- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

FARMINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Kiwi is settling in to her new home in the Laurel Highlands.

The 6-month-old African lion cub was acquired two months ago from a privately-owned zoo in Florida and soon will help replenish what now will be a pride of five lions at Nemacolin Woodlands.

“She has the run of the place when there are no guests here,” Nemacolin director of activities Mandy Burnsworth said as Kiwi entertained a crew from the Herald-Standard.

“The place” is the animal nursery at Nemacolin’s Wildlife Adventure, just off Route 40, where visitors can interact with 150 animals, from a dog sledding team and horses to a host of exotic creatures. It is part of a long list of adventures found at the resort, and in turn includes a Wildlife Academy dedicated to providing interactive entertainment and live animal programs with an emphasis on education.

“Our main goal here is to educate guests on conservation of all these exotic animals, preserving these animals for years to come,” Burnsworth said of a lineup that includes Kiwi, as well as a white tiger, a sacred white buffalo and an Asian fishing cat.

“There are not too many of them,” Burnsworth said of the latter, a breed of cat that numbers 256 worldwide, 68 in the United States, according to the Big Cat Rescue charity, with a weight between 13 and 26 pounds.

In all, Nemacolin has members of five feline species, including two tigers, a mountain lion and a bobcat.

Kiwi weighs 50 pounds already, and eventually will tip the scales at 350 to 400 pounds. Burnsworth said she eats five pounds of beef and chicken each day and eventually will consume 15 pounds daily.

“By the time she’s 2 years old, she’ll be out with the other lions,” the Nemacolin director of activities said. That now includes two males and two females.

Kiwi started out with a bottle phase and gradually will be worked into the lion population. She’ll be used to humans, but not domesticated.

“This is just to give them a good start in life,” Burnsworth said. “We don’t want them to be stressed when we do anything to them.”

Kiwi is the newest addition to an entity started a decade ago by Nemacolin founder Joe Hardy.

“My father began the Wildlife Academy 10 years ago with the inspiration to share his love for animals with others,” says resort owner Maggie Hardy Magerko. “With many of the animals on our property being rescued from failing zoos, my father believed making them part of our family would leave lasting impressions on our guests, provide an educational experience and foster the belief in conservation.”

Burnsworth said Magerko’s son P.J. named the cub.

Nemacolin operates its Wildlife Adventure with a permit from the United States Department of Agriculture, and in accord with standards set by the USDA. It gets assistance from New Jersey veterinarian Dr. Jonathan Bergmann, who has experience with exotic animals, as well as trained associates.

Burnsworth, who grew up in Smock, came to Nemacolin nine years ago after being trained as a veterinary technician at the Western School of Health and Business in Pittsburgh. She later became manager of animal programs and about a year ago was promoted to director of activities.

Bergmann and his associates were put to the test twice last year, first on Aug. 27 when Prince, a 5-year-old lion born at Nemacolin, died after being put under anesthesia for treatment of an ear infection.

“Unfortunately, that’s just something that occurs with both animals and people,” Nemacolin spokesman Jeff Nobers said. “You don’t know they’re allergic to the anesthesia until they undergo it.”

Then on Nov. 5 Stewy, a 13-year-old white lion at the academy, was being relocated to another enclosure on the Nemacolin grounds.

“By Sunday, Nov. 8,” according to a Nemacolin statement, “Stewy’s condition had worsened. Further testing and evaluations revealed a great amount of fluid in the lungs and chest, as well as large masses throughout his body.” A day later, Stewy was euthanized “to prevent further suffering.”

Both passings were blows to a resort where many spend time with its wildlife. Resort officials estimate that 75 percent of their guests participate in academy programs during their stay.

“You can drive on the property and see them,” Burnsworth said. “We do guided nursery tours at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for 45 minutes at $20 per person.”

Or visitors can take self-guided tours in-between at the nursery for $5. There, Kiwi’s roommates include an alligator, badger, fennec foxes, kinkajou, porcupine, sloth and tortoise.

On Saturdays at 4 p.m., visitors to the center can also make toys, treats and puzzles for the facility’s residents, then watch and learn as the animals play with and eat those treats as part of their enrichment program.

“Guests come and get to make enrichment toys for each of the animals, and then give that toy to them and watch them interact,” Burnsworth said. “For the lions, a box is prepared with treats and meat and then they wrap it up and let the lions break them open.”

Visitors can walk through the resort’s animal habitat at their own pace and at no charge.

Resort guests can take advantage of “Louie’s African Train Ride,” an hour-long, family-focused tour that includes visits to bison, hyenas, red sheep, tigers and zebras as well as the lions. Or they can take an interactive 90-minute “Safari Tour,” which gives a small group of visitors gets a 90-minute, up-close look at some of the resort’s most exotic residents.

Kiwi and others in the nursery sometimes have four-legged guests, as part of their own educational process.

“We do have dogs come in and play with them,” Burnsworth said. “They teach them things that we can’t.”





Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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