Zoo Preview 2016

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo opens for the 2016 season on Saturday, April 23 with new exhibits, new animal species, and some adorable zoo babies!

“Our 50th season was a big one,” says Zoo Director Jim Anderson, “and we have even more for our guests to do and see in Season 51!”

Australian Adventure Renovation

Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens this season and will feature a complete renovation of The Outback. Animal highlights include a new reptile house featuring knob-tailed geckos and a woma python, three new aviaries featuring galah cockatoos and straw-necked ibises, and the Tasmanian devil exhibit set to open in late summer.

Renovations to The Outback also include the all-new Outback Springs play stream and updates to the Crocodile Creek Adventure Ride. “We think guests will love the new look and feel of the Crocodile Creek Adventure Ride,” says Anderson. “It’s a great time for the whole family.”

Echo the African Penguin Chick…and a Surprise New Chick!

Zoo fans are eagerly awaiting their first chance to see baby Echo, a female penguin chick that hatched at the zoo in November, 2015. Echo’s arrival marked the start of a third penguin generation at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

The zoo’s penguin colony grew by one more (surprise!) when Blue hatched in February. Blue is a male and is the offspring of bonded pair L. Pink and R. Pink, making him Echo’s uncle.

Blue still lives behind-the-scenes and will join the flock on exhibit later this spring.

Anderson says, “African black-footed penguins are endangered and their population in the wild is declining. Every new chick is important to the future of their species.”

Sumatran Orangutan Baby

Asmara the baby Sumatran orangutan is one year old this season and starting to test her independence. Asmara is sure to delight guests as she climbs, explores, and tries to steal mom’s food! Born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to parents Tara and Tengku, Asmara represents a critically endangered species on the brink of extinction.

“Asmara is a little ambassador for her wild cousins,” says Anderson. “She helps us fulfill our mission of connecting kids with animals and inspiring people to care.”

More Zoo Babies

Guests of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can expect to find many adorable babies during their visit. In addition to a baby Sumatran orangutan and two feathery penguin chicks, guests can visit three new kangaroo joeys, a baby crocodile skink, and a baby swamp monkey.

“Animal babies are always a guest favorite,” says Anderson, “and visiting new babies is a fun way for families to connect.”

Extended Hours from Memorial Day through Labor Day

The zoo will stay open late until 7p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission gates will close at 7p.m., with zoo grounds closing at 8p.m.

“We listened to our guests,” says Anderson, “and what we heard is that they want more time to enjoy the zoo. We are pleased to offer this benefit to zoo guests.”

Extended hours also create an opportunity for guests to enjoy dinner or schedule evening picnics in the Parkview Physicians Group Pavilions. Catered group picnics were previously available during lunch hours and the zoo expects the later time slots to fill quickly.

More of What’s New

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation is officially complete and includes Stingray Bay (opened September, 2015) and a new Shark Conservation Area in the Australian Adventure Plaza

Exclusive VIP Experiences take guests behind the scenes for close encounters with their favorite animals. This year’s VIP lineup features new experiences including stingray encounters, vulture feeding, and orangutan training. For an additional fee, guests can schedule a VIP Experience and spend quality time with our animals and zoo keepers!

Updates to the Indonesian Rain Forest include a new roof in the tiger viewing area and a renovated exhibit featuring lesser sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Faye the reticulated giraffe arrived from the Cape May County Park & Zoo last winter and is sure to be a new favorite among guests. “Faye is getting along well with the herd, and we expect her to be a regular at the feeding platform,” says Anderson.

Conservation

By participating in cooperative management programs for more than 90 species and taxa, the zoo is helping to preserve genetic diversity in endangered and threatened animals from around the world, including Sumatran orangutans, reticulated giraffes, and African penguins.

Kids4Nature is a kid-friendly conservation program that invites every guest to participate,” says Anderson. Guests receive a recycled metal washer at the ticket booth. Each washer counts as a “vote” toward one of three conservation projects. “Last year, our guests helped direct more than $90,000 of the zoo’s conservation commitment toward conservation projects around the world,” says Anderson.

Plan a visit in 2016 to see what’s new at the zoo!

Click on the photos to enlarge:

zebra moray eel fort wayne zoo

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

“Yes, he really is in there,” is the answer that aquarist Gary Stoops gives when zoo guests ask, “Are you sure there’s a zebra moray eel?”

Lazarus the zebra moray eel is known for his ability to evade public view, coming out of his hiding places once or twice a day (maybe) for a feeding or brief swim across The Reef aquarium. It’s hard to believe this elusive fish is over three feet long!

His hiding places change all the time. Sometimes a guest will spot Lazarus, but by the time they’ve readied their camera for a photo, the eel has disappeared behind the coral, leaving only an inch or two of his tail visible.  How can you get a look and maybe even snap a photo of an eel known for his hide-and-seek skills?  Stoops offers advice, “Ask an aquarist or a zoo keeper when feeding time is scheduled. We offer him shrimp a few times a week.  Lazarus swims to the top of the tank once or twice during each feeding.  After that he hides again.”

But there is good news—Phase II of the Australian Adventure remodel brought hope for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the black-and-white striped swimmer!

The recent remodel of the 17,000-gallon Reef tank provided Lazarus with a new hiding spot that’s perfect for a stealthy eel.  Near the side viewing window there’s a small cave extending from the coral. If you come on the right day and look carefully inside, you might see a small face looking back at you. That’s Lazarus.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

southern stingray|fort wayne zoo

Stingray Bay Opens at the Zoo

stingray bay|fort wayne zoo

Guests at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can now explore Stingray Bay when they visit the Australian Adventure.

The exhibit, which features a 20,000-gallon saltwater tank depicting a fishing village and Australian mangrove swamp filled with stingrays, opens today, September 3.

“We’re thrilled to introduce our guests to these awesome animals,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.

Two species of stingray inhabit the tank – southern stingrays and cownose rays – for a total of 20 stingrays in the exhibit. Southern stingrays can grow up to five feet wide from fin to fin. Cownose rays are smaller at 24-30 inches wide.

Guests can view the stingrays through the chest-high, clear acrylic walls of the tank. Or, guests can choose to reach over the walls in hopes of touching a stingray as it swims past.

Stingrays have barbed venomous spines at the bases of their tails, which are used for defense against predators.   At the zoo, these spines have been trimmed and removed, so there is no danger to guests.

Closely related to sharks, stingrays are a type of fish with skeletons made of cartilage rather than bone. They breathe by taking in water and passing it over their gills to extract oxygen. Stingrays’ downward-facing mouths are filled with stubby teeth that crush clam and snail shells. After the flesh is eaten, shell fragments are spit out. At the zoo, keepers feed whole fish to the stingrays by hand. They also scatter food in the tank, allowing the rays to forage.

Stingray Bay occupies the former Nocturnal Building, which once housed bats, echidnas (spiny anteaters), and other creatures active at night.

The new exhibit will emphasize ocean conservation. “We want to empower our guests to make choices that help our oceans,” said Anderson. Staff at Stingray Bay will distribute information to help guests choose sustainable seafood at grocery stores and restaurants.

Stingray Bay is part of a $7 million, three-phase renovation of the Australian Adventure, which was originally built in 1987 at a cost of $2.5 million. All funds for the current project, as well as the 1987 project, were donated by individuals, foundations, and businesses. The zoo is especially grateful to the Gary Probst Family, sponsor of Stingray Bay.

“Stingray Bay was made possible with the generous support of the Gary Probst Family. Mr. Probst also donates his time and talents as a zoo board member. Everything you see at the zoo is built with the support of our community,” Anderson shared.

Phase 1 of the Australian Adventure renovation opened in 2014 and included visitor amenities such as expanded restaurant seating, additional restrooms, and improvements to the train station, which was renamed the Z.O.&O. Railroad.

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation includes Stingray Bay and The Reef, which opened in May and features a 17,000-gallon tank filled with tropical fish, and a 50,000-gallon tank housing 2,000 schooling fish and five sharks.

The Outback in the Australian Adventure closed on August 11 so construction could begin on Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure. Scheduled to open in 2016, Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure will include a play stream called Crocodile Creek, new bird aviaries, a new reptile exhibit, and renovations to the River Ride, kangaroo yard, and dingo exhibit. The zoo is also scheduled to receive Tasmanian devils from Australia as part of an Australian government program aimed at protecting this species. Wild Tasmanian devils are under severe threat from a deadly transmissible cancer.

Donations to the Australian Adventure Capital Campaign are welcome. For $400, a Recognition Tile can be engraved with the names of individuals, families, and businesses and displayed on a decorative wall at the Australian Adventure entrance.   For donation information, visit kidszoo.org or contact the zoo at 260-427-6800.

Stingray Bay Facts:

  • Tank volume: 20,000 gallons of artificial seawater
  • Species: Southern Stingrays and Cownose Rays
  • Location: Australian Adventure exhibit

Stingray Facts

  • Stingrays are closely related to sharks.
  • Stingrays breathe underwater with gills. Water enters through the spiracles and as it passes over the gills, oxygen seeps through the walls of tiny blood vessels and into the blood. Gills perform the same function as our lungs, except that our lungs remove oxygen from the air.
  • Stingrays have flat bodies, which allow them to lie flat on the sea floor, hidden in the sand. With eyes on top of their heads, they can watch for predators while remaining partially buried.
  • Spines are used for defense. When rays feel threatened, they may raise their powerful tails and slam their barbed spines into attackers.
  • Stingrays’ spines are covered in venomous mucus. When the spines pierce flesh, the venom is released, causing severe pain.
  • Stingrays flap their fins on the sea floor to uncover buried clams, snails, and fish.
  • Stingrays’ downward-facing mouths are filled with stubby teeth that crush clam and snail shells. After the flesh is eaten, shell fragments are spit out.
  • Because stingrays’ eyes are on top of their heads, they can’t see food on the sea floor. Instead, rays find food by smelling, touching, and detecting tiny electrical fields emitted by every animal.

Mangrove Facts

  • Mangrove trees grow where the freshwater of rivers and lagoons meets the saltwater of the ocean. Because of this the salinity of the water in a mangrove ecosystem can vary as the tides go in and out. Branching roots (called “prop roots”) form underwater “forests” that shelter thousands of species, including stingrays, crabs, worms, and mollusks. These areas also serve as breeding grounds for many seagoing fish—the young fish grow up in the shelter of the mangrove roots until they are large enough to survive in the open ocean.
  • Where mangroves are present, shorelines are protected from powerful ocean waves. On riverbanks, mangroves trap sediments before they flow into the ocean.
  • Mangroves shed excess salt through leaves and bark. Special “breathing roots” poke up through the water to take in air.
  • Bats, snakes, lizards, and insects live in mangrove treetops.
  • Australia has the 3rd largest mangrove area of all countries in the world, after Indonesia and Brazil.

 

 

 

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:

 

 

The Reef Opens Friday

The Reef Opens Friday

Guests at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can now add a trip to The Reef to their Australian Adventure itinerary.

The exhibit, which features a 17,000-gallon saltwater tank depicting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, will open on Friday, May 22

Originally constructed in 1987, the aquatic exhibit was completely renovated over the winter.  “We drained the tank, rebuilt the artificial coral, and buffed decades of tiny scratches off the 27-foot-long acrylic window,” says Zoo Director Jim Anderson.  “The result is a sparkling showcase of this diverse ecosystem.”

Contractors added finishing touches to the tank on Wednesday, and dozens of fish moved into the exhibit on Thursday.

Two separate 600-gallon tanks display moon jellyfish and a new tank of venomous lionfish.

The Reef’s exhibit gallery has been renovated to resemble an old cannery warehouse in an Australian seaside town.  Formerly carpeted and dimly lit, the gallery now features exposed brick, rustic beams, and colorful signage

The building also includes a 50,000-gallon shark tank, but zoo guests will have to wait a bit longer to see those predators.  “The logistics of moving sharks are complicated,” says Anderson. “We didn’t want to make our guests wait any longer. We’re eager to invite them into The Reef to see what we’ve done so far.”  Black-tip sharks will move into the exhibit with hundreds of small schooling fish called pilchards in July.

The Reef is part of a $7 million, three-phase renovation of the Australian Adventure, which was built in 1987 at a cost of $2.5 million.  All funds for the current project, as well as the 1987 project, were donated by individuals, foundations, and businesses.

Phase 1 of the Australian Adventure renovation opened in 2014 and included visitor amenities such as expanded restaurant seating, additional restrooms, and improvements to the train station, which was renamed the Z.O.&O. Railroad.

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation includes The Reef and the all-new Stingray Bay, which is currently under construction.  Stingray Bay occupies the former Nocturnal Building, and opening is planned for late July.

In 2016, Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure renovation will completely upgrade the current Outback and include a play stream called Crocodile Creek, new bird aviaries, a new reptile exhibit, and renovations to the River Ride, kangaroo yard, and dingo exhibit.  The zoo is also scheduled to receive Tasmanian devils from Australia in late 2015 as part of an Australian government program aimed at protecting this species.  Wild Tasmanian devils are under severe threat from a deadly transmissible cancer.  Their exhibit will open in 2016 as part of Phase 3.

Donations to the Australian Adventure Capital Campaign are welcome.  For $400, a Recognition Tile can be engraved with the names of individuals, families, and businesses and displayed on a decorative wall at the Australian Adventure entrance.   For donation information, visit kidszoo.org or contact the zoo at 260-427-6800.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

moon jellies zoo attraction

Hello, Little Jellies

Thirty one-month-0ld moon jellyfish arrived at the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium this week!  Hatched at the New England Aquarium, these two-inch-diameter moon jellies joined 13 adult jellies in the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium.  

Because moon jellies have an average life span of six months in the wild and one year in captivity, the introduction of new moon jellies is a yearly event at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  The babies will mature quickly and should have a bell size of six to eight inches when the zoo opens on April 26.

Zoo keepers transitioned the babies into their new aquarium slowly.   A large bag containing the new moon jellies was placed inside the aquarium but was not opened right away, allowing water temperatures to equalize.  Little by little, zoo keepers allowed small amounts of water from the bag and the aquarium to mix together.   Click on the video for behind-the-scenes footage of the acclimation process:

Moon jellies are not endangered and are a favorite food of several endangered sea turtle species.  However, balloons and plastic grocery bags closely resemble jellyfish when floating in the ocean.  If sea turtles ingest the balloons and bags, they can die.  You can help sea turtles by recycling plastic grocery bags and avoiding mass balloon releases.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

A diver chats with guests at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

This Job Never Gets Cold

After spending 113 hours and 36 minutes under water in 2013, the zoo’s Dive Team is far from “all wet!” The divers, along with support from staff on the dry side, completed 85 dives last year in their quest to keep the zoo’s Great Barrier Reef tanks sparkling clean.  

Though the 78 degree water temperature sounds balmy, Aquarium Area Manager and Dive Safety Officer Gary Stoops says divers need to wear wet suits to retain body heat, which is lost faster in water than in air.  The thick wet suits also protect divers from aggressive fish.  “Some of the fish are very territorial.  The triggerfish and even the zebra moray eel have been known to challenge the divers, and even nip at their wet suits.”

The shark tank is a different story.  No diver has ever been bitten during a dive with the blacktip reef sharks.  “They just stay away from us,” states Stoops.

When the zoo is open for the season, guests can witness dives and can even get involved in an interactive dive chat!  Divers are outfitted with a speaker and microphone that  allow for live question-and-answer sessions.  Dive Chats are held every Wednesday and Thursday at 1:30 PM.

All-told, divers spend about 90 minutes in the water during each dive.  Most of that time is spent cleaning the coral, and of course avoiding the eel.  At 15, he is the aquarium’s oldest resident and is an expert at defending his territory.

moon jellyfish swimming

Spring Cleaning at the Aquarium

 After moving the hundreds of moon jellies to a back-up tank, 500 gallons of sea water are pumped out of the tank.  When the water level is too low for the pump, aquarists Gary Stoops and Ian Wallace resort to the old fashioned method of bailing the water with a scoop and bucket.Once a year, the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium crew takes on a daunting task:  draining, cleaning, and scrubbing the two 500-gallon jellyfish tanks.

“Once we have all the water out, we will scrub the tank walls to get rid of the old food, polyps, and debris that settle on the floor and walls of the tank,” Stoops explains. 

The moon jellies eat brine shrimp, and some of the unhatched brine shrimp eggs fall to the tank floor.  Polyps are the result of jellyfish reproduction, but these tiny jellies do not survive in the confines of the aquarium.

This spring cleaning event results in a major water change for the jellies, with about 80% of their tank water being removed and replaced (about 20% of the water is pumped into a sump, and will be added back to the tank).  For many aquatic species, this would present too much of a shock, but Stoops says, “Moon jellies are pretty hardy.” 

Stoops mixes up artificial sea water for the tank, which mimics the natural ocean in that it contains traces of nearly every element on earth.  Once the water cycles through the filtration system, it will be ready again for the moon jellies.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.