Hello, Goodbye: Red Panda Update

Big changes are happening at the red panda exhibit.  We’re saying goodbye to two old friends, hello to a new one, and maybe preparing for a new arrival.

Zoo fans got to know Maliha the red panda cub in 2014.  Maliha was born to mother Xiao and father Junji on June 9.  A team of zoo keepers and veterinarian staff monitored the little cub closely for the first few months, while the path to her exhibit remained closed in an effort to minimize disturbances.  Near the end of the 2014 season, Maliha did venture out into her exhibit and zoo guests had a chance to meet her before we closed in October.

Zoo staff is happy to report that Maliha is still thriving and that the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has received a new breeding recommendation for Xiao!

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.

What does all of this mean for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo?  First, it means that a new male red panda has come to Fort Wayne.  His name is Mars and he’s currently getting acquainted with his new mate, Xiao.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Second, male red panda Junji has been called to relocate to Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville.  There is a breeding recommendation in place for Junji and his new mate, Celeste.

Finally, the SSP has recommended relocation for Maliha, which will likely occur in early April, 2015.  Maliha’s new home will be Potter Park Zoo in Lansing Michigan. Red pandas reach sexual maturity at approximately 1 year, 7 months of age, which means Maliha will not be ready to breed until 2016.

In the meantime, Maliha will continue living at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo with her mom Xiao and new friend Mars.  Mars met both females on February 3 and the introductions have gone smoothly.

With all going according to plan, can zoo fans expect panda babies in 2015?  Probably not, but it’s not out of the question.  Area manager Shelly Scherer explains, “Red panda breeding season is January through February.  We are not too optimistic that we will have cubs this summer; however since their breeding season does run until the end of February, there still is a chance.”

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Though red pandas share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related.  The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Credit to zoo keeper Helena Lacey for Mars photo.

zoo keepers in snow

Zoo Keepers Turn Snow into Fun

This week’s snowfall is creating big fun for zoo keepers and animals.  The extra clean-up is all in a day’s work, and zoo keepers welcomed the challenge with a fun and enriching attitude.

“We shoveled snow off the top of the lynx exhibit yesterday.  It was cold and the snow was heavy but Ashley [Hubbard] and I enjoyed the work,” said zoo keeper Rachel Purcell after spending Monday morning heaving loads of snow in below-freezing weather.  It was important that zoo keepers inspect the safety of all animal exhibits after Sunday night’s record snowfall, and ensure that the structures were sound.

Once the animals’ safety was in check, it was time to have a little fun with the 10+ inches of snow that nature sent our way.  Animal enrichment happens every day at the zoo, and snow provides unique opportunities for enrichment that aren’t available during the warmer months..  Animal enrichment means “providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal.”

For the goats in the Indiana Family Farm, enrichment usually involves a snack.  Each time it snows, and when the weather is above 15 degrees, zoo keepers Heather Schuh and Kylie Kuchinsky let the goats outside for a taste of mother nature’s frozen treat.  “Yesterday we built them a snowman with food in it,” states Kuchinsky.  “They especially like molasses.”

For some zoo animals, it’s too cold to go outside during the winter months.  The Javan gibbons in the Indonesian Rainforest stay indoors in their behind-the-scenes area when the weather gets chilly, but that doesn’t mean they’re left out of the fun.  Zoo keeper Taylor Muzzillo brought the outdoors in this week when he offered the gibbons fresh snow flavored with sugar free drink mix.

Muzzillo loaded a large bucket with snow and brought it indoors.  He then built small enrichment stations in different places around the gibbons’ behind-the-scenes area.  The enrichment Muzzillo provided fell into three categories: textural, edible, and sensory – all of which provide stimulation for the animals.

“They like their snow,” stated Muzzillo.  “As soon as I open the door they all come swinging in.”

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Meet Madi the Mini-Me Lemur

Madi the ring-tailed lemur is now six weeks old and looks like a mini-me version of her mother.  Born to first-time parents Ombe and Kyna, baby Madi is doing well and growing larger and more independent each day.

“Madi is starting to move off of mom and showing interest in the things around her,” stated zoo keeper Helena Lacey.  “She’s doing great and hitting all the milestones that she should.”

An upcoming milestone is weaning from mother’s milk to solid food.  Lacey says that while zoo keepers haven’t observed Madi eating any solid food, the interest is there.  “We haven’t seen her eat anything yet but she has been reaching for the objects around her, including food.”  Lemurs munch on fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, grass, and tree sap.  The zoo’s lemurs also get corn on the cob as part of their diet.

The zoo announced Madi’s arrival on October 1.  Madi has already attracted national attention as a featured ZooBorns animal.

Madi is short for Madagascar, the home of endangered ring-tailed lemurs in the wild.

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pig with pumpkin

Got Pumpkins?

Got Pumpkins?  We do!  It’s that time of year again, when pumpkins and gourds take over the zoo’s landscape.  They’re festive and provide the perfect backdrop for our annual Wild Zoo Halloween event, but our sea of squash is more than just décor.  The pumpkins we stock also provide enrichment for the zoo’s animals.

