Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

If you were at the Zoo last Saturday, you probably saw lots of animals with pumpkins in their exhibits. While this is adorable in itself, there is a purpose for the pumpkins besides just providing cute photos! Pumpkins were actually given as a form of enrichment, which are activities or challenges we give our animals to encourage behaviors they would naturally exhibit in the wild. Animals all over the Zoo were given pumpkins filled with treats or other Halloween-themed enrichment, all aimed to encourage their natural behaviors and allow keepers to educate guests about the enrichment process.

This year, Britni Plummer (Zoo Keeper, Aquatics) helped to provide enrichment for many of our animals. Every animal receives something different, depending on their individual needs. For instance, the dingoes were given ghosts and pumpkins to encourage their hunting instincts, and our red pandas received bamboo-stuffed pumpkins to encourage foraging. “For penguins, keepers made hanging bats out of cardboard and paper towels. This was to encourage their natural curiosity and chasing behaviors. They were a little skeptical at first, but they love to peck at and chase things that swing and move. With our sea lions, we wanted to encourage a natural foraging behavior so we hid frozen fish inside of small pumpkins. The sea lions had to push the pumpkins around or toss them in the air in order to get the fish out.” While sea lions don’t encounter pumpkins in the wild, this gave them a challenge and forced them to think creatively to get to their fish!

While we offer enrichment throughout the entire year, it’s always fun to do themed enrichment around the holidays for both the animals and the keepers (a little zookeeper enrichment, if you will). After all, who doesn’t love pumpkins?

Check out our animals receiving their pumpkin enrichment this year:

 

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!

Pig School

Elvis and Pugsley may be known for their good looks, but did you know that they’re smart, too?  The zoo’s Kunekune pigs are already intelligent animals, and now they’re going to school!

Their school is the barnyard and their teachers are zoo keepers.

Zoo keeper Heather Schuh and section supervisor Laura Sievers train Elvis and Pugsley almost every morning.  Schuh and Sievers begin each training session by greeting the animals and inviting them to participate.  If the animals choose to train that day, keepers offer treats each time an animal performs a desired behavior (like sitting, turning, or moving indoors).  The pigs’ treat is a piece of carrot, which serves as positive reinforcement for the animals.  Keepers also follow the desired behavior with a secondary form of reinforcement, like a quiet whistle.

Why train pigs?  Behavior management coordinator Holly Walsh explains the benefits, “Training gives the animals a choice to participate, thereby reducing stress for both the animals and their keepers.  Training also encourages animals to cooperate in their daily routines and also their veterinary care.” Elvis and Pugsley are learning three behaviors that will help with future vet exams:  sit, turn, and hold still. “We use positive reinforcement to teach the animals how to participate in their own care,” says Walsh. 

Animal training sessions happen every day at the zoo, and they’re fun to watch!  Stop by the Indiana Family Farm on your next zoo trip and ask a keeper if any of the animals are training that day.  You might get to watch the pigs go to school.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

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:

See a Baby Orangutan’s First Birthday Party

Zoo keepers had a birthday party for Asmara the baby orangutan and her “auntie” Melati this week.  Thirty years separate the two (Asmara turned 1 on Nov. 22 and Melati turned 31 on Nov. 19) but we think an orangutan is never too young or too old to be celebrated!

The party began when Asmara went into her exhibit with mom Tara.  They ignored the wrapped “gifts” that keepers had placed in the exhibit, instead opting to climb way up to the skylights.

When male orangutan Tengku joined the party, he swung skillfully to the back wall to taste the “Happy Birthday” message keepers had written in flour paste.  Next, he snatched up several gifts and began tearing them open to discover the treats that keepers had hidden inside.

What was Asmara’s favorite gift?  A nearly-empty jar of peanut butter.  The little one watched intently as Tara scraped out the tasty treat.  At one point, Asmara tried unsuccessfully to put her head in the jar!

Want to give baby Asmara the best birthday gift ever?  Adopt an orangutan at the zoo.  Your unrestricted gift will help us pay for Asmara’s food and care for one whole year!

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Animal babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

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:

 

Shark School

“They’re not just mindless eating machines.”  That’s what zoo aquarist Gary Stoops hopes guests will learn when they visit the zoo’s five new sharks and observe them swimming alongside the 2,000 pilchards that share their tank.

The Reef in the zoo’s renovated Australian Adventure is now home to four blacktip reef sharks and one zebra shark.  Although sharks are predators, they don’t feed constantly (not even in the wild), and they’re generally disinterested in the pilchards that share their 50,000-gallon saltwater tank.

Pilchards are schooling fish, so to the sharks they appear as one large organism.  While the sharks sometimes swim through the middle of the school, they usually swim around the large mass of pilchards while navigating the tank.

Stoops refers to the balance between sharks and pilchards as “equilibrium,” but states that the sharks may occasionally try to eat the weakest member of the school.  However, aquarists and zoo keepers feed the sharks often, decreasing the likelihood of predatory encounters.

Zoo keeper Kevan Mensch helps feed and train the sharks.  According to Mensch, “We’re using operant conditioning to train the sharks to eat at different ends of the tank, so they won’t compete for food.”  Zoo keepers also measure and record the amount of food sharks eat to ensure that every animal is consuming enough to stay full.

To date, all three species of fish in the shark tank (blacktip reef shark, zebra shark, and pilchard) are coexisting peacefully.  Stop by The Reef in the Australian Adventure to see them up-close!

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

 

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!

broom and drill with watermark

Spring Cleaning, Zoo-Style

If you think spring cleaning your house is a chore, consider spring cleaning the entire zoo!  As we count down to Opening Day on April 25, our staff is busy all over our 40 acre property.  Here are some of the items we’ll be checking off our list:

  • Drain and power-wash Sea Lion Beach
  • Vacuum and scrub the penguin grottos
  • Cut and hang tree limbs to use as perches in exhibits
  • Sweep all walkways and guest areas
  • Plant flowers and beautify landscaping
  • Install new exhibit signage
  • Update concession stand signage (Look for new menu items this year!)
  • Paint, paint, paint
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch

…And this list is certainly NOT exhaustive!  Zoo director Jim Anderson expresses his appreciation for all the work that goes into Opening Day, “Our staff works very hard to leave no stone unturned in the weeks preceding zoo opening.  We all want to deliver a perfect experience to zoo guests.  Thousands of details add up to one impressive finished product!”

We look forward to sharing the zoo with you in 2015.

 

Click on the photos to enlarge: