Mountain Lions in Oregon: The Biggest Predator You Never See

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Just how likely are you to run into a fierce predator on your hike through a state park or national forest? Most of us assume it’s unlikely. The image that comes to mind is of rainforests or savannas housing tigers, lions and cheetahs. Those are half a world away from us, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

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With a distribution over two continents and the ability to adapt to a variety of climates, the mountain lion could be considered king of the American jungle. This species is the most widely distributed mammal in the Americas, with 30 subspecies and a bundle of common names including the cougar, puma, and panther. Mountain lions are on the bigger end of the smaller cats, weighing around 120-190 lbs. Their tan and reddish fur provide good cover in the trees and rocky mountains of both North and South America, while their classic felid jaws and claws aid in their ambush method of hunting of which there is a 70% success rate. Like most other cat species mountain lions are solitary animals, with the exception of mating and females with cubs.

Worldwide mountain lions are a species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist with an overall estimation of 30,000 individuals, but their numbers are starting to decrease. In fact, they aren’t found in the Eastern United States, after being hunted out in the last 200 years. The Pacific Northwest has a good portion of the United States’ mountain lions, with numbers around a few thousand in each state. They don’t appear to be limited by human activity, but rather by the amount of prey species available. In Oregon, the mountain lion population is estimated at 6,400 as of April 2017.

Each state monitors their populations in slightly different ways, and here the mountain lions fall under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Their goal is to keep the population above the 1994 level of 3,000 individuals. They also monitor the number of conflict animals in the state, or animals that cause damage to people’s property or person. These animals will be removed if necessary, and if the number of conflicts is too high or the prey species are suffering losses from too many mountain lions ODFW is prepared to adjust the population. In other words they want a stable population of mountain lions, not too many or too few.

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In addition to monitoring the population status ODFW sets hunting regulations for the state. Mountain lions are listed as a big game species in Oregon, and are hunted using the same tag system as other big game. Hunters can take both males and females during the mountain lion season, but mothers with cubs are off limits. In the past it was legal to use hunting hounds to tree a lion, or track and corner a mountain lion in a tree. However, using hounds for hunting a mountain lion is illegal for sport hunters, which has lowered the success rates of mountain lion hunting in the state. There is some speculation that this could have caused an increase in the population, but as of now there is no research to support the theory.

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That’s not to say there is a lack of mountain lion research in Oregon, not by a long shot. There have been over a dozen research publications affiliated with ODFW in the last decade alone. They include subjects like establishing more accurate mountain lion densities and population growth rates, effects of lethal control, kill rates and prey selection, and the effects on population dynamics of elk (one of their prey species). In southwestern Oregon there was a long-term study from 1992-2003 that radio collared and captured mountain lions and gathered data on home ranges, prey interactions, reproduction, and dispersal. All of these pieces of research are important to the whole picture of the mountain lion-how it lives, factors that could affect its survival, and how to best live alongside one of our biggest top predators.

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So the next time you pick up your hiking boots, remember and respect the fact that you may not be as alone as you thought out there. Keep an eye out for tracks, because Oregon’s mountain lions can be seen if you know how to look.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Oregon Cougar Management Plan. ODFW.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Research in Oregon. ODFW Wildlife Division.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2015. Summary of Cougar Management in Neighboring States. ODFW Wildlife Division.

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Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

It looks like a kangaroo and sounds like a guinea pig, but this little girl is a species all her own! Meet Paddy, one of Wildlife Safari’s resident Patagonian Cavies. One of the largest species of rodent in the world, Patagonian Cavies are native to South America, specifically Argentina. They are herbivores, enjoying a diet full of fruit, vegetables and foliage. They have the constantly growing teeth characteristic to rodents, which means they are almost always chewing and wearing those teeth down as they grow.

They typically live in areas with lots of shrub cover – helpful as both protection from predators and as a source of food.

Cavy enclosure

Cavies make grunting and squeaking sounds to communicate, similar to guinea pigs. They mostly walk or run, but are fast and agile – they can jump very high to be able to escape scrapes with predators.

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

Paddy the Patagonian Cavy

They are monogamous animals, mating for life. Pairs can live life alone together or with other pairs in warrens, with up to 29 pairs sharing this space (that’s a lot of room mates!). Females will usually have just one litter a year, with a gestation of a little over 3 months.

Paddy being her curious, social self - photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy being her curious, social self – photo courtesy of Leila Goulet

Paddy is one of the education animals that acts as an ambassador, going to schools and community events to teach people about animals and conservation. Up until recently, Paddy lived off display in our education department, but she now has a new home in Safari Village! She alternates in this enclosure with Safari’s male Cavy, Lucas. Nestled between the Tamarin enclosure and the petting zoo, Paddy and Lucas have been investigating theie

new house in prime position to meet new people!

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

Patagonian Cavy Enclosure in Safari Village

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

Doctors with patients on the wild side…

Behind the Scenes, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized
Ribbon cutting at the new animal health clinic

Ribbon cutting at the new animal health clinic

Wildlife Safari was thrilled to officially open its new animal hospital at the end of last year. The clinic has been designed with consideration of the needs of its sometimes quite large visitors, with large roller door and spacious indoor monitoring enclosures. It even has comfortable study and teaching spaces for the veterinary students that come from around the world to learn about caring for exotic animals, a break room so tea can keep everyone on their feet for long hours, and facilities for staff to stay overnight when around the clock care is required.

New Clinic Opening

New Clinic Opening Ceremony

The park is home to over 500 animals, all cared for by Safari’s dedicated Vet staff. It’s a demanding job, with never a dull moment. Between cheetahs with stomach aches, goats with sore feet, ferrets with fleas, and a myriad of other concerns, large and small, our Vet staff are in high demand. Without them it would be impossible to keep our animals healthy and happy.

Zebra

But what makes these stethoscope wielding creatures tick? What does it take to be a veterinarian at a wildlife park? Benji Alcantar, DVM and Kirsten Thomas, DVM, our resident veterinarians give us an insight into the animal health care side of Wildlife Safari.

“Emergency procedures, preventative care and vaccination, annual health exams… Those are usually our mornings,” says Dr Thomas. Afternoons often involve alot of paper work, on top of any emergencies that come up. Veterinary externs help with a lot of the daily work.

Veterinarian Benji Alcantar

Veterinarian Benji Alcantar

Vets on staff swap weekends on call so someone is always available. Unfortunately animals aren’t always considerate of the time or day they get sick or injured. There are a lot of long hours and emergency call outs. It is intense and exhausting work, but that, Dr Alcantar says, is all part of the job.

One of the best parts is being involved in a team, across every department. Clear communication with every department, about every animal, is extremely important. Animal care staff see their animals every day, they know them well and so are the main line of communication with the veterinarians.

Veterinarian Kirsten Thomas with one of our red ruffed lemurs

Veterinarian Kirsten Thomas with one of our red ruffed lemurs

Tough decisions are always a part of it. Especially since good care makes for long living animals – animals they then grow to know and love, so the end of their long lives can be very hard. Being a part of the conservation efforts in maintaining and increasing a healthy population is one of DrAlcantar’s favourite things about being here at the park.

“It’s a unique group of animals,” says Dr Thomas. “Not many people get to work with this group.” She also particularly loves the conservation aspect of their work. “That’s why I got into veterinary medicine in the first place,” she says. Another big perk is simply working with animals. “It’s the best job in the world!”

“Having a baby lion in your hands, or a baby cheetah, and being able to raise them, its very special,’ says Dr Alcantar. “Not everyone gets to do that.” It’s the sort of thing you dream about as a kid, he says, but for these guys its a part of their everyday lives.

Their love of animals is not the only thing that makes their jobs enjoyable. They also relish the challenge. Dr Thomas talks about these challenges that push them constantly to improve on things and find better methods. “Veterinary medicine has a lot of standards. But here, we do everything MacGuyver-ey. There is no design, so you constantly have to be coming up with new plans. Its fun, its MacGuyver medicine, I like it. You’re contributing to the zoo community with each procedure.”

Dr Alcantar agrees this is a very fluid and ever changing area of veterinary medicine.”Its still developing compared with domestic animal medicine. We’re still developing new procedures, new medicines… ”

Our animals are lucky to have this dedicated team of veterinarians. Together with our keepers, they spend everyday working to conserve species one individual animal at a time.

 

 

Cotton-top Tamarins

Creature Feature

 tamarin

COTTON-TOP TAMARIN 

(Saguinus oedipus)

Residing solely in the forests of Costa Rica, Panama and Northwestern Colombia, cotton-top tamarins feed primarily on flowers, leaf buds, and sweet fruits.

They are small primates, weighing on average only 12-16 oz. They live in family groups lead by an alpha male, often the father of most members. Cotton-tops usually live for 10+ years in the wild, and can reach older ages in captivity.

These little ones are critically endangered. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, over 20,000 tamarins were imported to the US for biomedical research, and the surviving wild population never bounced back. The IUCN Redlist currently lists the wild population at only 6,000, 2,000 of which are part of the breeding population.

With faces like theirs, one of the biggest threats to them is the illegal pet trade. Other serious threats include poaching, trapping, over hunting, and the ever present habitat encroachment and destruction.

Conservation efforts are being led by groups like Proyecto Titi, Wildnet.org, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.

tamarins2

International Cheetah Day

Cheetahs, Community, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

This week we celebrate International Cheetah Day! The 4th of December marks the day to celebrate cheetahs for being the incredible creatures they are! These speedy runners are wonderfully unique, and have a wealth of adaptations to help them specialize in what they are known for – speed!

The date is close to our hearts here at Wildlife Safari, as it is the birth date of Khayam, our first ambassador cheetah.

Khayam

Cheetahs (scientific name Acinonyx jubatus) are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The majority of the global population lives in South and East Africa, but a small population (50-70) of Asiatic cheetahs still exists in Iran.

The fastest land animal, they can run up to 70 miles per hour.

