Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fast and Fur-ious

Have you ever wondered how the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is able to run as fast as it does? Despite what people think, the cheetah is not the fastest animal on earth. They are however the fastest land animal, and that is no simple feat; only with the help of the cheetah’s unique physiology is it able to reach such amazing speeds.

Reaching speeds of 64 m.p.h. is no easy task, but thanks to the cheetahs elongated strides they are able to speed up quickly. In fact, there are two instances during a cheetah’s stride when their feet don’t touch the ground at all. These two instances are when the cheetah’s legs are fully contracted and when they are fully extended; when their legs are fully extended, the cheetah’s spine actually flexes to allow a gape in the spine for longer strides. This flexing of the spine also acts much like an archer’s bow, storing energy and snapping the legs back under the body; this helps with acceleration by allowing cheetahs to reach strides of 20 feet.

So we know how the cheetah reaches it’s amazing speeds, but how do they maintain traction? Well, unlike other cats, cheetahs can never fully retract their claws which allows their claws to act similar to track spikes; gripping the ground. The pads of their feet also have unique folds (transversal) in them that further enhance their ability to adhere to the ground.  The cheetah’s tail is another important aspect of the body when it comes to balance and traction. The tail of a cheetah measures at about 2/3 of the cheetah’s total body length, acting as a counterbalance to make sure they don’t topple forward during a run. The tail also has a flattened tip, which acts like a rudder during chases, helping to guide direction when a prey item is trying to escape.

All of these adaptations would be useless however if a cheetah wasn’t able to maintain their oxygen intake to fuel their muscles. In order to accommodate this problem, cheetahs have developed enlarged lungs, hearts, and livers. In fact, a cheetahs lungs, liver, and heart are proportionally 3 times larger than that of a lions! To get a grasp on how much oxygen a cheetah has to breathe in during a run, lets compare them to humans. A human takes an average 14-20 breaths per minute while resting and is capable of reaching around 80 breaths per minute under strenuous conditions; cheetahs have a comparative 16 breaths per minute while resting, but can reach up to 150 breaths per minute while running at full speed.

The cheetah has evolved to become a lean, speed machine, going from 0 to 60 m.p.h. faster than a Ferrari and intimidating prey wherever they are. This didn’t happen overnight however and has taken years of evolution, making the cheetah the most unique cat in the world. 

Come visit the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary to catch a glimpse of Mau, our own speed machine. With a habitat that was specifically built for cheetahs, at 100 yards long and 40 yards wide, Mau has enough room to fully accelerate; helping to highlight the extreme energy potential these animals possess.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Diary of a Circus Cat

          Diary of a Circus Cat

 Meet Titan. A 10 year old, 700 pound, male, white Bengal Tiger. Titan came here, to IEAS, in 2011 after we received a phone call from the USDA in need of a home for him and we went to pick him up that very same day. Titan was part of a traveling circus that was set-up just 15 miles from the Sanctuary, leaving town that evening, he was being held in a 6’6” x 7’3” cage, an area large enough for him to stand up and turn around, but not much else.          

For as long as circuses have been in business (since the early 1700’s) they have used live animals in their acts to shock and amaze interested crowds. Elephants doing handstands, tigers jumping through loops of fire, lions leaping off of and balancing on balls, and dancing bears, just to name a few.         

When they’re not performing, the animals rarely leave their cages- eating, sleeping, urinating, and defecating all in the same place. As a result of these stressful conditions, many big cats are overweight and under-stimulated. In 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality of the Netherlands, Wageningen University conducted an investigation into “the welfare of circus animals” the following are just some of the issues they found:
  • 71% of the animals observed had medical issues, not currently under treatment
  • 33% of lions and tigers had no access to outdoor enclosures
  • Lions spend (on average) 98% of their time indoors
  • Elephants are shackled in chains for an average of 17 hours per day
  • There have been over 123 cases of lion attacks at circuses since 1990
  • Animals are trained through discipline, not rewards

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was reported to be ending all elephant acts by 2018, after 145 years of use; but instead have decided they can move-up that date to May of this year (2016). However, Ringling Bros. have also said that they will continue the use of lions and tigers in their other animal acts, along with horses, dogs, camels, and even kangaroos in one unit. The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida was founded in 1995 and has since been the retirement location of 40 circus elephants, soon to be joined by the remaining performing elephants this year. While these are surely steps in the right direction of animal rights; sadly, they occurred only after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey paid a $275,000.00 settlement for violations of the Animal Welfare Act in 2011.

Titan was happy and ready to leave the conditions of his small, cramped cage- a luxury which should and can be afforded to all other performing circus cats. He now happily lounges in his large, naturalistic habitat, equipped with a pool, perches, trees, and behavioral enrichment toys. Enjoying plenty of room to roam and play! Titan loves to pounce on his giant blue boomer ball, roll it up his hill, and let it roll all the way down over and over again!

Titan also has a funny little quirk where he doesn't like his chicken to touch the ground, so he very politely uses his paw as a plate and holds it on there to eat! Titan is now one of the happiest, most relaxed cats at IEAS. Every animal deserves a second chance, and that’s exactly what Titan got here at IEAS!


Friday, March 11, 2016

New Arrivals!!

The whole group! The five new interns and the two continuing interns.
This past week five new interns have arrived at IEAS. These last few days have been very informative and exciting; by the end of the day we are exhausted but it is very rewarding to know all the animals here are being provided with the up-most care, resources, and respect they deserve. IEAS is their forever home and this was clear the first day we arrived. During our training period, two of us have been working with Christi in the upper section, one working with Ann in the middle section and two working alongside Christina in the lower section. After our work for the day is done, we enjoy meeting back at the house to share information, cute stories, and experiences we had that day. During one shift, we found out that Titan, the largest bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) at IEAS, will not eat his piece of chicken if it touches the ground. Instead, the keeper will place the chicken near the fence and Titan will cup his paw and scoop it into his habitat to enjoy. How cute is that?!

Titan relaxing after enjoying his bone chicken
Another favorite story of ours is about another bengal tiger named Khera and her love for her pool. Khera doesn’t like to get her front paws wet, so when entering her pool she will back in while keeping her front paws outside the pool where they can stay nice and dry. We all enjoy giving tours to our enthusiastic guests and educating them about our beloved animals and their life histories. Being an intern at IEAS has been a great experience thus far and we cannot wait to learn more about the different sections, the Sanctuary, and personalities of these amazing animals.

Khera heading to cool off in her pool

Monday, March 7, 2016

Black Bears vs. Brown Bears...What's the Difference?

One of the frequently asked questions I get on tours is…what is the difference between black bears and brown bears? Let's start off by talking about a bear's fur color. Black bears fur is similar to human hair in that it can can be multiple different colors. The geographic location of the bear and even the season can also make a difference in their fur color. Black bears can be found as far south as Florida and northern portions of Mexico and as far north as Alaska and Canada. Eastern populations of black bears tend to remain black. However, western populations of black bears often range in color from brown, to cinnamon, to blond, in addition to black. At IEAS, our resident black bears vary in shades of brown and black, but black bears found throughout the United States can range anywhere in color, from black, brown, and chocolate, to light brown, and even blond!
Brown bears can be found across much of Europe and North America, including the contiguous United States and Alaska. Similar to black bears, the geographic location of brown bears also creates differences in their fur colors. The coloring of brown bears ranges from dark to reddish brown to cream, which is quite similar to the range in color of the black bear.

Teddy is actually an American Black Bear, even though his fur appears reddish-brown in color!

Well, what about size? Brown bears do tend to be slightly larger than black bears both in weight and in size. Black bears range in weight from 100-900 pounds and stand 2-3’ at the shoulders whereas brown bears can weigh anywhere between 175-975 pounds and stand 3.5’ at the shoulders. However, their body shape is a more accurate way to tell the difference between a brown bear and a black bear. Brown bears are known for their excellent digging skills. Thus, they have a buildup of powerful muscles that creates a pronounced hump on their shoulders. To help them dig, they also have longer and straighter claws than a black bear.

Papa Bear has done lots of digging--just look at the size of that hump on his shoulder!

Papa Bear dug himself a hole to lounge in!

So if brown bears are known for digging, what do black bears specialize in? Black bears are known for being exceptional climbers. They have shorter, curved claws to assist them in their climbing endeavors. Actually, several of our black bears here at the Sanctuary have been known to take long naps in the trees in their habitats!

Teddy and Twinkle, our two youngest American Black Bears, like to show off their excellent climbing skills!

Their demeanors are also slightly different. Brown bears are known to be slightly more aggressive than black bears, especially when protecting their young. However, bear attacks are not nearly as common as people perceive them to be. Bears rarely attack humans. If there is danger, they will stand on their back feet, bare their teeth and growl. Sometimes they might run away themselves, or in the case of a black bear, they might just climb a tree!

So, are you curious to see these differences for yourself? Stop by for a tour today! Tours are everyday at 11 AM with an additional tour at 3 PM on Saturdays. 

George looks forward to seeing you for our next tour!