Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

If you were at the Zoo last Saturday, you probably saw lots of animals with pumpkins in their exhibits. While this is adorable in itself, there is a purpose for the pumpkins besides just providing cute photos! Pumpkins were actually given as a form of enrichment, which are activities or challenges we give our animals to encourage behaviors they would naturally exhibit in the wild. Animals all over the Zoo were given pumpkins filled with treats or other Halloween-themed enrichment, all aimed to encourage their natural behaviors and allow keepers to educate guests about the enrichment process.

This year, Britni Plummer (Zoo Keeper, Aquatics) helped to provide enrichment for many of our animals. Every animal receives something different, depending on their individual needs. For instance, the dingoes were given ghosts and pumpkins to encourage their hunting instincts, and our red pandas received bamboo-stuffed pumpkins to encourage foraging. “For penguins, keepers made hanging bats out of cardboard and paper towels. This was to encourage their natural curiosity and chasing behaviors. They were a little skeptical at first, but they love to peck at and chase things that swing and move. With our sea lions, we wanted to encourage a natural foraging behavior so we hid frozen fish inside of small pumpkins. The sea lions had to push the pumpkins around or toss them in the air in order to get the fish out.” While sea lions don’t encounter pumpkins in the wild, this gave them a challenge and forced them to think creatively to get to their fish!

While we offer enrichment throughout the entire year, it’s always fun to do themed enrichment around the holidays for both the animals and the keepers (a little zookeeper enrichment, if you will). After all, who doesn’t love pumpkins?

Check out our animals receiving their pumpkin enrichment this year:

 

buff-crested bustard jessica brita-segyde

This Quirky Bird is Ready To Meet You

Meet J.A.R.V.I.S., the newest animal in the zoo’s African Journey. J.A.R.V.I.S. is a buff-crested bustard, and he’s a bird with quirky behaviors.

Buff-crested bustards are omnivorous, opportunistic hunters and will eat plants, insects, and small rodents in the wild. The zoo’s buff-crested bustard receives a diet of grains, vitamin pellets, tiny mice, meal worms, wax worms, greens, and fruit. Commissary staff chop the bustard’s food into tiny pieces and he eats approximately three ounces at each meal. According to zoo staff, he eats the mice first.

“The tiny mice are his favorite,” says Area Curator Amber Eagleson. “He’s very food-motivated and will go straight for the rodents in his diet.”

Although food gets him out and visible, J.A.R.V.I.S. can be hard to spot when meal-time is over. “He’s good at hiding,” says Eagleson, “but guests can find him if they’re patient and look under the shrubs.”

Quirky behaviors aren’t the only things that define J.A.R.V.I.S. He also has a unique physical characteristic:  J.A.R.V.I.S., like all buff-crested bustards, lacks a hind digit. This prevents his species from perching on branches.  Not to worry – buff-crested bustards have learned to hunt and nest on the ground.

Female buff-crested bustards are the nest-builders in the family. They use what’s available on the ground – clumps of leaves and grass – to make room for baby.

Courtship is also an interesting time for buff-crested bustards. Although male buff-crested bustards rarely fly, a nearby female can render them airborne. If a female were near, J.A.R.V.I.S. would probably try to get her attention with a dramatic flying behavior. Male buff-crested bustards court females by flying up and then careening down, almost crashing into the ground. Just before impact, they reverse direction and fly safely upwards again.

For now J.A.R.V.I.S. is a butler, er, bachelor. He lives with red-billed hornbills Tony and Pepper* in their exhibit near the swamp monkeys.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

*The names J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony, and Pepper are references to the Iron Man superhero series.

Pig School

Elvis and Pugsley may be known for their good looks, but did you know that they’re smart, too?  The zoo’s Kunekune pigs are already intelligent animals, and now they’re going to school!

Their school is the barnyard and their teachers are zoo keepers.

Zoo keeper Heather Schuh and section supervisor Laura Sievers train Elvis and Pugsley almost every morning.  Schuh and Sievers begin each training session by greeting the animals and inviting them to participate.  If the animals choose to train that day, keepers offer treats each time an animal performs a desired behavior (like sitting, turning, or moving indoors).  The pigs’ treat is a piece of carrot, which serves as positive reinforcement for the animals.  Keepers also follow the desired behavior with a secondary form of reinforcement, like a quiet whistle.

Why train pigs?  Behavior management coordinator Holly Walsh explains the benefits, “Training gives the animals a choice to participate, thereby reducing stress for both the animals and their keepers.  Training also encourages animals to cooperate in their daily routines and also their veterinary care.” Elvis and Pugsley are learning three behaviors that will help with future vet exams:  sit, turn, and hold still. “We use positive reinforcement to teach the animals how to participate in their own care,” says Walsh. 

Animal training sessions happen every day at the zoo, and they’re fun to watch!  Stop by the Indiana Family Farm on your next zoo trip and ask a keeper if any of the animals are training that day.  You might get to watch the pigs go to school.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

rooster fort wayne

Indiana Family Farm By The Numbers

The Indiana Family Farm is a must-see attraction at the zoo.  Guests can walk through a working barn and pet donkeys, sheep, pigs, and more!  Just outside the barn is the chicken coop where the rooster crows, and a few yards down the path is the goat yard – where our curious goats are always ready to make a new friend.

It takes many hardworking hands to care for all of our hoofed and feathered friends, and those hands stayed busy this summer!  Here’s a 2015 recap of the Indiana Family Farm by the numbers:

  • 9 zoo keepers
  • 12 species of animals
  • 29 goats
  • 48 individual animals in all
  • 680 bales of hay
  • 1,020 bags of wood shavings
  • 3,400 pounds of grain
  • 618,498 guests served during the 2015 season

All those numbers add up to one great experience for zoo guests.

Zoo keeper Laura Sievers contributed to this blog and had this to say about her work in the Indiana Family Farm, “Whether it’s the first place or the last place our guests visit, the Indiana Family Farm is a place for making memories.”

Click on the photos to enlarge.  (Not pictured:  The barn mouse.  He was hiding.)

peacock square|fort wayne zoo

Peacocks 101

Peacocks are a guest favorite the zoo.  Some of the most impressive photos posted by guests our Facebook and Twitter pages are close-ups of these beautiful birds.  Here’s the 101 on our shy, feathered friends:

First, about half of them aren’t technically peacocks  Only the males are called peacocks.  The females are called peahens, and babies are called pea chicks. Collectively, we call them peafowl.  And if you really want to get technical, their scientific name is Pavo cristatus.

Now that we have the terminology straight…how can we tell them apart?  It’s easy:  The males have a big, fancy train of tail feathers that they use to impress the females.  Males can be brightly-colored or all-white.  Females are either brown or all-white.

Guests sometimes ask whether the white peafowl are albino, but they’re not.  Zoo keeper Helena Lacey works with the peafowl, and notes that some of them have a “genetic color mutation” that causes the all-white coloring, but this is different from the medical condition albinism.

Now for the big question…Can peafowl fly ?
Many zoo visitors are surprised to learn that these large birds can fly.  This is most obvious at night, when they fly up to roost in trees for safety from predators.  But the peafowl are not likely to fly away from the zoo – after all, their food, caregivers, and familiar surroundings are all right here!

Although they roam freely and may not seem like an “exhibit animal,” the zoo’s peafowl are an important part of our collection.  They receive excellent care just like the other animals, including a nutritious diet, shelter in the winter, and yearly checkups from our vet staff.  The next time you see a peacock or peahen at the zoo, approach carefully and quietly – you might end up with a great photo and memory to share!

Shark School

“They’re not just mindless eating machines.”  That’s what zoo aquarist Gary Stoops hopes guests will learn when they visit the zoo’s five new sharks and observe them swimming alongside the 2,000 pilchards that share their tank.

The Reef in the zoo’s renovated Australian Adventure is now home to four blacktip reef sharks and one zebra shark.  Although sharks are predators, they don’t feed constantly (not even in the wild), and they’re generally disinterested in the pilchards that share their 50,000-gallon saltwater tank.

Pilchards are schooling fish, so to the sharks they appear as one large organism.  While the sharks sometimes swim through the middle of the school, they usually swim around the large mass of pilchards while navigating the tank.

Stoops refers to the balance between sharks and pilchards as “equilibrium,” but states that the sharks may occasionally try to eat the weakest member of the school.  However, aquarists and zoo keepers feed the sharks often, decreasing the likelihood of predatory encounters.

Zoo keeper Kevan Mensch helps feed and train the sharks.  According to Mensch, “We’re using operant conditioning to train the sharks to eat at different ends of the tank, so they won’t compete for food.”  Zoo keepers also measure and record the amount of food sharks eat to ensure that every animal is consuming enough to stay full.

To date, all three species of fish in the shark tank (blacktip reef shark, zebra shark, and pilchard) are coexisting peacefully.  Stop by The Reef in the Australian Adventure to see them up-close!

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

 

What’s the Deal With Animal Enrichment?

Animal enrichment is a big deal at the zoo.  We even dedicate one of our summer events, Ice Day, to enriching animals.  Zoo keepers, trainers, and vet staff spend a lot of time planning the animals’ enrichment calendars, but what exactly is animal enrichment, and why do we do it?

Enrichment means providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal. When elements of an animal’s zoo environment mimic the problem-solving opportunities they encounter in the wild, the animals exhibit natural behaviors. Enrichment can help zoo animals thrive socially, mentally, and physically.

The zoo provides a variety of enrichment for animals:

Edible Enrichment  Tengku the orangutan digs for tasty seeds inside a pumpkin (2)

Finding food in the wild can be a complex activity for an animal. For instance, orangutans find ripe fruit in the wild, then forage carefully for the seeds, which they eat.  Pumpkins are an edible enrichment item for the zoo’s orangutans because the animals must use this natural foraging behavior to extract and eat the pumpkin seeds.

A capuchin monkey with ice watermarkSensory Enrichment

Many animals have a well-developed sense of smell to find prey, locate water, and avoid predators. The zoo’s capuchin monkeys love to sniff out spices scattered in their exhibits.  On a previous Ice Day, zoo keepers froze fragrant spices into ice blocks.  Upon finding an ice block, a capuchin flung it across the island!

Gorgon's brushing komodo dragonTextural Enrichment

In a natural habitat, an animal will encounter new textures every day as it forages, hunts, and finds shelter. At the zoo, keepers brush the Komodo dragon’s rough scales with a long-handled brush (from a safe distance, of course!)

 

goat food enrichment puzzle feederProblem-Solving Enrichment

Zoo keepers encourage animals to use their natural intelligence by hiding food in “puzzle feeders.” The friendly goats in the Indiana Family Farm use their problem-solving skills while they work as a group to reach tasty lettuce hidden in the feeders.

 

sea lion 600x600Training Enrichment

Zoo guests can watch the sea lions receive training enrichment every day at the 11:30 AM and 3 PM feeding shows. By requesting behaviors and rewarding the sea lions with fish, zoo keepers provide an intense and entertaining enrichment session. The sea lions get both physical and mental exercise, and the keepers develop a trusting relationship with the sea lions.

 

Do you want to get involved?  Join us at an upcoming Animal Enrichment Workshop, where you’ll make some of the enrichment objects that zoo animals receive every day!

Verreaux's eagle o

Who’s Hoo-ing at the Zoo

There are three owl species at the zoo, and each is beautiful and interesting in its own way.  Learn a little more about these feathered birds of prey, then visit them on your next zoo trip:

Eurasian Eagle Owl

eurasian eagle owlEsmerelda and Andrey are new at the zoo this season.  The pair arrived in March, sponsored by a generous donation from the German Heritage Society.  Zoo development director Amy Lazoff received the donation and noted that owlets are a possibility for the breeding pair.

Zoo guests can visit the Eurasian eagle owl exhibit in Central Zoo, near the red pandas, and be sure observe the ground for owl pellets.

