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.

Tiger Times

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Riya and Kemala are 4 year old sisters, that came to us 2 years ago from Texas. Sumatran tigers weigh in at about 200 lbs and are the smallest of the 5 subspecies, with Siberian tigers being the largest at 700 lbs. Tigers can live into their teens in captivity, but usually only reach 10 or so in the wild if they are lucky. Sumatran tigers have the most stripes and pigmentation of all subspecies and the largest canines of all big cats.

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Kemala, one of out Sumatran tigers – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Even though tigers are muscular and powerfully built, they can move silently because they are able to fully retract their claws. They aren’t built for speed, like a cheetah, so they must stalk prey closely until they can pounce and knock it down without having to pursue. Tigers hunt by stalking as close as possible and utilizing their sight and hearing. They leap onto their prey and strangle it with a bite to the throat or back of the neck. A carcass is often dragged off and hidden for future meals. They are powerful enough to take down prey twice their size. Tigers are only successful with 5% of their prey. Unlike most cats, tigers are very water oriented. They will chase prey into the water to take advantage of their superior swimming ability.

Riya - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Riya – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Tiger stripes are like fingerprints, each tiger’s striping is unique. They are nocturnal and have much better night vision than humans. The backs of their ears have white spots that mimic eyes to warn other animals even if they are looking from behind the tiger. Tigers are apex predators in their ecosystem, keeping prey species in check to release plant species from herbivore stresses. Because of the unpredictability of their hunts, tigers tend to gorge whenever they can because they don’t know when their next meal will be.

Relaxing in her hut - Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Relaxing in her hut – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Tigers are solitary except when mating or rearing cubs. They gestate for 3.5 months and have litters of 3-4 cubs. Cubs are born blind and less than 2 lbs, but they are able to kill before their first birthday. They begin hunting at 6 months, but are dependent on mom until they’re 18 months years old. They mature at about 4 years old but half of all cubs don’t survive more than two years. Their major threats are predators, but as they mature, injury during a hunt is also a likely reason for cub mortality.

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The beautiful Kemala checking out her enclosure – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Less than 350 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, making them critically endangered. Sumatra is the only place where tigers live alongside rhinos, elephants, and orangutans. Human-tiger conflict and fear are the driving factors behind their decline. All 5 subspecies of tigers are endangered, with poaching and traditional medicine being the main culprit. Habitat destruction and fragmentation also contribute to their decline. Tigers need an undisturbed habitat to thrive and as human populations expand, haphazard developments put huge pressures on their habitat from grazing cattle and degrading forests.

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Riya keenly awaits her snacks – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

At Wildlife Safari, we are excited to start renovations on our tiger exhibits. Our facility will be able to help save tigers by initiating a tiger breeding program and having our very first tiger cubs! With so few left in the wild, breeding our Sumatran tigers is more important than ever before. Come meet Riya and Kemala on our tiger encounter and you’ll be helping to protect tigers in the wild.

Palm Oil – a little known, BIG threat to tigers

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Palm oil is found in a huge number of products found in your local stores.  Although most people are unaware of its use as an ingredient, it is a serious conservation issue, especially since the majority of palm oil is non-sustainable.  This means that most of this palm oil is not coming from farms but from forests.  These forests are in places like Sumatra and India, important areas for tiger populations.

Sumatran Tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala

Sumatran Tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala

Tiger populations are dangerously low worldwide and are continuing to decline.  There are more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than there are left in the wild.

Wildlife Safari is home to two tigers, Riya and Kemala.  These sisters are four year old Sumatran tigers, the smallest subspecies.  There are only around 300 individuals of this sub species left on earth and only six sub species of tigers left in the world.  The rate of loss of this species is a serious concern, and palm oil harvesting is exacerbating the situation.

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Riya having a rest after her training session

People have been attempting to mass-produce this palm oil by clear-cutting forests – decreasing animal’s habitats so fast that it is driving many species to extinction.

However, there is a sustainable way to produce palm oil that does not involve clear cutting forests, so it is important to do your research on what kind is in the products you use in your home. While this sustainable option is slowly increasing in populations, only about 10% of palm oil containing products currently use sustainable palm oil.

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You can help forests from becoming clear-cut by choosing products that use sustainable palm oil – if that is what people are demanding, then companies will need to change their practices in order to meet their consumer’s preferences.  There are free apps available that tell you which products are sustainable versus non-sustainable – check out which one is right for you!

Some products have also added a symbol on their packaging that lets consumers know that they can feel good about their sustainable choice.

If we can make the change to sustainably sourced palm oil we can help wild tigers to keep their homes. That would help keep tigers just like Riya and Kemala safe and happy!

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.

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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.

Summer Swims

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores

This summer the tigers and lions had fun in the sun with sprinklers and pools! Although the lions were uncertain at first, they soon decided that sprinklers were a great way to beat the heat.

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Our lion family enjoying the sprinklers

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The lion pride’s first sprinkler playtime

The tigers took a while to venture into their pond this year, but they spent the last few weeks of summer making up for it!

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Tigers playing in their pond – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Sumatran tiger sisters, Riya and Kemala, consider a swim on a hot day – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

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Pool party! – photo courtesy of Jocelyn Krim

Barrels of fun

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Uncategorized

Everyday the animals at wildlife Safari get something exciting that we call ‘enrichment’. This could be a toy, an exciting snack or an interesting smell, whatever will pique their interest so they can explore something new and fun each day. For our Sumatran Tiger girls, there’s nothing quite as exciting as their barrels! That’s right, their toy of choice is a large blue plastic barrel.

Sumatran tiger, Riya, investigates her dinner on her favorite barrel - photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Sumatran tiger, Riya, investigates her dinner on her favorite barrel – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Large enough that the Tigers can’t crush them and hurt themselves, and strong enough to withstand the attention of two 200lb Tigers, these things make for hours of fun!

Barrel play time! - Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Barrel play time! – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

The girls love to bat them around, whack them, jump on them… No matter what else is happening, if they see a barrel, they have to investigate before they do anything else.

Painting with Paws

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

All of the animals at the park have unique personalities, but some of them are artists as well! They may not be able to hold a brush, but they still find a way to make some pretty amazing paintings.

A painting done by Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah and dog ambassador pair - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

A painting done by Pancake and Dayo, our cheetah and dog ambassador pair – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Our tigers and cheetahs paint by walking through a mat covered with paint and then onto a canvas.

Pancake doing a painting session - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Pancake doing a painting session – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Dayo, the dog paired with Pancake as an ambassador, doing a painting session - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Dayo, the dog paired with Pancake as an ambassador, doing a painting session – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

Other animals take a more passive approach. The hippos only have to hold still while the keepers do all the work!

Padron the hippo making a 'hippo kiss' painting - photo courtesy of Allison Trout

Padron the hippo making a ‘hippo kiss’ painting – photo courtesy of Allison Trout

Although motivated by the keepers (also known as providers of snacks) and not by a need for artistic expression, the resulting paintings are amazing prints and splatters that are unique every time. If you are lucky you may even get a tail brush swipes!

An array of paintings done by Pancake and Dayo - photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan

An array of paintings done by Pancake and Dayo – photo courtesy of Sadie Ryan