As a boy, I spent my childhood scampering about the Hollywood sets of my father, Otto Lang, having the kinds of adventures most boys can only dream of. While Dad was laying out shots and directing his actors, I was playing with the animal costars of shows like Daktari and Sea Hunt. On those Hollywood backlots I met lions, chimpanzees, and other amazing creatures. They fascinated me and that fascination has never faded. I guess you could say I discovered my passion.
From those early days onward, I have always made my home a home for the wild birds and beasts that I love. Right around the time that I purchased a beautiful 400-acre ranch in the hills of Sonoma County, I met a beautiful woman; my soon-to-be wife Nancy. As a curator at the San Francisco Zoo, Nancy’s passion matched my own and before we knew it, Safari West was born.
On October 14th the Safari West Wildlife Foundation will be holding its annual fundraiser here on property. The foundation Nancy and I started makes it possible for thousands of underserved kids to visit Safari West each year, exposing them to the same wonder I first encountered in my own childhood. This year the foundation fundraiser will trace the winding road from my early tinsel town fascination with animals to the wildlife preserve we so joyously run today. Safari West has always been my dream, and it’s a dream that’s meant to be shared.
Nancy & Peter Lang
Founders of Safari West
Monarchs on the Move
The Safari West Monarch Butterfly Conservation Garden may be young but it has already become an amazing addition to our landscape and conservation work. When Safari West (with the invaluable help of Merle Reuser, our local monarch expert) first established the garden, our goal was simple. We wanted to help these beautiful and important insects in their recent struggle for survival. The species is in marked decline not only across Sonoma County, but across the entire continent. As a conservation organization, we are eager to play a role in the important work of conserving this species.
The goal of the garden is to protect monarch caterpillars as they munch on milkweed, bulk up, undergo metamorphosis, and flutter away as beautiful black and orange butterflies. This task has been handled primarily by Merle with incredible assistance from our Junior Keepers; dedicated volunteers who help Merle document the comings and goings from the garden. Looking at the records kept by Merle and the Junior Keepers, it’s abundantly clear that our garden monarchs are achieving survival rates far beyond what is typical in the wild. We’re still refining our techniques and developing our methods but things are off to a great start.
As the butterflies of the spring migration moved northward, our garden had begun to quiet down. We weren’t expecting any more caterpillars this season and each day there seem to be fewer and fewer adult butterflies flitting through the trees as they continue their long migration. The plan for this hiatus was to keep the garden healthy and developing while we waited for the monarchs to come back through on their return trip in the fall. Then the Sonoma County Fair happened.
This year, the Sonoma County Fair featured a beautiful exhibit called Butterfly Adventures. Butterfly Adventures invited visitors to enter a world of butterflies in which they could interact with and explore these wonderful creatures. The people behind Butterfly Adventures did such a great job taking care of their exhibit butterflies that their delicate monarchs began to lay eggs. The fairground population boomed and quickly chewed through their supply of milkweed. Approaching starvation and the impending death of nearly 1,000 little green caterpillars, Butterfly Adventures reached out to Merle and Safari West and we rushed to provide some much-needed sustenance for their fledgling brood.
Now that the fair has come to a close, most those little caterpillars have been relocated to the butterfly garden at Safari West where they will be monitored and supported by our dedicated staff as they make their metamorphic transition to fluttering adulthood. Several of them are on display daily at the Savana Cafe.
It’s late enough in the year now that as these little beauties emerge, they’ll likely head South and West rather than north, fluttering steadily toward Santa Cruz, Pacific Grove, or Pismo Beach. There they will meet up with tens of thousands of their fellow migrants and wait out the winter in the trees of the temperate coasts. Come spring, they’ll head north again and Safari West will be visited by the children and grandchildren of this current round of butterflies as they continue their ancestral migratory adventure.
Conservation Corner: Invasion!
By: Jared Paddock
Killer bees. Kudzu. Glassy-winged sharpshooters. Zebra mussels. White-nose syndrome. Lionfish. Medusahead grass. This laundry-list of organisms is one small sample of a long and ever-growing compilation titled “invasive species”. It’s an ominous sounding term and for good reason. Invasive species can wreak havoc on an ecosystem, causing widespread disruption and even the extinction of other species. They can also wreak havoc on the economy, disrupting agriculture and industry and costing us humans a fortune.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “approximately 42% of threatened or endangered species are at risk primarily due to invasive species.” Equally as scary, the US Fish and Wildlife Service puts the annual cost of invasive species to the United States at somewhere around $120 billion. Have I made my point? These things, whatever they are, are a big deal.
So then what exactly is an “invasive species”? Is it simply an organism from somewhere outside the state? The county? The neighborhood? How foreign does a species have to be to classify as invasive?
As it turns out, not all species that are alien to an ecosystem are commonly considered to be invasive in it, and in fact, the terminology might well be more political than it is ecological. Several factors have to come into play in order for a species to earn this dubious moniker. First, the species must be introduced to a novel environment (the alien component). Once there it has to survive, which is no guaranteed thing (imagine a crocodile introduced to Antarctica). After surviving in its new home, the alien species must then multiply and thrive, eventually outcompeting one or more species native to the ecosystem. At this point, when the alien becomes damaging, that’s when we tend to term it invasive.
Let me give you an example. Recently, ornamental lionfish have become a bit of a news item. These striped, long-finned tropical fish are a favorite of aquaculturists and fish enthusiasts world wide. The slender, barbed, poisonous lobes that make up the lionfish’s “mane” are gorgeous and look amazing in a salt-water tank. This flamboyant species hails from the western Pacific where it occupies coral reefs and preys on smaller fish. Somehow in the mid-1980’s, the species was introduced to the waters off of Florida. In all likelihood, a pet-owner released his or her collection in a misguided attempt to liberate the captive pets. Florida is a long, long way from the western Pacific. Often in this situation, the newly freed pets are quickly killed. Either simple environmental factors do them in (again, crocs in Antarctica) or else they fall prey to predators and pathogens they’ve never experienced before. In this particular case, something close to the opposite occurred. The lionfish survived. The coastal waters off Miami are not all that different from the lionfish’s native habitat so factors like water temperature worked in their favor. Likewise, there are no predators in the Caribbean eager to eat lionfish and no diseases hanging about that proved fatal to them. In the absence of these population-limiting factors, the fish not only survived, they thrived. They quickly established a position as an apex-predator, feasting on reef fish who’d never seen a lionfish before and had no means of defending themselves. Those introductory lionfish grew healthy and strong and bred prodigiously. Before long, the coast of Florida became the site of a lionfish explosion.
For the first decade or so following introduction, the population remained restricted to the coastal waters off Miami. In 2000, lionfish sightings began to pop up further along the Atlantic seaboard. By 2007, the fish had become true colonists; expanding their range New York to Cuba and Haiti. According to the US Geological Survey, the fish can now be found in coastal water throughout the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and as far north as Rhode Island as indicated by this beautiful animated map. The lionfish is now firmly designated as an invasive species because as its range grows, the populations of other reef fish has declined. They are causing widespread shifts and changes in their ecosystem.
Florida faces a nearly identical invasive problem with burmese pythons; another pet species released into the Everglades. As with the lionfish, the pythons find the environment comfortable and thrive in the absence of python-hungry predators or competitors for resources. Their population has exploded and hungry snakes are decimating once relatively stable populations of small mammals and birds. Florida is also exporting invasive of its own. As detailed in the month’s Safari Spotlight, the red-eared slider, a turtle native to Florida and other southern states, has invaded California. Fast-breeding and larger than our native turtles, they are dominating our local freshwater habitats and wreaking havoc on our local turtle populations. In all the cases outlined above, the designation of invasive was applied once it became clear that the successes of the alien species were coming at the expense of the natives.
Although it’s certainly a big contributor, the pet trade isn’t the only source for problematic invasive species. Glassy-winged sharpshooters, innocuous looking insects from the Southeastern US made it into Southern California in the late 80’s; likely by traveling on a shipment of nursery plants. The little insects feed on the vital fluids of vascular plants and carry something called Pierce’s Disease; a pathogen which decimates grape vines. Zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes (again in the late 80’s) from the ballasts of Russian and eastern European tankers. The fingernail sized bivalves produce between 100,000 and 500,000 eggs per year and are spreading through American waterways at a terrifying rate. They frequently congregate in concrete-like masses which block plumbing and infrastructure, costing us millions in damages. The list goes on and on and though the individual species may differ, the pattern is the same. An alien species appears and changes things to the extent that it becomes ecologically or (and this is what tends to get our attention) economically damaging.
When framed like this, it become readily understandable why invasive species tend to be categorized as implicitly negative. Like acid rain or global warming, they are often thought of as a purely human-caused phenomenon having purely negative consequences. This is a gross oversimplification of the facts.
In truth, while human-caused invasions are almost universally the source of ecologic turmoil including dramatic population shifts and extinctions, what we have done is not to invent of new phenomenon but to rapidly accelerate an existing one. Since the dawn of life on this planet, invasions have been taking place. Species from the sea invaded the land, colonizing and claiming as they went. Since then species that have thrived in one location have spread to others, competing with and pushing out other species as they’ve moved.
Without invasions, the Hawaiian islands would likely be little more than sterile heaps of lava sprouting from the mid-Pacific. Throughout the history of the islands, birds, reptiles, plants, and the occasional mammal have found their way across thousands of miles of ocean to colonize those tropical shores. Prior to human discovery of the island chain, the rate of invasion was approximately one novel species every 100,000 years. In spite of these ongoing invasions, the term “invasive species” hasn’t often been used in describing historic Hawaii. In part, this is because these invasions happened before humans were on the scene. We tend not to concern ourselves with the shifts and extinctions that led to what is. We’re far more worried about shifts and extinctions changing what exists now into something new. The other reason why we don’t often consider these ancient invasions in the same manner that we consider today’s is because they were less apparently damaging.The key word there is “apparent”. While the interspecies conflicts and occasional extinctions that likely occurred whenever a new plant or bird arrived on the islands are of no concern to us today, they would have been a very big concern for the species being edged out at the time.
While these natural invasions are most dramatic and obvious in island ecology, they happen across the planet in every ecosystem. From the intermixing of North and South American ecologies that occurred when the Isthmus of Panama rose above sea level, to the widespread changes that both led to and resulted from human beings crossing the Bering Strait from Eurasia, the globe has always been a melting pot of advancing and retreating populations. It’s not the act of invasion that’s the problem, it’s the frequency. They’re happening too fast for our comfort and population shifts that would normally have taken centuries or longer are happening on the scale of years or decades. While not unprecedented in geologic history, this is certainly unprecedented in human history.
The other conception about invasives that must be challenged is this idea that all of them are inherently detrimental and fundamentally negative. This is where the politics of terminology reveals itself. An invading species that is economically beneficial usually escapes the label whereas those that hit us in the wallet wind up on roadside billboards. The mistake made by the glassy-winged sharpshooter was to invade Napa Valley and destroy grapes rather than poison oak. An invasive insect that doesn’t impact our agriculture usually escapes our notice.
As proof of this, consider the ubiquitous earthworm. Prior to European colonization of North America, this continent had few earthworms. Worms had been largely extirpated from North America during the ice ages; carved away and crushed by the movement of glaciers across the terrain. These days, you can’t turn a spade without revealing at least a few of the wriggling annelids. It is common knowledge that these helpful creatures aerate our soil and aid in decomposition. We add them to our gardens to gain beautiful flowers and vegetables. We keep them in our compost bins to turn our trash into fertilizer They are an unexamined boon to our agriculture and productivity.
So most earthworms are definitely invasive though we rarely call them that, and though there is increasing scientific evidence that their presence in north-eastern forests is in fact detrimental, it’s not detrimental to us. Even though they are virtually everywhere, the wriggling masses of earthworms beneath our feet are viewed positively while the quiet colonies of zebra mussels in our waterways are viewed as the advancing enemy horde. Both species are virulently invasive and tend to dominate their respective ecosystems. So what’s the difference? Zebra mussels cost us money while earthworms help us make it.
The long and short of this whole discussion is this; invasive species are nothing new. From the dawn of time, ecosystems have had to deal with newcomers, whether it was a palm nut riding ocean currents to a far off island, or the opossum walking up the isthmus of Panama to a brave new North American world. In all cases, an established community has had to adapt to something novel. Now that we humans are part of the status quo, we’re very concerned. We tend not to see the long view. From our perspective, the current arrangement of species and habitats is the correct one and we shudder to see it change. We see news items about deserts expanding and forests shrinking. We wait in line at roadside border security checkpoints or agriculture screening stations in airports. There is increasing focus on gardening with native plants and removing invasive weeds from the neighborhood. We are trying to preserve what is and fend off what might be.
This concern is more than anything, a value judgement. Sure, invasives change systems and sure, the introduction of the lionfish to the Caribbean may cause widespread changes, but there’s a larger view to consider. Will lionfish end the Caribbean? Will sharpshooters turn the Napa Valley into a sterile moonscape? Not likely. The systems will adjust and adapt, transforming themselves into the newest version of that system. This is life in motion. This is how new species are born and old species are edged out. This is all part and parcel of the great process of life.
