Zoo Reveals Gender of Penguin Chick

It’s a girl! Zoo keepers today revealed the gender of an endangered black-footed penguin chick that hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on November 24.

Zoo keepers made the “gender reveal” announcement and introduced the 8-week-old female chick on Penguin Awareness Day (January 20).

The chick’s gender was determined by a blood test. This is the only way to determine the sex of a young penguin, because males and females look exactly alike. This is the first penguin to hatch at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo since 2012.

The baby penguin will be on exhibit with first-time parents Chunk and Flash (and the rest of the flock) when the zoo opens for the 2016 season on April 23.

It’s not just the baby’s “cute factor,” that has the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and the conservationist community excited about the new arrival.

“The zoo participates in the Penguin Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program administered by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that manages zoo-dwelling populations of rare animals,” said Dr. Joe Smith, director of animal programs at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

“The zoo supports conservation of wild penguin populations as well,” Dr. Smith said. “We financially support SANCCOB, an organization in South Africa that conserves coastal birds in their native habitat.”

Two Fort Wayne zoo keepers recently volunteered at the SANCCOB facility. Zoo keepers Britni Plummer and Maggie Sipe travelled to SANCCOB’s headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa and spent two weeks rehabilitating and releasing wild black-footed penguins.

The choices we make at home also have an impact on wild coastal birds. By keeping rivers clean and demanding sustainably-harvested seafood, we can keep our oceans healthy and ensure that wild penguins can hunt, nest, breed, and thrive for generations.

Facts About African Black-Footed Penguins

  • Black-footed penguins are the only penguin species native to Africa. The climate in their South African coastal habitat is similar to that of Indiana, with warm summers and cold winters.
  • They are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature with a decreasing population trend.
  • Black-footed penguins eat fish. Unregulated fishing and oil spills in South African waters contribute to their decline in the wild.
  • Chicks have different color patterns than adult penguins. Chicks’ feathers are fluffy and gray. At 14-16 months old, their juvenile plumage begins a two-phase molting process and is eventually replaced by the familiar black and white pattern of adults.
  • All 17 types of penguins (including the African black-footed) live south of the equator, so you’ll never see penguins and polar bears (which live in the Northern Hemisphere) together.
  • The African penguin can often be heard making a loud donkey-like braying noise, which is how they received the nickname “jackass penguin.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Zoo Baby Announcement!

Someone new just hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo – a black-footed penguin chick!  The chick is vocalizing, walking, eating fish, and gaining weight every day.

The six-week-old African black-footed penguin hatched on November 24.  The parents are mated penguins Chunk and Flash.  Both parents hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo – Chunk in 2007 and Flash in 2008.

The new chick is the first offspring for the pair, whom keepers describe as having a very strong bond.  Chunk and Flash reared their chick exclusively for the first few weeks of its life by feeding it regurgitated fish, says zoo keeper Britni Plummer.

When the chick was a few weeks old, zoo keepers took over feeding duties so the chick would learn to accept fish from keepers. The chick eats chopped fish and gets vitamins daily.  So far, the chick eats with gusto and has NEVER turned down a meal!

Zoo keepers aren’t sure yet whether the adorable bundle of feathers is male or female and haven’t decided on a name.  The zoo’s veterinary team will perform a blood test later this month to determine the chick’s gender.

This is the first penguin chick to hatch at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo since 2012.  African black-footed penguins are endangered and the new chick is an important ambassador for its wild cousins.  In addition to participating in the Penguin Species Survival Plan, the zoo financially supports the South-African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

You can visit the new chick at the penguin exhibit this spring and learn more about efforts to conserve penguins and their wild habitat.

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This video from early November shows Flash (left) serenading Chunk (off screen) on her birthday, just a few weeks before the hatching of their first chick!

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

otter pumpkin

Animals Go Wild For Pumpkins

Tigers gotta gnaw, otters gotta play, and penguins – well, they’re just penguins!  Zoo critters showed off their animal instincts at the annual Pumpkin Stomp & Chomp as part of last week’s Wild Zoo Halloween festivities.

The award for most action-packed pumpkin encounter went to tigers Indah and Bugara, who attacked their pumpkins at full pounce, then batted them around like rubber toys.  The lemurs practically climbed inside their treat-laden pumpkins.  Some animals, like the sea lions, were more interested in the candy-bag-toting, costumed kids than their pumpkins. Once zoo keepers took the lid off a bamboo-stuffed pumpkin, the red pandas finally figured out that pumpkins aren’t so bad after all.  The penguins, however, were completely indifferent to their smiling jack-o-lantern.

