The Private Life of Hornbills

Here at The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo we have a pair of Wrinkled Hornbills (Aceros corrugatus), Bayu (Bye-you) and Ayu (Aye-you). Bayu, which means “the wind” in Indonesian, is our 16 year old male and Ayu, meaning “beautiful,” is our 13 year old female. You can tell them apart based on their size and coloration; males are larger and have bright yellow and red heads and beaks while the females are smaller and darker in color.

If you visited our Zoo this summer, it might have looked like there was only one bird in the Wrinkled Hornbill exhibit. But fear not; our female, Ayu, had a very busy summer sealing herself into her nest box. During nesting season, the female will seal herself inside of the nest box using wood shavings, sticky food, and feces. We made sure that the pair was provided with all the things that they need to be successful, such as adding foods like figs and boiled sweet potatoes to their diets to help them seal up the opening. Ayu worked on and off sealing the nest box for a couple of days before sealing herself in fully. She does not leave the nest box until the nesting process is over, but she leaves a very small opening so that Bayu can feed her.

The last time that Ayu was seen outside of the nest box was July 16th. Once inside and sealed, females can lay between one to three eggs and will incubate them for about 28 days until they hatch. They then remain inside the nest box with the chicks until they are strong enough to emerge. This could take another 60 to 80 days! That means females stay inside their nest box for a total of around 90 days and throughout all this time the male is focused on feeding everyone in the nest box and protecting them from predators.

On August 24th, a keeper heard a small vocalization that could have been a chick. At that point, Ayu had been in the nest box for 39 days. It was confirmed in the following days that there was a chick that had hatched!  We helped determine that a chick had hatched based on what foods Bayu was picking to feed Ayu. Chicks are usually fed higher protein items when they are young and when Bayu immediately started feeding Ayu mealworms and crickets we were pretty confident that we had a hornbill chick.

Based on our timeline, we hoped that Ayu and the chick would break out of the nest box before the end of the season. Wrinkled Hornbills are native to Indonesia, and are very sensitive to the cold Indiana temperatures. As the temperatures started dropping, we began to worry about Bayu. Since he had to stay outside to feed Ayu, he was especially susceptible to the weather. After conferring with vet staff and keepers, it was finally decided to move the nest box (with the chick and mom still sealed tightly inside) indoors for the winter. It was quite the process, but our team was able to safely relocate the heavy box inside so that the hornbills could be warm for the winter and emerge from the nest box when they were ready.

The 90 day mark came and went and still the chick and its mother did not emerge. Finally, on the 123rd day of the female’s nesting process, our animal care team decided to break the seal and see if the birds would break out. Once that seal was broken, Ayu and the chick emerged within minutes! At this point, the chick was 84 days old. After the neonatal physical a few days later, it was determined that the chick was a female, and was given the name Nuri, which means “colorful bird.”

Though it was a long and tedious process to produce a single chick, it was well worth it. In fact, our chick Nuri was one of only two Wrinkled Hornbill chicks to successfully hatch this year in any zoo! This represents a huge achievement for their species, whose population is suffering in the wild. Because of our animal care team’s hard work, we are excited that we have made steps toward saving this endangered bird.

Look at those eyelashes!

 

Written by: Tiffany Jones and Brianna Crane: Zoo Keepers, Indonesian Rain Forest

Helping the Hellbenders

Snot otter. Lasagna lizard. Devil dog. Hellbender. Whichever common name is used to describe North America’s largest salamander, unpleasant images come to mind.

Photo by David Herasimtschuk

Most people have never heard of hellbenders- until I started working at the Zoo, I hadn’t either. This is probably because despite once being widespread across the Midwest, habitat loss and decreased water quality have driven the salamanders’ population down significantly. Less than a few hundred are left in the wild, and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has partnered with Purdue University and Help the Hellbender to help save them.

While some people might not think that saving giant salamanders is an important cause, the hellbenders are an indicator species, which means they help indicate the state of their ecosystem. Hellbenders actually absorb oxygen directly out of the water through its skin and into its lungs. Because they are sensitive to pollution and sediment in the water, they are biological indicators of water quality.

For the past four years, our staff has helped to “head-start” approximately 60 hellbenders. Because they face so many challenges and have a low chance of survival if they are left to hatch in the river on their own, we raise them from a young age until they are big enough to return to the river. By doing this, we hope to reduce the chances of them being eaten by their many natural predators.

One of our growing hellbenders

Once the hellbenders are big enough (usually around 4 years old), we take them to the river and release them! Although this may sound easy, there’s a catch: there is currently only a single river in Indiana that is suitable for hellbenders to survive. That means only one river in the entire state is clean enough for them to thrive in. And that river happens to be four hours away from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Despite this, on November 1st three Zoo employees bundled up and made the long drive south to help release hellbenders into the Blue River.

This day was years in the making, and was extra special as it marked the very first release ever done with eggs found in the Blue River. Even though it was 45 degrees and pouring down rain, everyone was so excited to be a part of such a monumental step toward saving the hellbenders that we didn’t mind (that much). It was a motley group of people that arrived at the muddy riverbank to help with the release; some zoo keepers, several Purdue students, our veterinarian Dr. Kami Fox, Dave Messmann, our resident hellbender expert, and myself, the Social Media Coordinator (it was clear immediately that I was out of my element as we trudged through the mud down to the river and proceeded to wade into the thigh-deep cold river and I attempted to not drop the camera into the fast-moving current).

This was a “soft release,” which means that we placed the hellbenders into large underwater mesh cages to give them some time to acclimate to the flow of the river and the water before being fully released in a few days. Nick Burgmeier, one of the Purdue hellbender experts and our fearless leader for the day, had the pleasure of being fully submerged in the river to place the salamanders in their new home. Everyone managed to get water into their waders, except Dave Messmann, who decided to forgo waders and just wear his clothes into the river, and we were all freezing and completely covered in mud. But nobody was there for the glamour! We all did it for the common goal of helping the hellbenders. Dave, who has helped spearhead this entire project, said that his favorite things about being involved with the hellbenders include the releases, which will “hopefully help this species in the wild, learning their behavior and water quality in an aquarium setting, and working as a team to help keep the hellbenders healthy.”

Our very own Dr. Kami releasing a hellbender! Her favorite part about this project is that it’s “collaborative between multiple types of institutions including a university like Purdue, the DNR, and multiple zoos.  It demonstrates how we all need to work together as partners to save our native wildlife and habitats.”

By the end of the day, 40 hellbenders were released back into the river that they came from, which was a huge accomplishment! Everyone got to release one, and after seeing them up close even I had to admit these “devil dogs” are pretty cute. Each hellbender released was equipped with a radio transmitter, so that we can collect future data on the hellbenders’ whereabouts and survival success. Next year, the hellbenders we have been raising will likely be ready for release, and we will be able to repeat the process with the salamanders we have been working with for over three years.

There are a couple of subspecies of hellbenders (we have Easterns), but all of them are suffering. Even though the hellbenders aren’t something you can see on exhibit at our Zoo, it’s an important project. Employees like Dave have dedicated countless hours to ensure that our hellbenders are cared for properly so that one day we can rebuild a strong population in the wild.

Not everyone can go wade in a river and help release them like we did, but you can do something. Check out helpthehellbender.org to learn more about this amazing project and find out how you can help the hellbenders too!

 

Even though it was raining, it was still beautiful!

 

Dave’s poncho might have saved him from the rain, but not the freezing cold river he was wading in!

 

It takes a village for a successful hellbender release!

 

They may be squirmy and slimy, but hellbenders are also cute!

Written by Sarah Dove

Wet, Wild, and Rare- Helping Conserve Local Habitat

When you visit the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and cast your vote at the Kids4Nature Kiosk or round up your total at the Wild Things Gift Shop, you’re helping to protect local habitat with ACRES Land Trust. Most recently, your support helped conserve and study Quog Lake, a local, wild and rare quaking bog that is part of an incredible wetland complex in LaGrange County.

Over the past few years, through the Kids4Nature and “round up” programs, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo visitors have contributed $13,500 toward the preservation and study of this 807-acre LaGrange County wetland complex, protected in part by ACRES Land Trust. State-endangered Marsh Wrens and Massasauga rattlesnakes call this secluded wildlife habitat home. Recent bird surveys document 75 bird species in the area; notable species include Veery, Northern Water thrush and a bouquet of warbler species including a Cerulean Warbler.

Your contributions at the Zoo have supported two exciting ACRES preserves within the complex:

  • Marsh Wren Nature Preserve, a 50-acre high-quality wetland preserve. Zoo funding created and launched ACRES’ preserve management plan to remove invasive non-native plants and restore critical natural habitat.
  • Quog Lake, a 126-acre wetland preserve that protects one of a few remaining quaking bogs in the state. A quaking bog – the origin of Quog Lake’s name – describes a floating mat of sphagnum moss along the shore of the lake.

Zoo funding helped ACRES purchase this land for permanent protection and conduct a plant inventory. Plant life at the preserve includes carnivorous pitcher plants and sundew in great abundance.

Did you know that Zookeepers and staff partner with ACRES, too? This spring, a team of eleven bird-brained zookeepers volunteered to count birds for ACRES’ inaugural Bird Blitz event. ACRES’ Bird Blitz welcomed 76 total bird blitzers, who visited 35 ACRES properties, counting 89 species of birds. Their work helped ACRES understand and communicate the value of protecting habitat. These results will be recorded on ebird.org, an online citizen science birding database developed and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.

Thank you for helping protect habitat for local animals when you visit the Zoo. Happy trails!

 

 

 

Quog Lake nature preserve’s floating sphagnum moss mat is thin in areas and contains holes throughout, making a trail for visitors to view the bog impossible. The preserve is closed to the public, but will be open for ACRES members 6 am, Saturday, November 11 for a guided waterfowl viewing event. For more event information, visit: acreslandtrust.org/participate/events.

Submitted by Lettie Haver, Outreach Manager for the ACRES Land Trust.

Zoo Welcomes New “Little” Girl

On the morning of Sunday, August 6th, our giraffe keepers walked into the barn to find a big surprise. Zahra, our expectant mother giraffe, was in labor!

When keepers arrived for their morning shift at 7 AM, Zahra had already gone into active labor, and after a few more hours of pushing, we welcomed a beautiful new female giraffe calf into our zoo family at 9:28 AM! Giraffes give birth standing up, so the baby had a long way to the ground. As the largest living land animal, it’s no surprise that giraffes give birth to large babies- and though our new calf is on the smaller side by giraffe standards, she still weighed 172 pounds and was over 6’1″ tall at birth- that’s one big newborn! She’s growing quickly too- at a week and a half old, keepers estimate her to be 6’3″ now, and is gaining weight right on pace.

Just minutes after she was born.

Just thirty minutes after birth, the new calf learned to stand, and was aptly given the name Kita, which means “to stand firm” in Swahili. Calves must learn to stand quickly so that they can immediately begin nursing, which is what Kita did shortly after standing.

The next day, it was time for Kita’s neonatal exam. At first, she vocalized at the vet staff and ran away! They were finally able to hold her so that the vet could perform a thorough exam, take some blood samples, and make sure she was healthy. “I think she was a little mad at us for a day or two,” said giraffe keeper Aimee after the exam, “but she is now back to readily giving kisses!” None of the tests revealed any concerns, and Kita is a very healthy little girl.

As for the rest of our giraffes- they are simply fascinated with the newest addition to their family. The younger girls, Mystic, Luna, and Faye, rush over to check on Kita as soon as they come inside the barn after being out in their exhibit all day, and her dad and grandparents love interacting with her. She can touch and smell the other giraffes next to her, but does not share a space with them quite yet. As they all get used to each other, she will be introduced to the other giraffes in a shared space, starting with her Grandma Zuri. She already has formed a strong bond with Grandma, who likes to stick close by and watch over Zahra and the new baby.

Though Mom lets her little one have fun, she is also extremely protective of her. Kita is Zahra’s second calf with Ezeji, and keepers say that she seems more prepared this time around. Zahra is very wary of new visitors in the giraffe barn, and Kita takes her cues on what to do from Mom.

Kisses from Mom!

Now over a week old, Kita’s personality is beginning to shine through. She is very curious, and is beginning to show a feisty streak! Keepers say she has started to demonstrate a “sassy personality, and is very similar to how her mother was at that age.” Aimee also reports that though she still naps a lot, like most babies, she often “fights sleepiness because there is so much cool stuff going on in the giraffe barn! Right now, her favorite game is running circles around Mom.” As Kita grows and begins to interact more with the other giraffes, her personality will continue to develop, though her keepers say that she is already more feisty than her brother Kiango was!

Kita also loves her keepers already- she interacts with them regularly and likes to watch them work. They discovered that she enjoys their auto waterers, and loves to splash the water up in the air!

In addition to adding more fun and cuteness to our giraffe herd, this new baby also serves as an ambassador for the declining giraffe populations in the wild. Giraffes are considered to be a “vulnerable” species due to habitat loss and human population growth and illegal hunting. Once widespread across southern and eastern Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36 to 40 percent decline in the giraffe population. Our partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation helps to support giraffe research and implement plans to save them. You can help by visiting our giraffe platform and by supporting the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Despite being the size of a full-grown human, Kita acts just like any other baby would, and spends her days napping, playing with mom, and exploring her new world. Although it will be a few weeks before Kita is able to be introduced to the public, we can’t wait for you all to meet her!

Here she is on August 17th looking adorable as ever!

 

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.