So how should we think about invasives? It’s a balancing act. Trying to maintain sterile, unchanging environments is not only impossible, it’s unwise. As we see in New Zealand, Hawaii, Madagascar, Australia, and numerous other isolated communities, strict separation tends to lead to ecological precariousness. Island communities typically have fewer species overall and much of what they do have are highly specialized. While these ecosystems do fine while isolated, exposure to novel species is often devastating. Consider that Madagascar lemurs and Australian koalas aren’t invading new territories. Rather, they are struggling to maintain position against an influx of rodents, cane toads, cats, and other novel species. The ebb and flow is important to ecological health.
What is equally important to recognize is that pacing matters. While some colonization and expansion is expected and healthy, the rampant transplanting of species brought about by human expansion is unprecedented. While the Hawaiian Islands used to experience a novel species once every 100,000 years or so, in the modern era, they’re being swamped with novelty. In recent history, not only did our species invade, but we have brought with us the great plethora of life from across the globe; rats and bees, snakes and lizards, cats and dogs. This is the very definition of “too much of a good thing”. We’ve accelerated the process beyond healthy standards and must do what we can to mitigate the damage.
Going forward, we will have to take a firm objective look at alien species that pop up in our neighborhoods. We’ll have to ask ourselves, is this change happening because life is doing what it does best? Or because, somebody down the road didn’t wipe their boots before flying back from vacation? We’ll have to consider whether the shifts made by the ecosystem to accommodate the new arrival are fundamentally detrimental, or simply changes that don’t serve our self-interest. Conservation done right demands that we look beyond our own concerns and try to determine what works best for the world at large.
For now, continue wiping down your boat and draining the bilge to keep zebra mussels from spreading too quickly. Don’t release your exotic pets into the city park. Be aware of what you plant in your yard and whether or not it’ll soon be growing in your neighbor’s. Do what you can to limit invasions, but do so understanding that these species aren’t bad just because they don’t fit with our plan. They are remarkable examples of life doing what life does best. They’ve outcompeted their rivals and found ways to piggy-back on the unprecedented mobility of humanity. While we want to limit their expansion and mitigate their invasions, we also want to recognize that we owe our lives to invasive predecessors who fought, scrabbled, and competed to forge the living world we take for granted today.
Safari Spotlight: Turtle Fight!
Every safari truck that departs from our boarding area takes a different route as they go searching for our many flocks and herds. Some head up the road into wildebeest country while others strike out into the 12-acre in search of giraffes. No matter which road they take however, every safari eventually winds up at Watusi Lake. The lake is essentially the hub of Safari West, marking the center of the property. Day in and day out, our fleet of Power Wagons trundles along its shorelines en route to one wild animal or another and our guests enjoy the view of its placid waters and reed lined shores. It’s a tranquil scene. What we don’t often see is that this mellow pond is also a battleground. There is a fight going on here; a fight between turtles.
The western pond turtle is Northern California’s only native freshwater turtle species. They are an unremarkable looking species, dull greenish brown in color with no obvious markings or features. Some turtles have bright stripes or serrated shells, long snake-like necks or snapping jaws. Not the western pond turtle. They are the basic turtle model as far as appearances go. All the same, they are an effective species once found throughout most of the Pacific states, inhabiting virtually all fresh-water and marshy habitats (so long as the current doesn’t run too fast). They are omnivorous and not overwhelmingly picky, making meals of small fish, frogs, and insects, as well as numerous types of plant life, some carrion, and essentially anything small enough to get into their mouths. This makes them an important contributor to their ecosystems as they help to recycle nutrients and control populations of other species.
Western pond turtles once numbered in the millions and according to records from the pioneer days, could be found in huge numbers that, when startled, fled into the water with a sound like the rumble of surf on a beach. In those days, turtle was a bit of a delicacy and a market for the readily available species flourished. Around the 1930’s or 40’s turtle began to disappear from restaurant menus in large part because they were also disappearing from the wilds. Now that their numbers have been knocked down, they are having a hard time getting them back up. Western pond turtles are slow-moving and slow-living animals. They don’t reach sexual maturity until after 8 to 14 years and even then only produce small clutches of eggs. The infant turtles hatching from those eggs have only an 8-12% chance of surviving long enough to reproduce themselves.
Western pond turtles aren’t being served up for dinner anymore (at least not commonly), but they face another threat, one which is readily apparent here at Safari West. Watusi Lake, the Lower Lake pond where our red river hogs swim, and Catfish pond in the tent camp are all home to western pond turtles. They are also home to an alien menace; the red-eared slider.
The red-eared slider is a much more charismatically colored species of pond turtle. Their belly armor (called a plastron) is striped with yellow, as are their necks and heads. Their name stems from a brilliant red stripe that originates just behind their eyes and runs down their necks. These turtles are native to the United States, though it should be noted, not the Pacific coast. Their native range extends throughout the lower right quarter of the continental US as seen on a map; roughly from the South-East corner of Colorado to Florida. Their habitat and dietary preferences are more or less identical to that of the western pond turtle. These turtles are very popular as household pets and are by far the most commonly kept freshwater turtle species. It is estimated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that 52 million of these unassuming turtles were exported from this country between 1989 and 1997. Those numbers don’t include the millions sold domestically. With a lifespan of 20 to 40 years, many turtle owners tire of their pets and make the fateful decision to “free” them.
Red-eared sliders released into neighborhood ponds and streams often find themselves in a habitat not all that dissimilar from what they would have lived in back in Louisiana, Georgia, or Florida. In California as in so many other places, released sliders thrive. As they breed and their wild populations increase, they inevitably move into ponds and streams occupied by western pond turtles. Neither species specifically preys on the other, but both species need the same things from their habitat; food, nesting sites, and a place to bask. Basking is of vital importance to a cold-blooded reptile like a turtle. They depend on sitting in the sun to maintain a functional body temperature. This is the first area in which the red-eared sliders have a fighting edge. They grow significantly larger than their native cousins; maxing out at a foot or more in length compared to the 8 inches of the western pond turtles. Their larger size coupled with a more aggressive demeanor means that the red-eared sliders quickly claim the most choice basking spots, leaving the western pond turtles basking less regularly and in places where they are far more vulnerable.
The next point of conflict comes from their breeding habits. Whereas the western pond turtles lay only 5 to 13 eggs at a time, often only every other year and at most, only once or twice within a given year, the sliders lay clutches of up to 30 eggs as many as 6 times in a year. In these hotly contested waterways, there are often 6 or 7 baby sliders for every 1 western pond turtle hatched.
These factors have led the western pond turtle to a tenuous existence. They are now classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a classification just above endangered. The situation at play here is exactly what we expect to see in ecosystems dealing with invasive species. As explored in depth in this month’s Conservation Corner, these invasions of alien species can have absolutely devastating impacts on native species ill-equipped to compete with the invader.
The population of western pond turtles thriving here at Safari West has been the center of a great deal of attention. Several researchers from Sonoma State University have set up camp on the shores of Lake Watusi to observe these shy reptiles and to try and document their long, slow battle against invasive red-eared sliders. The information they’ve collected on diet and habitat use has been put to use by Sonoma State in a head start project they are working on in conjunction with the San Francisco Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. In this project, eggs are collected and incubated. The hatchlings are raised in captivity for a year or until they reach a size that makes them relatively safe from predation. The goal of this program is to help the local western pond turtle population rebound to a size that can more effectively combat the expansion of their south-western cousins.
The Safari West turtle situation makes for an interesting exploration into the guiding principles and ideas behind conservation science. We choose to defend the western pond turtle because it currently faces a threat that wouldn’t exist had it not been for human intervention. That said, the competition between species and the dominance of one over another is an unavoidable and important characteristic of life on earth. Had we not introduced the red-eared sliders, the western pond turtles would still have faced the struggles of life in an increasingly dry region; where the confluence of climate change and human-caused diversion of water and conversion of wetlands will make their lives increasingly difficult. As the situation on the ground continues to change, the turtles will be forced to adapt or die. If during this process, another turtle species (or even another amphibian, reptile, mammal, or bird) is able to outcompete the turtles and fulfill their role in the ecosystem more effectively than they can, would our defense of them still be justified? Or would we then be propping up an evolutionary dead-end in the face of natural ecological evolution? These are the grey areas of conservation; the arenas in which we must carefully consider what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we will do as the situation continues to evolve. For now at least, to work toward mitigating a problem that we’ve clearly had the lion’s share in causing is the right thing to do, both ecologically and ethically.
The next time you come to Safari West, enjoy the rumbling ride, your talkative guide, and of course all the stamping, snorting creatures who live here. When you circle the shores of Lake Watusi, enjoy the panoramic views and the calm waters but while doing so, take a moment to reflect on the ongoing struggles beneath the surface. Not every endangered animal is exotic. Some of the species battling most valiantly for survival are living quietly, almost invisibly, right here in our very backyards.