Why did we give pumpkins to zoo animals?  Watching the animals nibble, gnaw, gnarl, play, and sometimes devour their pumpkins is a treat for guests, and provides valuable enrichment for the animals. Enrichment stimulates the animals’ natural behaviors and offers physical and mental challenges.

Click on the photos to find out what the animals did with their pumpkins:

 

penguin

NKOTB (New Kids On The Beach)

The zoo’s penguin exhibit is home to four new black-footed penguins!  The three males and one female are named Ollie, Cricket, Roman, and Tapanga.  They arrived earlier this summer with a breeding recommendation from the  Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Does that mean there’s a penguin chick on the way?

“Not yet,” states zoo keeper Sarah Cox, who cares for the penguins.  “The new males are still young and it may be another year before they’re ready to breed.”

Guests can identify three younger male penguins from the older members of the flock by their markings.  Juvenile black-footed penguins have all-black feathers on their faces and lack a black chest stripe.  They won’t get their adult markings until they molt.

The juvenile males are all one year old.  Tapanga is two years old and has already molted, so she has white facial markings like the other adults.

During the annual molting season, a penguin’s old feathers fall out and are replaced by new feathers, a process that takes several weeks and leaves the penguin with temporary bald spots.  Zoo keeper Britni Plummer explains, “Penguins go through changes in behavior and appearance when they molt.  They gain weight, don’t swim as much, and their whole body looks different.”  Plummer says that guests sometimes express concern about the molting penguins. “We’ve had guests ask if our penguins are sick when they’re molting, because the animals look so different.  They’re not sick, it’s just a normal part of their life cycle.”

When Ollie, Cricket, and Roman are mature enough to breed, one of them is likely to pair up with Tapanga.  Once Tapanga has chosen her beau the other suitors will have to look for a new partner.  Penguins pair for life.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

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!

Purdue Resident Ophthalmologist Ben Bergstrom|fort wayne children's zoo

A Win-Win for Veterinary Care

The Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo have winning partnership.  Faculty and residents from the vet school travel to the zoo to provide specialized animal care.  In return, Purdue’s veterinarians gain valuable experience working with exotic animals they might not otherwise encounter.

For both parties, sharing knowledge and experience adds value as they work to provide excellent animal care.

Purdue’s faculty veterinary ophthalmologist Jean Stiles and resident Ben Bergstrom visited Fort Wayne last week to perform eye exams on a variety of zoo species.  The African black-footed penguins were among the list of patients, since penguins are susceptible to cataracts.  Dr. Stiles and Dr. Bergstrom examined several members of the zoo’s penguin flock while the zoo’s director of animal health Dr. Joe Smith and veterinarian Dr. Kami Fox offered insight on exotic animal care.  Other zoo staff assisted in holding the penguins safely for their exams (pictured below).

Dr. Joe Smith describes the zoo’s relationship with Purdue, “It’s mutually beneficial.  Sometimes we call them up here for specific cases.  Sometimes they contact us to gain experience with exotics.  They’re doing this on their own time.”

Dr. Stiles and Dr. Bergstrom did note minimal cataracts in several of the penguins that zoo staff will monitor.  No treatment is recommended at this time.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

 

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.

Turkey Vulture

They Needed a Place to Call Home

The zoo is home to two birds that might not fit in anywhere else. Vincent the turkey vulture and Maverick the red-tailed hawk reside here at the zoo because of they are considered “non-releasable.”

Both raptors came to the zoo after being rescued and rehabilitated at regional facilities. Here are their stories:

Turkey VultureVincent the turkey vulture arrived at the zoo in 2004 after spending time at Asherwood Environmental Center in Noble County, which is operated by ACRES Land Trust. Vincent was injured when he swooped down to feed on a dead animal and was hit by a vehicle. Animal carcasses located close to busy roads are dangerous to vultures and are often the result of litter. Humans throw garbage or unwanted food out of their cars, then curious field animals approach and get hit. This is a potentially deadly situation for turkey vultures that instinctively fly toward animal carcasses, regardless of whether those animals died naturally in a field or near a busy road as the result of human activites.

Vincent had bodily injuries and a severely damaged eye when he was rescued. His caregivers gave and continue to give him the best care possible, but Vincent’s injuries have left him unable to fly and also blind in one eye. Vincent is not likely to thrive in the wild and is therefore non-releasable.

