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.

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!

Dr. Ricko Jaya and Dr. Yenny Saraswati 600pxl

Veterinarians Unite to Save Orangutans

Fort Wayne recently hosted two important conservationists: Indonesian veterinarians Yenny Saraswati and  Ricko Jaya are saving wild Sumatran orangutans with the support of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Dr. Yenny is a senior veterinarian with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), which reintroduces Sumatran orangutans into the wild after they’ve been confiscated from the pet trade.  Keeping critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as pets is illegal in Indonesia.

“We want to put wild orangutans back in the forest,” states Dr. Yenny, “but it’s not simple.  After they are rescued we have to screen for diseases and rehabilitate the dietary problems that human food has caused.”  Dr. Yenny’s visit to the United States helped her better understand advanced animal care.  “At the Fort Wayne Zoo and the Cleveland Zoo we observed medical procedures with orangutans.  These good medical practices are something we can apply to the orangutans we rehabilitate.”

Dr. Yenny is interested in animal care because the SOCP is developing an animal sanctuary called Orangutan Haven in northeastern Sumatra, which will hold Sumatran orangutans who are no longer able to thrive in the wild.

Dr. Ricko knows the plight of exploited orangutans all too well.  He is a veterinarian and rescuer with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) which responds to reports of illegally-kept orangutans and calls regarding human-orangutan conflicts.  Dr. Ricko enters potentially dangerous situations to physically remove the orangutans and literally carry the animals to safety.

“We try to mitigate conflicts between humans and orangutans with education, but sometimes the orangutans are already in need of medical treatment when we rescue them,” stated Dr. Ricko, “We work closely with SOCP to determine whether the orangutans can be released into the wild without additional human intervention.  If so, we release them into a national park.  We try to have as little human contact as possible, but sometimes medical intervention is required.”

Dr. Ricko explained that caring for captive animals differs from field work. “With wild animals, there is no medical recall.  We just have to observe and give them the care we think they need.  Seeing the treatment of captive animals has given me a new set of concerns and knowledge.”

In addition to emergency medical care and public education and outreach programs, the HOCRU works with local governments to develop stronger wildlife protection laws.

The transcontinental visit also benefited the zoo staff here.  Zoo veterinarian Joe Smith said, “Spending a month with Ricko and Yenny stimulated numerous conversations about diseases of orangutans, styles of medicine, available equipment, and even things like culture, politics, and traditions. While the main objective was for them to learn how orangutans are cared for in the United States, my staff, my family, and I probably learned just as much if not more in return.”

Click on the photos to enlarge:

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.

tasmanian devil

Tasmanian Devils Returning to Zoo

After an 11-year absence, Tasmanian devils will soon return to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo as part of an Australian program to save these unique animals from extinction.

“We are very eager to share Tasmanian devils with our fans and to participate in an important conservation effort,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was selected to receive Tasmanian devils from Australia through the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program, which is administered by the Australian government.  It is not yet known how many Tasmanian devils will come to Fort Wayne or when they will arrive.

A parasitic transmissible cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease has wiped out nearly 70% of the wild Tasmanian devil population in the past decade.  The devils slated to arrive in Fort Wayne will be disease-free and will be part of an “insurance population” for this endangered species.  This insurance population could serve as a back-up in the event that Tasmanian devils became extinct in the wild.

From 1987-2004, the zoo housed 12 Tasmanian devils, more than any other North American zoo.  One of these devils was Coolah, who was the last Tasmanian devil living anywhere in the world outside of Australia when he died in 2004.

“Our expertise with Tasmanian devils and commitment to caring for this species most likely played a role in our selection by the Australian government,” said Anderson.

The Tasmanian devils will be exhibited in the Australian Adventure, which is currently undergoing a $7 million renovation.

Native only to the Australian island of Tasmania, Tasmanian devils have long fascinated Americans, especially as the wildly spinning cartoon version “Taz” grew in popularity.  These furry black marsupials (pouched mammals) are about the size of a small raccoon.  Tasmanian devils are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

baby orangutan fort wayne zoo

Baby Orangutan Born at the Zoo

Tara, a Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, delivered a healthy female baby in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 22.

The baby is the only Sumatran orangutan born in a United States zoo in 2014, so she represents a significant addition to the population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.

“We are thrilled with the outcome so far,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon. “Tara is doing everything she should to care for her baby.”

Zoo keepers and veterinary staff expected 19-year-old Tara to give birth between mid-November and early December.  They had been watching Tara by remote camera overnight for several weeks.  When keepers observed Tara pacing late Friday in her off-exhibit bedroom, they suspected she was in labor and arrived at the zoo to monitor the birth.  Tara’s labor lasted a few hours, and she delivered her baby unassisted.

Immediately following the delivery, Tara began cleaning her infant and placed it in her nest – a pile of wood wool and blankets – where she sleeps at night.  The baby was first observed nursing Sunday morning.

No name has yet been chosen for the baby.  For now, Tara and the baby are staying in the bedrooms adjacent to the zoo’s orangutan exhibit.

Tara’s pregnancy was announced in October.  Orangutans are pregnant for an average of 245 days, or a little over eight months.  The baby’s father is Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, who arrived in Fort Wayne from Zoo Atlanta in 1995.

Zoo officials are cautiously optimistic about the baby’s future.  Because this is Tara’s first baby and she has never observed another female caring for an infant, officials were concerned that she may not know how to care for her baby.

To address any potential issues with the birth, zoo keepers spent the last several months preparing an extensive Birth Management Plan.  Prior to the birth, zoo keepers used a plush stuffed toy and operant conditioning to train Tara to bring her “baby” to keepers who could bottle-feed it if Tara failed to nurse.  Tara has also been trained to present her nipple to keepers to nurse a baby, in the event that keepers must provide daily care for the infant.

“So far, none of these measures has been needed,” said Weldon.  “Tara is proving to be a good mother.”

The breeding of Tara with Tengku was recommended by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that seeks to maintain genetic diversity within populations of endangered animals.  Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in 2013 from the Columbus Zoo.  Lori Perkins of Zoo Atlanta chairs the Orangutan SSP, and she says that only eight other orangutans have been born in United States Zoos in 2014, but all are Bornean orangutans – a separate subspecies from the Sumatran orangutans that are held at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Perkins notes that two other Sumatran orangutans are currently pregnant at other US zoos.

Zoo fans can watch for baby photos on the zoo’s Facebook and Twitter pages in the coming weeks. Zoo guests will have their first chance to see the new baby when the zoo opens for the season on April 25.  “Orangutans grow very slowly, so this baby will still be clinging to mom and learning to climb when the zoo opens in the spring,” said Weldon.  Orangutans have the longest childhood of any animal other than humans, and require maternal care until they are six to eight years old.

About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and an average of 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos.  In the wild, these red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations.  Fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild.  Some experts predict orangutans could become extinct in the wild within a few decades if circumstances remain unchanged.

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