Springtime in Summer: Breeding Success
Safari West has long been the place to go if you want an African safari without the expense of a trip to Africa. Since July 4th, 1993, we have loaded up our Power Wagons and taken generations of human beings out to meet generations of exotic animals. Even before that opening day however, Safari West was here, quietly waiting to welcome an excited public. What were we doing back then? What was the role of this place back before the trucks and the tents and the crowds? In a word, breeding.
Before Safari West ever established itself as a place for the curious-minded to discover the majesty of nature, it was a place of refuge for the vulnerable and endangered species of the wider world. You see, not all that long ago, we humans realized that one thing we could do to try and help an ailing species is to take in a few of them and try to keep them alive (and reproducing) in a protected environment. This has since become one of our most useful conservation tools. Captive populations serve as reservoirs of genetic variability and if successfully managed, can be used to shore up diminishing wild populations. Head-start programs in which captive-bred juvenile organisms are raised in a protected space before release into the wild are increasingly common.
These captive populations are also valuable for scientific observation, allowing cheaper and easier methods of studying a species than excursions to a wilderness continents away. While there’s no substitute for observing an animal in its natural habitat, a great deal can be learned from captive observation. Not only informative to working scientists, captive animals can also be invaluable ambassadors for their species. We humans tend to be much more concerned about species we have a personal connection with and captive animals can provide that connection to those humans who come to zoos and wildlife parks. Many people support tiger conservation. Perhaps the pangolin would also enjoy an army of advocates if they could be found in captivity.
Safari West has always taken great pride in our captive breeding program. Over the years our strategy of providing the animals with space, nutrition, and comfort and letting nature take its course has proven wildly successful. Visitors to our property will nearly always find a baby kudu, ibis, Nile lechwe, wildebeest, giraffe, bongo, monkey, serval, zebra, crested screamer, or, well you get the idea. While babies are most common in spring, there’s nearly always at least a few newborns on property. We’re pretty good at creating the necessary atmosphere for successful breeding, and honestly, we’re getting better all the time.
Lately, we’ve enjoyed a spate of new arrivals and improvements in both our established breeding programs and some of our newer projects. While we’ve long been home to a successful fennec fox program, we recently enjoyed an unexpected surprise. These diminutive and shy desert foxes are generally disinclined to reproduce in the presence of the viewing public. In the world of captive breeding, if you are trying to entice your fennec foxes to reproduce, it’s usually mandatory that you take them off display and give them some privacy. Some weeks back our carnivore keepers noticed a behavioral change in our female fox. During feeding times she was taking food and retreating to the subterranean den in her enclosure. Intuiting that this might mean baby foxes, our keepers decided to restrict access to the enclosure. For a few weeks, guides and visitors detoured around the fox enclosure, whispering about the suspected situation. After nearly a month of mystery, one of our keepers was lucky enough to see a tiny fox face poking out from the entrance of the burrow. We’ve since confirmed three little kits. Now that they’re through the delicate first weeks of their infancy, the foxes have been taken off display so that they can grow and develop without the distraction of large human crowds.
Around this same time, one of our pairs of striped hyenas gave birth to two cubs. Safari West became a home to four hyenas only within the last two years. That initial group was paired off and currently live in two separate enclosures. It is beyond exciting to have experienced breeding success with animals that have been at Safari West for such a comparatively short period of time. As with the fox kits, our hyena cubs are being kept carefully off display and under the intense protection not only of their real parents, but of their keeper parents as well.
In news directly tied to one of our most critically endangered specimens, Safari West recently increased the size of our flock of Waldrapp’s Ibises to nine. This vulture-looking bird is among the most endangered bird species in the world. Once ranging across north Africa, the Middle East, and much of Europe, the species has declined to just a few cliff-side colonies found in Morocco. The wild population of these birds is now thought to be around 600 animals or less. While Safari West was already home to a small colony, we had not yet achieved breeding success. Our new acquisitions came from the San Francisco Zoo and have increased the size of our colony significantly. As these birds are colony nesters, it is our hope that with greater numbers in their flock, we will see more vigorous nesting behavior from our birds in the upcoming breeding season.
Safari West is never boring, either as a place to come visit, or a place to come work. Every day our wild animals surprise and delight guests and staff members alike. We currently have the children and grandchildren of our residents flying and roaming in zoos and wildlife parks around the country. Every year, we send more of our youngsters out into the world to grow up, mate, and continue the long histories of their respective species. We are working hard to protect some fascinating and vulnerable species and ensuring that there is always another healthy generation to follow this one is the first step in that work. Come to Safari West to meet our amazing animals and more often than not, their amazing offspring.