Lemurs, red pandas, and pigs are among the many animals at the zoo who have “pumpkin playtime” on their enrichment calendars.  Each animal approaches the Fall treat in a different way.

Lemurs lick honey and raisins off the outside of the pumpkins.  (We can thank their zoo keepers for the five-star dinner presentation.)  Red pandas forage inside pumpkins, but not for the seeds.  Instead, zoo keepers fill the pandas’ pumpkins with their preferred diet of bamboo.  The zoo’s pigs approach the filled pumpkins in a different way, treating each one like an “edible bowl”.

Animal enrichment is a daily event at the zoo with a variety of activities tailored to each animal’s needs.  This time of year, pumpkins are aplenty and provide a seasonal twist for zoo animals.

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Zoo Baby Announcement!

It’s a girl!  Madi the ring-tailed lemur was born to mother Kyna and father Ombe on September 22.  The baby is doing well and will be on exhibit for the rest of the season, weather permitting.

You may think most animal babies are born in the spring, but lemurs are typically born in the fall.  Their breeding season occurs in April and gestation lasts 4-5 months.  Ring-tailed lemurs are born with lots of hair and with eyes wide open. At first, the baby clings to its mother’s chest, but later it will ride on her back.  The young are independent after six months.

You can help support the care of Madi and other zoo animals by adopting a lemur.  (Classic animal adoptions are only $35!)

Madi is short for “Madagascar,” the home of ring-tailed lemurs in the wild.  Less than 10% of Madagascar’s forest cover remains and due to this drastic loss of habitat, ring-tailed lemurs are an endangered species.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

north american river otters

Our Otter Has a BFF (Best Furry Friend)

Everybody needs a friend, and Warrick, our lone North American river otter, has a new one! Kramer, a young male otter, recently joined Warrick in the exhibit.

Warrick had been alone since Heather, the zoo’s female river otter, passed away last spring. Zoo staff immediately began searching for a companion for Warrick and found Kramer, an active and energetic otter who was being relocated from Louisiana.

Kramer and Warrick hit it off during their introduction period, and have become faithful companions.  According to zoo keeper Samantha Emberton, “Warrick and Kramer are very active together.  Kramer is a lot younger and he keeps Warrick moving.  We’ve also noticed Kramer picking up some of Warrick’s habits, like stuffing all of his biscuits into his mouth at the same time.”

The two otters are quickly becoming a favorite among zoo guests.  “They cuddle and play and swim together,” states Emberton.  “They’re good buddies.”

Otters were once extirpated (locally extinct) in Indiana, but were reintroduced here in the 1990s.  They are now present in several waterways in our state.

Zoo guests can visit Kramer and Warrick until the zoo closes for the season on October 12 and during the Wild Zoo Halloween, weather permitting.

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Panda Cub’s Baby Book

Maliha the red panda is 14 weeks old now and spends a lot of time outside of her nest, but it wasn’t long ago that zoo guests wondered if they’d ever get a look at the adorable cub.  As expected, it took about three months for Maliha to venture outside on her own and begin exploring her surroundings (video and photos below).

 

International Red Panda Day is this Saturday, and Zoo staff put together a Baby Book to commemorate the endangered cub’s first three months of life.   Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

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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.

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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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Sea lions 107 pxl

How Does a Sea Lion Get to the Dentist?

How does a sea lion get to the dentist?  That’s a trick question.  Sea lions don’t go to the dentist – the dentist comes to them!  Or, in this case, the zoo’s veterinary intern, Dr. Kami Fox makes the “house call.”  Dr. Fox recently performed a dental exam on Fishbone, an thirteen-year-old sea lion at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

“Training with Fishbone has gone very smoothly and she’s very eager to work,” states Dr. Fox.

dental exam sea lionZoo keepers regularly look into the sea lions’ mouths, but the team wanted to employ x-rays to spot potential tooth problems before they become serious. To take x-rays, though, the keepers needed to prepare the animals through training that involved operant conditioning.   Zoo keeper Rachel Purcell began by training Fishbone to become comfortable with the x-ray plate in her mouth.  “I started by putting a small x-ray plate on a tongue depressor and getting her used to me situating it around in her mouth.  After she was doing well with that, Dr. Fox started visiting with the hand-held x-ray machine,” she said.

Purcell describes the sea lion’s reaction to the new procedure, “Fishbone wasn’t quite sure what to think of it at first, especially when it was touching her whiskers, but she soon got used to it.”

Dr. Fox noted that Fishbone’s mouth is generally healthy and she did not order any treatment at this time.  She did indicate some areas of concern that zoo keepers and vet staff will continue to monitor.

Dr. Fox explains the benefit of preventive exams, “Now that we know there are abnormalities associated with several of her teeth, we can continue to monitor her closely with oral exams and periodic radiographs.  If any changes occur, we are now better prepared for the necessary dental work.  This has been a prime example of how behavior training assists us with preventative medicine so that we can be proactive and provide the best possible care for our animals.”

(Click on the photos to enlarge.)