Tsavo and Enzi

Uncategorized

All of our nine lions at Wildlife Safari are special, but our adult males have an extra special back story.

Male lions Tsavo and Enzi relaxing – Photo courtesy of Ashley Lane

Their parents were caught by poachers and given as a gift to a Sheikh (leader) in Qatar, a country in the middle east. Bred too young, the mother did not survive labor, and the prince soon found himself hand raising three boisterous lion cubs, our two boys and their sister.

Tsavo and Enzi at around 2 years old

While many animals in this position, who are caught up in the exotic pet trade, do not survive, these lion cubs got lucky. The prince realized very quickly that unless you have the training and knowledge required to meet their needs safely it can be very difficult and dangerous, for both the lions and the people, to care for them. He made the decision to give them to people who would be able to care for them well in a safe environment, so they went into the hands of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and were placed here with us at Wildlife Safari.

Tsavo and Enzi all grown up – Photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Apart from having wonderfully endearing personalities, our boys, Tsavo and Enzi, are very special for another reason. We do not take animals from the wild for breeding programs – it can be counter productive to try to save a species by taking individuals out of the wild. We want to remain just that: wild!

As a result, the breeding program very rarely gets new genes introduced, we plan very carefully so we don’t ever end up breeding too closely or ‘inbreeding’. So the introduction of two new males is wonderful!

Despite their rough start, Tsavo and Enzi are healthy and thriving now! Each has fathered a litter of cubs and while other brothers would have separated by now due to disputes over who is boss, these two are very closely bonded and don’t have issues with aggression towards each other.

One of the boys enjoying a training session

Tsavo is typically the more docile of the two, with his dark mane he is quite the striking figure as he sits and watches his family play. His favorite activities include rolling in anything that smells interesting, playing with his brother, and hanging out with girlfriend Mtai.

Tsavo deep in thought – Photo courtesy of Ashley Lane

Enzi loves to talk, he also loves sitting up in his hammock with his girlfriend Serafina until his favorite time: dinner!

Enzi checking if the photographer has snacks

Turning 5 this year, the boys have come a long way since their humble beginnings, and we’re very happy they made their way to us!

 

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

 

Not Always Majestic….

Behind the Scenes, Uncategorized

While we often think of animals as majestic figures, poised and ready to survive in their unforgiving wild environment, this is not always the case…. Keepers at Wildlife Safari often see our animals in a more relaxed state, looking – well… less than majestic.

Here are some of the adorable and ridiculous faces we see!

Our female lion, clearly more concerned about where the snacks are than about posing – Photo courtesy of Bryanna Bright

Bandit the American Badger caught doing his morning yoga – Photo courtesy of Bryanna Bright

One of our Sumatran tiger sisters cuddling the wall

Rhinos can be silly too – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

Lion cub, Dunia, investigating her toy – Photo courtesy of Ashley Lane

Curious Sika deer – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

Giraffe extreme close up – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

One of our Sika males with his homemade hat – Photo courtesy of Katie Graves

 

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!

 

Lion Pride

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s lions have a peculiar backstory. While our adult females were raised in a zoo pride, our adult males have had a bit of a journey to get to us. Their parents were gifted to the sheik of Qatar as cubs. Unfortunately, they bred too young and the female died in labor. Seeing that they needed special care by people with knowledge of their dietary and health needs (let alone the facilities to house them – lions make terrible house guests!), he gave them to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and they were eventually placed here at Wildlife Safari. Their genes are invaluable because they are the first in their line to breed in captivity – a rarity since we never remove animals from the wild for captive breeding. Our boys were paired with Mtai and Serafina, our two adult females. Since the girls came to us from a mother raised pride setting, they understand natural pride dynamics.

Sisters Serafina and Mtai

Sisters Serafina and Mtai – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are unique in that they are the only cats that live in a social group. All other cats are solitary. In a pride, there is typically one dominant breeding male lion. But since Tsavo and Enzi didn’t understand this, Mtai is most often the dominant lion in our unique pride. We are fortunate that all four of our adult lions have bred. They paired off nicely with Mtai and Tsavo having a litter of two, Arnold and Sharptooth, while Serafina and Enzi had a litter of four, Upepo, Dunia, Moto, and Maji. Our adults are all 4 years old and our cubs are just approaching their 2nd birthday.

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Play time for the cubs – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions in captivity can live up to 20 years old, but they only reach about 10 in the wild. Males especially live shorter lives because of their aggression and hierarchy. In a pride setting, there’s one dominant breeding male and supporting non-breeding males. The females of the pride are all related, which is thought to help with hunting. Females are responsible for feeding the pride.

Lions are the 2nd largest cat, Siberian tigers are the first. Male lions can weigh up to 550 lbs and females up to 350 lbs. Males have a mane that protects their jugular when they are fighting. Since they will aim for the throat in a fight, it helps to have a thick matt of hair to shield them.  The dark coloration in their mane is directly correlated to their levels of testosterone. More testosterone means a darker mane which attracts more females and warns other males of their “toughness”.

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Adult males Tsavo and Enzi soak up the sunshine – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are very vocal animals, especially when there is food present. Because they live in such a social setting, their grumbles and growls are a way of telling each other that “no, this is mine”. Lion’s can’t really make any of the noises that we associate with being a “happy cat”, like purring and meowing.

In a pride, it’s the female’s job to hunt and provide food. They tend to stalk prey up to 100 ft and then sprint to catch them, usually tackling and killing with a suffocating bite to the neck. Females are built more slender and agile for stalking and hunting while males are broad and muscular for defending the pride against competing males. Because of the unpredictability of hunts, they tend to gorge whenever they can because they don’t know when their next meal will be. Lions can engorge themselves up to 60 lbs of meat at a time. At Wildlife Safari, we break up that amount into more manageable portions along with two fast days to allow their gut bacteria to balance out.

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Curious cubs – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are nocturnal and sleep up to 19 hours a day. They can breed year round and females start cycling when they are 18 months to 2 years old. However, like many species, this cycling starts before their bodies are fully grown, so  it is unsafe for them to breed for a while. It is very difficult to tell when a female is pregnant without doing an ultrasound or an x-ray.

Lions are altruistic, meaning females in a pride may take care of cubs that aren’t hers, they also tend to sync their cycle and give birth at the same time. So females are usually all lactating at the same time and can nurse all the cubs in the pride.

All lions are born with spots called “rosettes” that fade as they grow older. These are not true spots, like those in cheetahs and tigers. So if you were to shave a cub, the spots would not grow back. Whereas if you shaved a cheetah or tiger, their patterns would still show on their skin. Female cubs stay within the pride for the rest of their lives while male cubs are usually kicked out by the dominant male by the time they are 2. They then form a “bachelor band” until they are large enough to take over another pride.

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The young boys, Arnold and Upepo, lounging around – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Lions are listed as Vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because they are declining alarmingly in the areas between protected National Parks. As human population expands and causes overgrazing and prey decline, lions will turn to livestock as a food source. This puts them in conflict with farmers, who may set traps in an attempt to keep their livestock safe. Although lions reproduce relatively quickly, the killing outstrips the lions’ ability to replenish their numbers.

Our lions are ambassadors for their species that help teach the public about lion conservation and human conflict with wildlife. If you’d like to meet our lion pride up close, we have private encounters every day. Although lions are able to tolerate high temperatures, our cubs actually love the cool Oregon winter weather. Come watch them play!

No kisses from these kitties!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

If you have pet cats at home, you’ll be familiar with their rough tongues. While most animals have smooth tongues, cats actually have barbs on theirs and the bigger the cat, the bigger those barbs. Lions, tigers and cheetahs have large barbs designed to help them tear meat and hide of their prey while they eat.

lion-tongue-barbs

Tongue barbs on one of our lions – photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

These are so effective that a lion could draw blood from skin in just a few licks! These barbs can also help them keep clean, assisting in removal of dirt when they groom themselves.

Lion Cubs First Birthday Party

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

Last week Wildlife Safari celebrated Arnold and Sharptooth’s birthday! The first lion cubs to be born at Wildlife Safari in 23 years, these two are very special and this year has flown by!

Two of our 6 lion cubs - Arnold and Sharptooth

Two of our 6 lion cubs – Arnold and Sharptooth

The cubs had a party complete with snack filled presents and a pinata shaped like a water buffalo. More than 65 guests came to see them for the occasion, and while Arnold was a little wary of his presents, his smaller cousins had a blast!

Lions enjoying the birthday celebrations - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Lions enjoying the birthday celebrations – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz


In true lion style, each one claimed their own present - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

In true lion style, each one claimed their own present – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz


The adult females particularly enjoyed the paper mache water buffalo - photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

The adult females particularly enjoyed the paper mache water buffalo – photo courtesy of Jordan Bednarz

Carols – Not Just For Christmas

Carnivores, Creature Feature

Even if you’ve never heard one, you probably know that their characteristic roar. However, lions also make a variety of other sounds and vocalizations including calls that we refer to as caroling. Now before you start picturing a lion choir, caroling is a lot less melodic than the Christmas carols we hear at this time of year.

For lions, caroling is the biggest noise they can make. They use their diaphragm to force the sound out and the resulting roar can travel for miles around. Lions carol for a few reasons, both inside the pride and to outsiders. Males carol to communicate to other, roaming males that may be passing their territory, to warn them to stay away. Members of the same pride also carol to communicate to each other while hunting, when they may be some distance away from each other.

Tsavo and Enzie

Tsavo and Enzie, Our adult male lions – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

“Lions have a unique voice,” says Bednarz, “so when they carol they can actually tell each other apart.” They can even recognize how many voices are caroling, so approaching males will judge by the number of competitors whether they want to challenge them or steer clear.

Enzi – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

One of the little cubs – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Wildlife Safari’s lion pride has ten voices to join in with caroling this year, with two litters of cubs (two 10-month old cubs and four 6-month old cubs). Jordan Berdnarz, Lead Carnivore Keeper and Primary Trainer for the adult lions, has been with these particular lions since they first came to the park. Bednarz says these cubs are important for a variety of reasons, firstly, because they are extremely genetically valuable for conservation purposes within the captive population. Closer to home, though, these cubs are tremendously important to Wildlife Safari as our first lion cubs born in 23 years. “These litters are really special to us,” says Bednarz.

As Christmas approaches, keepers wait in anticipation of giving our lion pride some wonderful holiday themed enrichment… Christmas trees!  After Christmas, as the decorations start coming down, Wildlife Safari accepts donated Christmas trees which we give to our animals. All across the park the animals love these strange, tall toys. “Our lions absolutely love them!” Says Bednarz. “Especially our males.” Even old trees that are long past their prime are much enjoyed by the lions all year long, and as the cub’s first Christmas, keepers eagerly await their reaction to their first Christmas tree!

“Any first for the cubs is really fun,” says Bednarz. “They’re very curious.”

Lion cubs at Wildlife Safari playing with their tug-o-war rope – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

So if you feel like you need an extra boost of Christmas cheer, come visit and see our caroling pride get into the Christmas spirit!

Mama lions and all the kids – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow