Is it a brown bear or it is a grizzly?

Carnivores

To really answer this question, let’s start by looking back at some brown bear taxonomy (the branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms) history, shall we?

Bear taxonomy went through many revisions before scientists recached the conclusion of Ursus arctos.In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taxonomists frequently lumped and split brown/grizzly bears into many different species and subspecies. In 1918 the separation peaked with the publication of C. Hart Merriam’s “Review of the Grizzly and Big Brown Bears of North America.” Merriam proposed around 80 species and subspecies of North American brown bears existed. Merriam’s nuanced classifications of brown and grizzly bears were based on differences in skull morphology and dentition, which he examined in painstaking detail. Merriam classified on southeast Alaska’s Admiralty Island alone, there was 5 distinct subspecies and in the Katmai region, 2 distinct subspecies as well as other living in the Cook Inlet area and on the Kenai Peninsula. But most of the species or subspecies described by Merriam were later regarded as local variations or individual variants. As of the mid 1980’s as many as 9 extant or extinct subspecies of U.arctoswere recognized in North America.

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Russell, our resident Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear!

Which brings us to the age old saying “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies”. Now even with all the research done by Merriam this saying still has some backing to it. Now a days there are only 3 main subspecies of brown bears recognized by most of the scientific community, Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears and Grizzly brown bears. These bears are very similar but still have their differences to classify them as different subspecies. The 2 big determining differences are size and location. Each of the subspecies are geographically and genetically isolated from the other subspecies of brown bear.

Kodiak brown bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) which main populations are only found on Kodiak Island in Alaska are the largest of the brown bear subspecies. Now these bears are not genetically different enough to be classified as their own species but are distinct enough that they can be classified as their own subspecies because they been isolated from mainland bears for over 12,000 years. Now these bears can get up to 1,500lbs and stand up to 10ft tall. Kodiak brown bears can get this big because they live on islands and they have access to a marine-driven food resource all year round with their favorite being salmon!IMG_9376

The next subspecies, very similar to Kodiak brown bears, are the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears (Ursus arctos gyas). These bears are known as the ABC island bears  because their populations are only found on Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof island in southeast Alaska. Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach large sizes as well, they can reach up to 1,200lbs and stand around 8 ½ to 9ft tall. Just like the Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach this size because of their access to marine-driven food resources all year round with their favorite being salmon too! Alaskan Coastal brown bears are unique because they are the most genetically different compared to all other brown bears. Alaskan Coastal brown bears actually share more genetic information with polar bears than other brown bears. This could be due to interbreeding with a small isolated number of polar bears during the last ice age. As more recently, scientists have found more Alaskan Coastal brown bears with polar bear DNA in the northern parts of Alaska suggesting that there has been more interbreeding recently and possibility creating a new bear species, currently known as a “Prizzie”!

The final subspecies is the most common of the three and the reason for the main question of this post, Grizzly brown bears (Ursus arctos horribillis). Grizzlies are considered the smallest of the 3 brown bears subspecies. On average, grizzly brown bears only reach up to 900lbs and 7ft tall. Grizzly brown bears are much smaller because they are inland bears with there main populations found in southwestern Canada and the lower 48 states, they do not have easy access to a marine-driven, high calorie food resource. So Grizzly brownbears must work a little harder for their food, so they don’t build up as much fat as compared to the other 2 subspecies of brown bear. Grizzly brown bears are also known for that distinct hump on their backs. That hump is pure muscles from their shoulders as is usually used as a key morphological identifier for Grizzly brown bears. Grizzly brown bears are also found to be a bit more reactive to humans being around in the distance. This doesn’t not mean they are more aggressive than the other brown bear subspecies, but it is a behavior picked up because Grizzly brown bears are in more human populated areas compare to the other subspecies who live on mostly unpopulated islands. All three subspecies have about the same temperament.

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Now that you have the facts, what do you think? Is it a brown bear or is it a grizzly? Do you agree with the statement of “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies?” or do you think more research needs to be done? Let us know by leaving a comment

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A Day in The Life of a Zookeeper

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs

No matter what group of animals a zookeeper works with, their daily tasks will basically be the same. It is a zookeeper’s job to make sure that the animals under their care are both physically and mentally healthy, which makes cleaning up after them an important daily duty. In fact, a large amount of a zookeeper’s day is spent cleaning! From hosing and scrubbing an animal’s enclosure, to washing dishes, and even cleaning toys and work areas, zookeepers do a lot of cleaning up! It may not be fun, but it is absolutely essential to the proper care and upkeep of the zoo’s animals.

Another important daily task that all zookeepers must do is prepare food for their
animals. Since most animals aren’t like humans in that there is a large range of things that we are able to eat, making diets for zoo animals can be relatively time consuming.

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Our 6 year old lioness, Mati

In order to keep their animals at a healthy weight and make sure that they are getting all of the nutrients that they need to remain healthy, many diets have to be carefully planned out.

For example, when wild lions take down their prey, they will gorge themselves on it and will typically end up fasting for a few days. They won’t be finding and catching prey every single day, so the fasting is kind of forced on them due to nature. However, this kind of diet is actually good for them as long as they are able to eat often enough that they aren’t starving. Fasting gives the lion’s body a chance to detox – or get rid of any harmful substances that may have found their way into the lion’s body.

Many zoos that house lions have them on a diet which is close to that of wild lions. At Wildlife Safari, our lions are fasted once a week. On their fast day, they still receive a diet, however it is mostly bone and barely any actual meat. The rest of the week, they are on diets which were developed based on the health and weight of each lion. This works very well for our lions, but other zoos may have a different diet plan for their lions. This doesn’t make them wrong, as zookeepers often have to adjust dietary details for their animals based on what they need for their health and weight.

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Keepers weighing our one year old cheetahs

When zookeepers are not cleaning, preparing diets, or feeding their animals, they are often educating the public! One of the greatest tools that a zookeeper has in their arsenal is their voice. By educating others, zookeepers are able to touch the hearts of people who often already care about animals, but end up caring even more after learning so much about them. This may result in individuals making decisions in their lives that can be beneficial to animals and the earth, such as recycling or donating to an organization that helps to save endangered species.

Between all of these tasks, nearly all zookeepers implement some form of training into
their daily routine. Training animals in a zoo can be extremely important. Not only is it a mental challenge for the animal being trained, but it can also make things such as voluntary blood draws possible! It is always best to try and do medical procedures on an animal while it is willing and awake rather than having to sedate them. It is much less stressful for them, and the animal will see it as a more positive experience since they always get rewarded for doing a good job.

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One of our keepers training our female tiger Riya

So even though there is a lot of hard, and often challenging, work involved in a zookeeper’s daily duties, it is the best job in the world. Just being able to see the animals that they care for almost every day is enough to make zookeeping fun for those who are passionate about it.

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.

 

For the Love of Learning!

Behind the Scenes, Community, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

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

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Education Lead, Julianne with Ponderosa the Red Tail Boa

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

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

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Julianne with Western Screech owl, Kotori

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

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

Arctic Adventure winter camp crafts

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

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

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

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