Vincent has spent more than a decade here at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo under the care of vet staff and zoo keepers. According to zoo keeper Helena Lacey, Vincent requires daily eye drops and pain medication. Lacey is one of the people who administers his daily medication.

Vincent lives in an exhibit located on the Central Zoo hill across from the red panda exhibit. Despite his challenges, Vincent is usually in good spirits and appears to enjoy visitors. If you approach his exhibit, Vincent will likely turn his head completely to the side so he can see you. (He only sees out of his right eye.) If you’re lucky, you might get to observe Vincent eating rodents during his morning feeding – Just don’t tell him that’s where we put his medicine!

red-tailed hawkMaverick the red-tailed hawk is another non-releasable bird living in the Central Zoo, located near the Indiana Family Farm. According to veterinary technician Maraiah Russell, Maverick was found by a member of the public in July 2006 in Columbia City, Indiana. Maverick was unable to fly but the circumstances leading to his injury are unknown.

Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab got involved, and Dr. Pat Funnel provided care with hopes of releasing Maverick once he recovered. However, the primary feathers on his right wing never grew back, so Maverick will never be able to fly or hunt on his own again. In 2007, the zoo received Maverick as a non-releasable bird and he has done very well here. A note to zoo guests – Don’t be alarmed if you see Maverick lying on the ground inside his exhibit. According to Russell, “Maverick likes to sunbathe on the ground with his wings spread sometimes, and many of our guests have thought he was injured or ill.”

Stories like Vincent’s and Maverick’s are often the result of human carelessness. Please avoid littering or leaving food near the side of the road. If you do spot an injured bird, call a local rehab facility like Asherwood or Soarin’ Hawk for assistance. It is everyone’s job to protect wild animals and to respect the wild places they call home.

Javan Whistling Duck Gwen with Reflection

This New Couple Gets Along Swimmingly

Lewis, a Javan whistling duck and longtime resident of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest, welcomed a new friend last week.

Gwen is a female Javan whistling duck from North Carolina.  She came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo so that Lewis could have a companion.

“He was medically healthy but we could tell he was lonely,” stated zoo keeper Tiffany Jones.  “He spent a lot of time just sitting on his log not doing anything.”

Zoo keepers know that animal introductions can be a sensitive process and sometimes animals need time and space as they acclimate to one another.   In the case of Lewis and Gwen, however, the animals bonded instantly.

Jones observed, “Lewis was asleep on his log when we brought Gwen to the pond.  As soon as she got in the water he woke up, swam over and whistled to her.  They have been together ever since.  I don’t think he’s lonely anymore.”

The two ducks look and behave very similar, but Gwen is a bit smaller than Lewis and her coloring is more contrasted.  (The feathers on her back are much darker than those on her underside.)  Come out to the zoo when we reopen this Spring and see if you can spot the differences!

Zoo officials are happy to report that at the end of one week Lewis and Gwen are still getting along swimmingly.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

vulture

Why do Vultures Eat Dead Animals?

Vultures are often characterized as scary, Halloween-esque creatures.  Their appetite for dead flesh doesn’t win them many fans.  If you check the zoo’s Facebook page you’d be hard-pressed to find a “vulture selfie” or “save the vultures” post from any of our followers, but these birds aren’t as ghoulish as their reputation suggests.

International Vulture Awareness Day is this Saturday, September 6 – A day when conservationists and vulture aficionados bring attention to these misunderstood but important creatures.

Back to the question at hand…Why do vultures eat dead animals?  The removal of carrion (a.k.a. rotting flesh) is a necessary link on the food chain.  Vultures can eat rotting flesh that contains anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria with no ill effects because acids in the vulture’s stomach destroy these organisms, thereby removing them from our ecosystem.

At the zoo, the vultures eat a commercial meat diet, plus rats and small bones.

Have you ever met one of the zoo’s vultures? Vincent the turkey vulture lives in the Central Zoo across from the lemurs.  He enjoys a morning rodent diet and he’s known for displaying his beautiful, black wingspan throughout the day.  The African Journey is home to four Ruppell’s griffon vultures.  You can find them on the Savannah where they’ll often perch near the pedestrian deck for a photo op!

Stop by and visit the vultures on your next zoo visit…and bring your questions.  Our zoo keepers are happy to talk about these fascinating but misunderstood birds.

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