Like other birds of prey, owls regurgitate pellets made of bones, claws, teeth, fur, and other indigestible items.  Owls feed on small mammals, such as mice and voles.

Owl pellets tend to be large and are often used for study in animal education programs.

 

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

Verreaux's eagle oThis beautiful bird species can be found in the zoo’s African Journey.  Roosevelt, the male, came to Fort Wayne in 2010.  A female named Mio joined him just in time for the 2015 zoo season, arriving in March.

Zoo keeper Ty Laemmle enjoys introducing guests to the Verreaux’s eagle owls.  “They have bright pink eyelids and also are famous for eating hedgehogs,” states Laemmle.  The owls avoid hedgehog-related injuries by peeling the sharp spines off before ingesting their prey.

At the zoo, the Verreaux’s eagle owls eat large mice, chicks, and small rats.

Verreaux’s eagle owls are often called “milky eagle owls” because of their coloring.  Look for Mio near the front of the exhibit and Roosevelt near the back, as this is the birds’ preferred seating arrangement.

Common Barn Owl

common barn owlThere’s a third species of owl that many guests overlook at the zoo.  Our common barn owl, Lindbergh, isn’t always active during the day.  A “night owl” by all accounts, Lindbergh is typically active after dark but may perk up during feeding time at 5PM, making Wild Wendesdays a great time to visit.

Guests can visit Lindbergh in the Indiana Family Farm.  Zoo keeper Heather Schuh states that guests have the opportunity to observe Lindbergh’s weighing if they happen to be in the right place at the right time, “She gets weighed once every other month which involves us catching her to put her in a crate and then onto a scale. If the guests happen to be here on that day, they will see her very active.”

Schuh anticipates Lindbergh’s next weighing will occur on or around June 1.

colobus monkey baby

Surprise New Baby at the Zoo

Zoo keeper Jess Brinneman found a delightful surprise when she arrived at work on April 22 (Earth Day).  Jibini the colobus monkey had just given birth!

Brinneman describes that morning, “I walked into the monkey building and found Jibini holding her new baby.  It was a big surprise.  It appeared as though she had just given birth.  I called our area manager and she notified our animal curator and vet staff.  We had been observing her for signs of pregnancy but hadn’t confirmed anything yet.”

Zoo staff suspected that Jibini could be pregnant and had been monitoring her for weight gain but hadn’t observed anything significant.  They did, however, notice a couple of diet changes that may have been pregnancy-related.  “She has been eating more kale than usual for the past two months,” states Brinneman, “and I noticed that for the first time she preferred peanuts over grapes, but we didn’t observe any clear signs of pregnancy prior to her delivery.”

The baby, a female, is Jibini’s third offspring.  Jibini’s other daughter and son, Kaasidy and Obi, were born at the zoo and live with Jibini and adult male colobus Finnigan.  Zoo keepers were aware of Jibini’s two previous pregnancies prior to delivery.

Jibini is nursing and caring for her infant, allowing zoo keepers to take a hands-off approach.  All of the colobus monkeys, including the new baby, will go out onto exhibit together soon – possibly as early as next week.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Now THAT’S a Power Lunch!

When we say “power lunch,” we’re not talking about business executives making big decisions while noshing on a meal.  No, we’re talking about actual power – like when a 200-pound alligator lunges forward, clamps its massive jaws onto a jumbo-sized rat off a stick, then swallows it whole.

Feeding the zoo’s alligators is not for the faint of heart.  Zoo keepers deliver the gators’ food with long tongs, staying as far away from the reptiles as possible.  The zoo’s two American alligators, Ron and Penelope, are cooperative at feeding time, but they’re far from cuddly.

Aside from rats, the alligators also eat specially-formulated biscuits and gelatin – yes, gelatin – twice a week.  According to area manager Shelley Scherer, “They’re still hungry after eating the rats and biscuits.  The gelatin keeps them full without adding unnecessary calories.”

Alligators were once endangered in the United States. But strong laws and careful management brought this species back from the brink of extinction. The population of alligators is now stable.

Click on the photos to enlarge: