August 4, 2013

Fast company at Parc Safari


HEMMINGFORD — The fastest land mammal in the world has returned to Parc Safari in Hemmingford.

The newest attractions are eight young cheetahs brought to the park from South Africa. Nathalie Santerre, the zoologist in charge of the predators at the park, said there are five males and three females.

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The males room together at night, she said, while the females have separate sleeping quarters. Dens will be created for when they are ready to give birth, Santerre said.

Markings differ

All of the males — Jua, Pendo, Haraka, Nyota and Kilio — are 1 year old. Two of the three females — Nati, Malkia and Laini — are also 1 year old, while the other is 2.

Nyota and Kilio are twins. They sauntered side by side as they made their way to the outdoor enclosure.

“Just by their behavior, we knew those two were the twins,” Santerre said.

The animals all have different facial and tail markings, which helps the keepers keep track of which is which. Cheetahs have evolved to be very aerodynamic, which helps them run at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. 

“Everything is designed for a long stride,” Santerre said, adding that can be up to eight meters.

Their long tails are not completely round, but flattened a little. That helps them make sharp turns at high speed, Santerre said.

Semi-retractable claws leave them ready to sprint at any time. Their small head also helps lower wind resistance.

The cats also have an extremely flexible spine and a highly developed respiratory system.

There are even black tear markings under the eyes, which help reduce glare similar to the eye black used by athletes.

Make purring sound

The cheetahs don’t growl, Santerre said. They purr and also make a chirping sound, much like a small bird.

That helps them avoid attention from other predators in the wild, such as lions and hyenas.

A spacious new enclosure was built for the cheetahs, with separate areas for the males and females. It provides plenty of room for the elegant cats to show off their speed.

The enclosures have large embankments, which are popular spots that allow the large cats a commanding view of their surroundings.

“In the wild, they love to be on high ground so they can see what’s around,” Santerre said.

The cheetahs were soon racing around, occasionally wrestling with each other.

“The boys have a lot of attitude,” Santerre said.

One side of the fenced-in area abuts the drive-thru Safari Adventure. The males were intently watching the ostriches that neared the fence.

Cheetahs are difficult to breed in captivity, which is why the park tries to provide as natural an environment as possible.

A 850-foot walkway was built to give guests a good vantage point to observe the cheetahs.

Animals to be bred

Cheetahs have a weak genetic background, Santerre said, and females are notoriously picky when it comes to breeding. That is why they decided to bring a total of eight.

Seven of the cheetahs came from the Hoedspruit Centre for endangered Species at the Kapama Private Game Preserve in South Africa.

Santerre said she had to go there to present the park’s plan for the animals before they were able to obtain them.

They plan to breed the animals, and have space to accommodate cheetahs from other facilities. Parc Safari staff also plan to do some nutritional research.

Parc Safari is home to about 500 animals from about 75 species. There were many other new additions to the menagerie at Parc Safari during the fall, winter and spring.

At the Five Continents Animal Farm, Santerre showed off Zimbo, a fennec fox born in December. The fennec is the smallest fox in the world and is native to the Sahara region of Africa.

“He is very active,” she said as she held the tiny creature. “He loves attention.”

Two marmosets, primates native to South America, are also new additions to the Animal Farm this year. They have almost human-like faces.

Another part of the Animal Farm contains two greater rhea, the largest bird in South America. There was also a new egg in the compound, so maybe more are on the way.

“He’s showing off,” Santerre said as the male spread his large wings.

World’s biggest rodent

Two male capybara were in a pen next to some llamas. Santerre said they are trying to acclimate them so they can stay in the same enclosure and the capybaras can have access to its small pond.

“This is actually the biggest rodent in the world,” she said.

Assistant Curator Francis Lavigne showed off a number of new arrivals in the drive-through Safari Adventure. He said the new winter quarters for some of the animals has helped make them more comfortable, which leads to more successful breeding efforts.

“This was one of our best years for babies,” he said. “The next several years should be even better.”

He said there are 40 different species in the park, not including the birds.

First up was a baby wildebeest born about a month ago. Next he pointed out a pregnant waterbuck that is expected to give birth later this summer.

Lavigne said one of the water buffalo is also pregnant.

“She will have a baby soon,” he said.

A baby scimitar-horned oryx was born during the winter. The species has been extinct in the wild since 2000, but a number of protected herds exist, so reintroduction may be possible.

A baby watussi was born at the start of summer, Lavigne said. The species is raised like cattle in Africa.

“They are my favorite cows here,” he said.

Animals exchanged

The park has a baby greater kudu that was born at the Toronto Zoo. Lavigne said Parc Safari does a lot of animal exchanges with other institutions.

“I went there to pick him up,” Lavigne said.

Park staff also welcomed a baby Pere David’s deer. That species is also extinct in the wild.

Other newcomers include nilgai, bison and elk.

Parc Safari President Jean-Pierre Ranger said they have invested approximately $17 million in the park since 2002 to rebuild infrastructure. He said that has helped increase attendance by about 20,000 people each of the last three years, with 321,000 visitors last year.

In addition to the cheetah enclosure and research area, that includes the African Terrace viewing platform, Five Continents Animal Farm and Dolphin Lagoon water park that were unveiled last year.

The Inca Walls in the Animal Farm were designed to replicate sights Ranger saw in South America.

The Dolphin Lagoon was designed for those age 2 to 14. The eight water slides include two designed for those 18 months or younger.

There are also 60 spray features to help keep people cool on even the warmest days.

Staff have installed 66,000 square feet of interlocking brick to create about two miles of walkways. They have planted about 5,000 plants and trees along those and have another 10,000 to plant.

“It is to make the park more like a park,” Ranger said.

More improvements coming

He said they have $10 million in additional projects planned. That includes an improved amusement ride area, more enhancements to the swimming area, two more restaurants and more ponds and fountains in the Safari Adventure.

“I think what is left could be done in four years time,” Ranger said.

Parc Safari is open seven days a week during the summer. For more information, including rates and hours, visit

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