They are diurnal, and their prey includes animals such as impalas, gazelle, and hares, which they hunt at dusk or dawn and catch them by tripping them with a razor sharp dew claw.

On average females weigh between 80lbs – 100lbs while males are slightly larger at around 100lbs – 120lbs (weights vary from captivity to wild populations). In the wild these cats will rarely live beyond 10 years of age, but in captivity they can live up to 15-18 years. Unfortunately, due to drastic bottlenecking seen in the wild populations, all cheetahs are thought to share 95%-98% of their genetics, species-wide, which could spell disaster for the future of this magnificent hunter.

Cheetahs have slender bodies designed to run, with enlarged nasal cavities to take in more air when they are reaching top speeds. They also have ‘semi-retractable’ claws, which means they don’t pull back when not in use like most cats’ claws do, rather they stay out all the time, functioning as traction (just like soccer cleats) so they won’t slip when running. As you can imagine, slipping when you’re moving at 70 mile per hour is not going to feel very good and is best avoided.

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The IUCN estimated population sits at 7,000-10,000 and these numbers are declining. Current threats come from farmers trapping, shooting and poisoning cheetahs due to mistaken predator identification, land encroachment, interspecies competition, starvation, and fear-based killings. Despite their striking and unique appearance, cheetahs don’t face significant danger from poaching. They do not typically groom themselves, so their coats are quite coarse.

Conservation efforts include the Livestock Guard Dog Program (LSGD), which gives farmers in areas with resident cheetahs a dog to keep the predators away, which keeps the cheetahs safe and the farmers happy! More conservation efforts include community education and outreach in Africa, which are being led by groups like Cheetah Botswana and the Cheetah Conservation Fund; and domestic zoo-based conservation is led by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) Captive Breeding Program and it’s participating facilities. Wildlife Safari is one of these participating facilities, as one of the most successful breeding centers worldwide.

Since Wildlife Safari opened in 1972 we have had 187 cheetah cubs born at the park.

One of the cheetah cubs born at Wildlife Safari

One of the cheetah cubs born at Wildlife Safari

Our youngest cheetah is Pancake, our 9 month old cub. Unfortunately, Pancake’s mother could not produce milk for her, so her keepers have had to raise her instead. Pancake is also our youngest ambassador at the park. She goes out to community events and schools, along with her puppy companion, Dayo, and meets people to teach them about cheetahs, their amazing design, and the difficulties they face.

 

Pancake and Dayo, Wildlife Safari's ambassador pair

Pancake and Dayo, Wildlife Safari’s ambassador pair

Sumatran Sisters

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Riya and Kemala are 3 year old Sumatran tigers. Sumatrans are the smallest tiger subspecies, much smaller than the large Siberian tigers. As jungle dwellers, Sumatran tigers don’t need the larger body mass needed to retain heat, their humid environment keeps them warm enough.

Like most cats, our girls sleep for a lot of the day, though they do enjoy their pool in the summer time. Tigers are one of the few cats that enjoy water, and they will swim and play (and even hide their toys) in their pond.

Sumatran tiger at her Wildlife Safari home

Sumatran tiger at her Wildlife Safari home

Tigers have ‘true stripes’, which means that their skin is also striped, and each tiger has a unique stripe patter, much like human finger prints.

There are less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

To have so few individuals of a species left is a devastating thought for conservationists. Not only because they are beautiful and interesting creatures, but also because they are apex predators that are vital to the fine balance of populations. If tigers disappear, then their prey animal populations will increase, taking up more resources which will have flow on effects for other species. “Without top predators, the entire ecosystem collapses,” says Wildlife Safari Keeper, Adriana Kopp, who works and trains with the tiger girls daily. “You would get an overrun of grazers and animals like that, then those populations over eat,” says Kopp.

Riya, one of Wildlife Safari's two sumatran tigers

Riya, one of Wildlife Safari’s two sumatran tigers

Although ‘The Jungle Book’ may have you believing that tigers are villains, they are actually quite playful. Our girls LOVE playing with big plastic barrels, and new toys are always a big hit with them. The two girls at Wildlife Safari are sisters and they are very closely bonded, so they often play together, chuffing to show how happy they are. Tigers don’t purr, unlike smaller cats. Instead they make a noise called ‘chuffing’, which (if you’d like to give it a go) kind of sounds like exhaling while shivering.

Riya is the dominant of the two sisters, while Kemala is the calmer and slightly smaller sister. While Kemala’s calm nature tends to charm most people, Riya’s spark of personality wins hearts as well. “She just has such personality and spunk,” says Kopp. At 200 lbs Riya is also slightly larger than her sister, who is 180 lbs, which is a good reflection of her dominance – she tends to claim more snacks than her sister!

Whether they are napping or playing, the tigers are a majestic sight. While you may think stripes make them conspicuous, they are actually masters of camouflage.So if you visit and can’t see them, look a little closer….

 

Welcome to the Wildlife Safari Blog!

Uncategorized

Achimba

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

Two of our 6 lion cubs - Arnold and Sharptooth

Two of our 6 lion cubs – Arnold and Sharptooth

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

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

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

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

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