Friday, February 26, 2016

We did it!

As the winter session comes to an end, six interns and the zookeeper apprentice will be leaving the Sanctuary in hopes pursue jobs in animal care in the future. While we often joked that the internship here was “zookeeper boot camp,” it has left us knowing so much more about this field and exactly what it takes to be a zookeeper. It is rigorous work that challenges you everyday, but getting to work around these majestic animals has been an amazingly rewarding experience, particularly with the Sanctuary’s Emotional Enrichment program. Through this program, we were able to develop strong bonds with a few animals. While we are all incredibly sad to leave say goodbye to our Emotional Enrichment partners, we know it is time for a new batch of interns to learn what they need to become zookeepers! Thank you so much to all of IEAS staff who helped guide us during our time here—we are so appreciative!

Of course, we had to take a goofy one!

Isn't it Purrfect

Here at IEAS, we’re home to many animals, including many different species of felines that range in size. When you think of cats in general, the first thing that may pop in your head is a cat’s ability to purr. Purring is one of the many vocalizations cats use to communicate. As everyone knows, domestic cats purr when they’re happy and expressing their affection. A common question I’ve gotten since being here is, do the larger cats, like tigers, purr? The answer to this question is… no cat can both purr and roar!

So, what gives a cat the ability to purr? Purring is produced by laryngeal muscles which move the vocal cords and open and close the space between the cords known as the glottis. The glottis rapidly opens and closes as the muscles rhythmically contract which is signaled by a “neural oscillator” in the cat’s brain. When the cat breathes in and out, air hits the vibrating muscles and the glottis producing bursts of noise 25 times a second which creates the purring sound we’re all familiar with. Surprisingly the whole process isn’t consciously controlled by the cat, purring is pretty much a muscular twitch!

Why can’t larger cats purr? The hyoid bone makes all the difference in the world! The hyoid bone is found in the throat and provides support for the tongue and larynx. In smaller cats that purr, the hyoid bone is more rigid and bony. In the larger roaring cats like lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards, the hyoid bone is more flexible giving them the ability to roar but not to purr. Cougars are actually the largest cat with the ability to purr along with bobcats and lynxes.
Hyoid Bone

So, how do the larger cats that can't purr vocalize their affection? Tigers, which can’t purr, make a noise called a “chuff”. A chuff is a breathy, friendly sound tigers make out of excitement and as a greeting to their fellow tigers and keepers. Lions show their affection in a different way, instead of chuffing, they moan! Like a tiger's chuff, a lion's moan is also like a friendly greeting and a way to show their affection toward one another. If you want to hear these many vocalizations in action, come out to the Sanctuary for a tour today! Tours are held at 11 a.m. every day and on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's a Date!

As you might already know, at IEAS, we place a large emphasis on Emotional Enrichment. A lot of the animals at the Sanctuary were previously rescued from abusive homes. Therefore, they do not trust humans. What we are basically trying to do is to provide these animals with a source of security and comfort through love, affection, and respect. Honestly, I had never even heard of Emotional Enrichment until I read the job description. However, my curiosity got to me and this was actually one of the reasons I applied for the internship! Naturally, I was excited when I was told to make a list of the top 4 animals I wanted to sit with. I would only be given 2 of my 4, but I would be able to take on more animals as I learned the process.

KiKi checking out her surroundings. 

One of my choices was to sit with ShereKahn and KiKi. ShereKahn is an orange Bengal Tiger and KiKi is a white Bengal Tiger, these siblings will be turning two in May. These cubs came from a facility in the Northeast that no longer had a use for them.  Fortunately, I was given the okay to sit with these two for our Emotional Enrichment Program. I was especially excited when I found out that I was going to be the first intern allowed to sit with them! Now when I say "sit", I mean that we get to sit outside of their fence, no closer than 3’ away from it. There are also certain rules when sitting. If they are showing any undesirable behaviors (i.e. pacing or jumping on the fence, growling, etc.), we are to leave immediately. If the animal goes in their house, we consider that their safe place where they can get alone time, and we do not sit with them. Essentially what we term “the perfect sit” occurs when we walk up and the animal continues on as if you aren’t even there. Another form of the perfect sit occurs if the animal sleeps in our presence. We attribute it to a stranger being in your home. Would you feel comfortable sleeping with someone you don't trust or feel comfortable with in your house? Likely not. Therefore, if the animal sleeps while you are sitting with them, that is a huge compliment as it means they see you as a friend and companion, rather than a stranger.

ShereKahn looking regal.

KiKi had to make sure that ShereKahn wasn't about to start the fun without her!

When tigers are happy, they make certain noises, like chuffs and moans, to greet other tigers and even their human caretakers when they are comfortable around them. It didn’t take ShereKahn or KiKi long at all to begin chuffing at me. They would also frequently walk up to the fence near to where I was sitting and rub against it while simultaneously chuffing and moaning; which is comparable to your average domestic house cat when they rub on you and purr. I have now been sitting with these two for two months, and we have come a long way! Now when I head up to see them, I am usually greeted by at least one, if not both of them. They sleep a lot during sits and often will come and do so right along the fence near me. I receive a lot of chuffs and moans and it makes me happy when they rub on the fence where I’m sitting. When it’s a bit cooler they also play with each other, which is extremely entertaining to watch.  It truly is just like a relationship among humans, the more time you spend with them and the more effort you put into the relationship, the more you get out of the relationship. These two will forever hold a special place in my heart!

The perfect sit! I love spending time with these two.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bone Day

Here at the Sanctuary, every Thursday is bone day! Tigers and lion can eat between 10 and 25 pounds per day while in captivity. This is between 4 and 7% of their body weight. However, we determine the amount of meat they are fed each day based of 2% of their body mass combined with, age, and activity level. The more active an animal is or the more energy they expend to retain their metabolic rate and they younger the animal the more meat they will need to maintain their body size. 
Therefore, the younger and more active an animal is the more they eat.

Nala pampers her bone, loving it until the end.

This is Odin, our lion playing with his bone.
He normally leaves it in pieces on his favorite places to lay, his perches.

 In any given week the a resident feline at IEAS eat about 60 pounds of meat on average. In the wild, after consuming a large meal and because of the scarcity in prey resources they will go through a fasting period while they wait to find and successfully obtain their next food source. Hence, how bone day was created. The goal is to mimic the natural fasting periods of wild lions and tigers. The bones come pre- packaged from a Triple A Brand in Colorado. They contain small amounts of meat and are filled with marrow, their favorite!   

Akbar is savoring his bone before running around his
habitat to find the perfect home for his new gem.

Bones also serve as behavioral enrichment for our residents for they love playing with them. They can be found hiding their  most valued possession in their houses, destroying all of the evidence or taking it for a swim. They have unlimited amounts of fun with their bones, and are still able to instill some of their natural instincts.  

And the most exciting news!!!!
Julia, one of our youngest residents received her first bone last week.
She looks to be loving it.

For more information on this as well as events at IEAS be sure to follow us on Facebook and our website. Or to see their reactions up close and personal, come out for one of our tours offered daily at 11 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays.