call duck fort wayne zoo

How To Train A Call Duck – And Why We Do It

The three fluffy call ducks at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s Indiana Family Farm have a busy life.  When they’re not swimming, socializing, eating, or partaking in enrichment activities, our ducks participate in training sessions with their zoo keeper.

Why do we train our ducks?

“Target training gives the animals more choice and control, which reduces stress on them,” says zoo keeper Maggie Sipe.  Sipe trains the call ducks by rewarding them for choosing to target specific objects or stand in designated spots.  “Call ducks can see color very well,” says Sipe, “and our training teaches them to move toward a specific color.  This is useful when the animals must move indoors due to weather or for medical checkups.  The ducks can choose to move into a crate and would not need to be chased or handled.”

The three male ducks, named Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard after a popular T.V. show, eagerly waddle toward their zoo keeper when it’s time for a training session.  “I’m proud of how well these three boys are doing,” says Sipe of the trio’s training efforts, “they are very good at targeting their own colors.”

The zoo employs positive reinforcement when training animals.  With positive reinforcement, zoo keepers offer a reward when an animal performs a desired behavior.  The call ducks receive a reward when they move to a desired location or target their assigned color with their beaks.

Their reward is simple but effective.  “I give them one green pea or a piece of corn when they perform a desired behavior,” says Sipe, “Those are the treats that motivate them.”

This video shows Sipe training Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard in their exhibit while zoo guests observed from the path:

The following photo set is from a recent indoor training session.  (The ducks live indoors when the weather gets cold.)  Click on the photos to enlarge:

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.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

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.

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.)

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:

sheep|fort wayne zoo

Mother and Son Makeovers

Roxanne and Jerry (the mother-son sheep duo at the Indiana Family Farm) are sporting new looks this month.  Each is about five pounds lighter and probably feeling much cooler after their routine shearing on August 28.

Shearing is a twice-yearly event at the zoo and requires two zoo keepers.  This time around, keepers Heather Schuh and Laura Sievers did the honors.

This video shows the shearing process:

The wool is donated to local artisans who spin it into yarn.

Click to enlarge Roxanne’s and Jerry’s before-and-after photos:

 

bee on flower

2, 4, 6, 8, We Can Help Them Pollinate!

Why are we cheering for pollinators?  Because their work is important to our environment! Pollination is an essential step in the life cycle of many flowering and cone-bearing plants (not just the kinds that look pretty, the kinds we eat as well).

Here are some of the things the zoo is doing to help the pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds, and more) that help to sustain our food chain:

Pollinator Gardens

The proper term for the pollinator gardens at the zoo is “Monarch Waystations,” and we have two of them.  One is located at the Indiana Family Farm and the other is on the hill that runs parallel to the Sky Safari ride in the African Journey.  Gardens like these can look a little rough in their early years, but once established they bear flowers yearly and require minimal upkeep.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann is part of a team of zoo staff and volunteers working to expand the Monarch Waystations and keep them flourishing.  Messman offers some suggestions regarding pollinator-friendly plants, “There are many species of native plants you could put in a pollinator garden.  Some of the plants we have at the Indiana Family Farm are goldenrod, milkweed, and bee balm.  They’re all different colors.”

Messmann explains that a healthy garden is one that can sustain various forms of life, “If you look close you can see a little ecosystem develop.  Aphids live on the plants, insects eat the aphids.  Sometimes the inside of the stem is a place where insects can develop.  The garden becomes self-sustainable.”

And a sustainable garden is the kind of place where monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators flourish.  Here are photos of some of the plants in the zoo’s Monarch Waystations.  Click on the photos to enlarge, and consider including some pollinator-friendly plants in your next gardening project:

Bee Keeping

There’s a beehive at the zoo, and it’s a unique one.  Our hive has clear sides, so guests can have a look inside at the bees’ hard work.  Bees pollinate a variety of plants, including many of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts we eat.  The next time you eat apples, broccoli, or almonds, thank a bee!  If you’d like to learn more about bee keeping, visit the American Beekeeping Federation website.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Education

In the summer of 2015, the zoo devoted an entire day to pollinator education at our What’s The Buzz event.  Zoo guests learned about the importance of pollinators like bees and butterflies.  Kids participated in several event stations, and even built “beehives” from re-used materials to learn how bees work together.  Education helps us understand pollinators and the critical role they play in the food chain.  We’re all in this together!

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!

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!