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.
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)
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 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.
Sumatran Tiger – 93,378 votes – Winner!
Giraffe – 88,345 votes
Hellbender – 64,212 votes
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.
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:
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:
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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!
No summer vacation is complete without a trip to the zoo! Here are nine tips for making the most of your zoo visit:
#1 – Catch a FREE sea lion show. They happen at Sea Lion Beach every day at 11AM and 3PM.
#2 – Buy a ride pass. You’ll get 12 rides for the price of 10…and don’t worry if you don’t use all 12 in one day. Ride passes never expire!
#3 – Visit our newest babies. Asmara the baby Sumatran orangutan lives in the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest and there’s a new colobus monkey baby in the African Journey. Our kangaroo mob has a new joey that just started venturing out of the pouch.
#4 – Feed a giraffe. You can buy a piece of lettuce at the giraffe platform for 1 token ($1). One of our friendly giraffes might come up and eat it right out of your hand!
#5 – Turn your zoo trip into a learning experience. Visit the For Educators page on our website for ideas and resources.
#6 – Chat with a volunteer. Our amazing volunteers love talking with guests and sharing their passion for animals and education. Zoo volunteers are easy to spot – they wear bright red shirts with the zoo logo.
#7 – Make a friend at the Indiana Family Farm. You’re allowed to pet many of the animals in the barn, including goats, sheep, and donkeys. Ask a zoo keeper or volunteer for help if you’re not sure how to approach an animal. They’re there to help.
#8 – Try some new fare. You’ll find lots of new menu items at our remodeled concession stands.