “Hold that Tiger” with an old Hollywood theme. Money raised over the course of the evening will go towards our Sumatran Tiger improvement project.

Stay tuned for more exciting innovations in our carnivore department!

Keeping it Cool

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

With the hot summer sun heating up our days, many of the animals at Wildlife Safari are getting ice treats!

Bandit enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Bandit the American Badger enjoying an ice bath on a hot summers day

Pancake, Wildlife Safari's youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Pancake, Wildlife Safari’s youngest cheetah, investigates some ice cubes

Whether it’s ice to cool down or play with, or popsicle treats, its a good way for the animals to cool down and a more challenging way to get a snack!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!

Black bears enjoying a fruit popsicle!