Waddling Away With Our Hearts Part 2

After reading our first penguin post, you may think you’re an expert on our tuxedo-wearing birds. Well, you may be, but we’ve got even more fun facts about the lovable creatures.

A more commonly known fact about penguins may be this: our African penguins are known as “jackass penguins” due to the braying noise they make. You may have heard their donkey-like screeches when you visit their exhibit at the zoo, but there are a lot of other noises and behaviors they display that are important to their communication. For instance, one of the most popular displays is known as the vibrating head shake, which is where the bird bows the head, brings the bill close to the body, directed downwards and vibrates head from side to side. This can be used as a greeting between two penguins or as a courtship display between two potential mates.

Another important behavior is the “ecstatic” display, which is used as a territorial gesture between males to advertise ownership and availability for pairing by performing this display. The bird stands erect and slowly, deliberately, stretches his head and bill skywards, bill opening as head is raised, flippers raised until nearly horizontal. Breast and base of throat heave silently, then develop into throbs, then full braying with head thrown back, bill wide open, flippers beating back and forth in time with breast heaving. The display may last for up to a minute and the period of the display may last an hour or more with 12 or more displays in succession. The ecstatic display can also be made by mated males alone or in the company of their mate, and after an encounter with neighbor or rival on site. Braying and hissing can also be used by juveniles toward adult birds to communicate various things.

Since our penguins are extremely social birds, they usually stay very close together. Although one may wander a little farther away to explore a new part of the exhibit, they usually come back to the main group very quickly! Even in the wild, African penguins form large colonies on land to reproduce, molt, and rest together.

Although panting and using their special glands above their eyes helps them to cool down, sometimes our penguins like to take a good ole’ fashioned swim to beat the heat. In the wild, African penguins spend most of their time in the water foraging for food, but also use the cool water to bathe and cool down in! In the zoo, our penguins don’t have to hunt for their food, but you can often find them swimming laps just because they enjoy the water so much.

Besides being cute and interesting, our African penguins also love to have fun! Although they are often found burrowing with their mates in the shade near the back of their exhibit, they also love to chase things. Sometimes you can see them waddling quickly, trying to catch flying insects! In fact, they all love doing this so much that one of their enrichment activities involves blowing bubbles and encouraging the penguins to chase them throughout their exhibit. Spend some extra time near their exhibit and see if you can catch them in the act displaying any of these cute behaviors!

The #InvestInTheNest campaign that we have partnered with for the past month has seen amazing success! Although the original goal was to reach $150,000, that total was exceeded before the official end of the campaign! As of June 16, the last day to donate to the cause, the total pledged is $181,568!! We’re so grateful to everyone who donated to help save this vulnerable species. If you don’t know about the Kickstarter campaign, it was started to help raise funds to build artificial nests for the African penguins in Southern Africa. Due to over harvesting of penguin guano, which is used as fertilizer, penguins are left with nothing to build their nests with, and have to resort to building them out of trash and other less than ideal materials. This leaves the new penguin chicks vulnerable to predators. But thanks to support of people like you, we will now be able to build 2,000 hand-made nests for the penguins who so desperately need them!

We love our adorable, fun, and spunky penguin friends, and know that you do too! Donating to causes like Invest In The Nest is a great way to help this endangered species, but supporting your local zoo and all zoos and aquariums that house African penguins is another good way to help out. If you visit our zoo, be sure to stop by and see the penguins in their exhibit- but be careful, because they just might waddle away with your heart!

Wild Orangutans on vines

Trick-Or(angutan)-Treat

Humans are clearing millions of acres of rain forest in Asia, Africa, and South America every year. In Sumatra and Borneo, these forests were once home to many species, like Sumatran orangutans. Now, plantations in these countries produce the most palm oil in the world, displacing these great apes.­

Sumatra and Borneo are the only native habitats for orangutans. With the slowest reproductive rate of any mammal (six to ten years) and devastating habitat loss, the wild orangutan population has declined from 300,000 to lower than 45,000 in 14 years (1990–2004). The Sumatran orangutan species may have dropped as low as 6,600.

Plantations in Borneo and Sumatra produced more than 44 million metric tons of palm oil in 2009, and the number is rising. It is the most widely spread edible oil because it is used in thousands of products, including health care products, pet foods, and candy.

Palm oils themselves are not the problem; it is the sustainability of the product. Plantations can produce more edible oil on the same plot of land than any other oil, but some companies are choosing to destroy more forest area using wildfire techniques instead of replanting.

As we purchase candy for our upcoming Wild Zoo Halloween event, we are keeping the orangutans in mind by checking labels — and you should too! But be aware, there are more than 50 different names for palm oil on product labels. Check out this helpful sustainable palm oil candy brand guide.

For more information regarding the palm oil crisis, visit the Orangutan Conservancy website.

7,503 Guests Celebrated Giraffe Survival with Us

Giraffes in the wild begin life with a meager 8% chance of survival into adulthood.  By the age of one, that rate increases to 50%.

That’s why we threw a big party when Kiango the baby giraffe turned one, then followed with a World Giraffe Day celebration. Combined zoo attendance for both days was 7,503 guests.

The zoo’s reticulated giraffes are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild, helping us to educate guests on the difficult situation that wild giraffes face. “Many people don’t know that giraffe numbers are in decline,” says zoo keeper Aimée Nelson, “Two subspecies of giraffes are already endangered. People are calling it the ‘silent extinction’.”

Nelson was pleased with the turnout at both events, “Education is our biggest asset for preventing extinction. Giraffes can’t reverse their population decline on their own. They need our help.”

Baby giraffes are vulnerable to predators, and although their first birthday marks a milestone for their survival rate, other challenges remain. Poaching and habitat loss threaten wild giraffe populations. The zoo is committed to supporting conservation work in Africa and to educating our guests on giraffe conservation.

Why help giraffes? “Most people can’t imagine our planet without giraffes on it,” says Nelson, “There are less than 8,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild. The time to act is now.”

Here’s what you can do at home to help giraffes in the wild:

  • Visit the zoo! We commit $90,000 annually to conservation projects, including the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Your ticket or membership helps support this effort.
  • Donate your old electronics for use by field researchers. Items currently needed include GPS devices, SD cards, digital cameras, and binoculars. Contact the zoo at (260) 427-6843 for instructions on how to donate.
  • Educate yourself and your children. Our giraffe page is a great place to start!
  • Adopt a zoo giraffe. Your support helps us to care for these important ambassadors.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Zoo Vet Saves Wild Birds from Predatory Snake

Click on the Photos to See Dr. Smith’s Field Journal from the Mariana Islands:


How the Snake Became a Threat And What We’re Doing to Save the Birds:

North of Guam in the Pacific Ocean is an archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Two of those islands, Tinian and Saipan, are home to birds found nowhere else on earth. Those birds have thrived inside a utopia without natural predators. However, a new threat emerged during World War II.

The War made its way to Guam in the early 1940s and with it came boats, planes, and cargo. A stowaway species, the brown tree snake, found its way onto Guam and became established. This was a big problem for the birds of Guam, which had evolved without fear of predation. They were not adapted to defend against the invasive snake and made easy prey for the newcomer! The brown tree snake has also been sighted in the Mariana Islands.

The brown tree snake continues to threaten bird populations today. A not-for-profit group called Pacific Bird Conservation (PBC) is working to save the birds of the Mariana Islands, and they’ve enlisted the help of thought-leaders from zoos around the world.

Dr. Joe Smith, Director of Animal Programs at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, spent two weeks in the islands serving as a veterinary advisor to PBC’s Marianas Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Program. According to PBC’s website, the MAC Program “is intended to provide the avifauna of the Mariana archipelago with the best possible chances for long-term survival.*”

How does the MAC Program accomplish their goal?

“It’s a twenty-four-year plan,” says Dr. Smith, “and each year the program picks one or two bird species. We carefully capture the birds in large nets, then retain them for captive breeding or translocate them to another island in the chain where brown tree snakes are not detected.” This year, the team translocated Tinian monarchs and bridled white-eyes to the remote island of Guguan.

Why breed some bird species and translocate others?

“Some species are good candidates for captive breeding and others are not. Captive breeding has saved other birds from extinction, including the Guam rail. However, one of the species included in this year’s project was the Tinian monarch, a type of flycatcher. Flycatchers eat on the fly and it can be challenging for us to maintain them in captivity. Including translocation as a conservation strategy offers them the best chance of survival.”

The MAC Program also focused on the bridled white-eye this year. For this species, both captive breeding and translocation are being utilized as conservation strategies.

PBC set out to collect 50 birds of each species during the 2016 collection effort. A team of zoo professionals collected 102 individual birds and translocated them to a different island. The MAC Program also provides food and veterinary care for the birds until they can be released. Prior to release, each bird received a physical exam, blood collection, fecal parasite check, and unique leg bands that will allow it to be identified as an individual in the future. All told, the team spent three weeks on the islands of Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and Guguan.

The project will continue in 2017, with a focus on saving the rufous fantail and the Mariana fruit dove. Dr. Smith expects the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will continue its yearly commitment to the MAC Program. The zoo has actively participated in the MAC Program since 2014.

Why does a zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana care so much about wildlife in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Dr. Smith offers a conservationist’s perspective, “Every species has inherent value. We are all part of the same planet. Humans caused this ecological disruption, and it’s up to us to fix it.”

*(http://www.pacificbirdconservation.org/mariana-conservation-program-mac.html, accessed 5/16/16)

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:

Zoo Season Prep: Our Rain Forest Dome Got A Massive Trim

Conditions inside the zoo’s Rain Forest Dome are so good for tree growth that the forest below can get, well…overshadowed.

That’s when we bring in the chainsaws (and the professionals) to give the zoo’s rain forest trees a massive trim.

“We have to trim the trees back to allow light for the smaller plants,” says Kim Weldon, zoo gardener.  Some of the smaller plants in the rain forest include exotic orchids and also spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla.  Guests can even find bamboo growing along the path!

“Bonsai mindset” is the term Weldon uses to describe her approach to maintaining the dome’s small and mid-size plants.  “I try to keep things interesting and mix in new things every year.”  Weldon also oversees the bi-annual trimming of the larger trees that can grow as high as the top of the dome – up to 40 feet tall!

Weldon remembers bringing the large trees into the zoo when the Indonesian Rain Forest was built in 1994.  “We had to block off part of Sherman Boulevard.  That was over 20 years ago and those trees are still growing.”

Some of the tree species in the Indonesian Rain Forest are midnight horror and malay apple.

Take a moment to enjoy the exotic trees, delicate orchids, and fragrant spices on your next stroll through the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest, and remember that while the zoo’s rain forest trees are protected, wild rain forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Sustainable farming is critical to protect remaining rain forest habitat, especially in the palm oil industry.  You can make choices at home that encourage sustainable palm oil farming:  Choose products that are free of palm oil or products from companies that participate in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  Your choices can help to protect trees in the wild – It’s easier than many people expect!  Click here for a handy shopping guide.

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 nature fort wayne

We Have a Kids4Nature 2015 Winner!

Sumatran Tiger – 93,378 votes – Winner!

Giraffe – 88,345 votes

Hellbender – 64,212 votes

kids4nature_logo

How Kids4Nature Works

On every visit, guests received a recycled metal washer that represented 10 cents. Guests could then “vote” for their favorite project by dropping the washer in the wishing well.  Votes helped determine how much funding each project receives.

Additional votes could be made with real quarters, nickels, and dimes – 100% of any added contributions went toward the voted project. Total contributions were calculated from April – October.

Click on the photos to see this year’s Kids4Nature animals:

These three projects will share 50% of the zoo’s $80,000 conservation commitment in 2015, with the allocation proportional to the number of votes received.  The other 50% of Kids4Nature funds will be shared by our Conservation Partners.

The Sumatran tiger won the most votes (and a year’s worth of bragging rights for our own Indah and Bugara), but ALL of the zoo’s conservation projects win when our guests care about conservation.  Thank you to all who voted at the Kids4Nature kiosk in 2015 to show your support of wild animals and wild places.