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:

crocodile skink baby lizard zoo

Meet a Cute New Zoo Baby

The zoo’s crocodile skinks have done it again – they had another baby!  The newest member of the family is just 2 weeks old and every bit as cute as its 9-month old sibling.

Zoo keepers observed an egg back in August and began planning for a hatchling.  On November 3 the egg hatched and a healthy baby emerged.  Zoo keeper Dave Messmann offered a report on the lizard, “It was a normal hatchling and seems to be doing very well.  It eats live crickets and it’s getting bigger.”

Messmann held the baby skink to show how small it really is (see photo below.)  Although it’s still tiny, weighing no more than a few grams, the skink will increase in size significantly over the next several months.  Its older sibling has quadrupled in size since birth and the zoo’s adult crocodile skinks weigh approximately one pound each.

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

pig with pumpkin

Got Pumpkins?

Got Pumpkins?  We do!  It’s that time of year again, when pumpkins and gourds take over the zoo’s landscape.  They’re festive and provide the perfect backdrop for our annual Wild Zoo Halloween event, but our sea of squash is more than just décor.  The pumpkins we stock also provide enrichment for the zoo’s animals.

Lemurs, red pandas, and pigs are among the many animals at the zoo who have “pumpkin playtime” on their enrichment calendars.  Each animal approaches the Fall treat in a different way.

Lemurs lick honey and raisins off the outside of the pumpkins.  (We can thank their zoo keepers for the five-star dinner presentation.)  Red pandas forage inside pumpkins, but not for the seeds.  Instead, zoo keepers fill the pandas’ pumpkins with their preferred diet of bamboo.  The zoo’s pigs approach the filled pumpkins in a different way, treating each one like an “edible bowl”.

Animal enrichment is a daily event at the zoo with a variety of activities tailored to each animal’s needs.  This time of year, pumpkins are aplenty and provide a seasonal twist for zoo animals.

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Fort Wayne Children's Zoo orangutan

Tara the Orangutan is Pregnant

Tara, a Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, is expecting a baby this fall. This is the first pregnancy for 19-year-old Tara, and the baby would be the second orangutan ever born at the zoo.

“We’re excited about Tara’s pregnancy and the chance to add to the population of this critically endangered species,” says Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.

The baby is due sometime from mid-November to early December.  The father is Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, who arrived in Fort Wayne from Zoo Atlanta in 1995.  Orangutans are pregnant for an average of 245 days, or a little over eight months.

Tara came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in April 2013 from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and was introduced to Tengku and Melati, a 29-year-old female orangutan, about a month after arriving.  Zoo keepers regularly monitor Tara’s hormonal cycles and after changes were noted in her cycle this spring, zoo keepers used a human pregnancy test kit to confirm the pregnancy. (Certain brands of over-the-counter tests are known to react accurately with orangutan hormones.)

The breeding of Tara with Tengku was recommended by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that seeks to maintain genetic diversity within populations of endangered animals.  About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and only about 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos.  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.

At age 19, “Tara is the perfect age for breeding,” says Zoo Keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.   However, Tara has never given birth, nor has she lived with another female who has delivered a baby. As a result, Tara may not know how to raise an infant.  “Orangutans learn by watching others,” says Weldon.  “If Tara’s never observed maternal behavior, she may not know how to take care of a baby.”

To address any potential issues with the birth, zoo keepers have prepared an extensive Birth Management Plan.  Using a plush stuffed toy and operant conditioning, Tara has been trained to bring her “baby” to keepers who will bottle-feed it if Tara fails to nurse.  Tara has also been trained to present her nipple to keepers to nurse her baby, in the event that keepers must provide daily care for the infant.

In 2006, female orangutan Sayang delivered the first orangutan ever born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Just one hour after giving birth to a healthy male infant, Sayang collapsed and died unexpectedly from a blood clot in her lungs.

The baby, named Dumadi, was cared for around the clock by zoo keepers until he was eight months old.  He moved to Zoo Atlanta in 2007, where he was fostered by Madu, an experienced mother, and integrated in to the zoo’s orangutan group.  Orangutans have the longest childhood of any animal other than humans, and require maternal care until they are six to eight years old.

 

These Big Cats are Turning Three

Indah and Bugara, the zoo’s twin Sumatran tiger siblings, are turning three this week…but their birthdays aren’t on the same day.  Why not?

“Indah was born before midnight and Bugara was born shortly after,” explains zoo keeper Kristen Sliger.  “So even though they’re litter-mates they have different birthdays.”

The pair arrived in Fort Wayne last spring when they were still one year old.  Guests can get up close and personal with the tigers – their glass wall exhibit is designed for close (but safe) encounters.  Children can have fun playing “peek-a-boo” with Indah and Bugara when the cats venture in and out of sight near the large glass viewing area.

Guest interaction keeps the tigers active, but what happens before and after hours?  Sliger discusses some of the enrichment activities that tigers enjoy before and after they go out on exhibit.

“We spray Indah and Bugara with an all-natural fly spray every morning just after we put them out on exhibit,” states Sigler.  “They get active during and after the spray.  We think it has something to do with the mint smell and its close relation to catnip.”

Indah and Bugara eat a specially-mixed feline diet of meat and vitamins, but Sliger shares that Sunday evenings are extra-special for the pair.  “Every Sunday when they come in for the night they each get a huge bone.  It’s a cow’s femur.”

Each tiger gets its own bone to avoid any sibling rivalry.  Indah may be a little older, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to share her treats yet.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

This Animal Has 50 Babies at a Time!

If you have trouble keeping track of your kids, imagine having 50 of them at once!  That’s how many offspring the dead-leaf mantids in the Indonesian Rain Forest produce in a single batch.  These big bugs are a type of praying mantis perfectly camouflaged to look like dead leaves.

Zoo keepers are working on breeding a self-sustaining population of this species, so the 50 tiny mantids were a welcome addition.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann explains why it’s important for the zoo to breed and support its own population of dead-leaf mantids, as opposed to relying on outside sources.  “We want to sustain our population so we don’t have to have new insects shipped to us,” he said.  “If one of our populations crashes, there is no guarantee that another zoo is still exhibiting this species. Even if they do have some, they may not have any surplus animals to send us.”

Dead-leaf mantids can reproduce in two ways.  One is fertilization, when a male mantid approaches a female in the traditional mating ritual, resulting in fertilized eggs.  As with other praying mantis species, the female is larger than the male and may become aggressive shortly after mating.  Females can also reproduce via the asexual method of parthenogenesis.  This happens when the female lays unfertilized eggs that hatch into viable young.  Parthenogenesis typically results in female offspring since there is no genetic component from a male without fertilization.

mantid fort wayne zooWhether fertilization or parthenogenesis occurs, the next step is the same:  the female produces an egg case called an “ootheca” (see photo on left) in which eggs are deposited.  In the case of fertilization, the female makes the ootheca 4-6 weeks after mating.  The material for the ootheca is excreted from her abdomen like a ribbon and formed into a case that will protect her eggs.  She adheres the ootheca to the wall of the aquarium she lives in.

The zoo currently has one adult male mantid and keepers believe that the 50 new babies resulted from fertilized eggs.

Babies emerge from the ootheca after five weeks and look like miniature adults.  They go through six instars (phases) before reaching full maturity.  The young, or “nymphs”, double in size during each instar, then shed their skin before doubling in size again.  The six instar phases take about 3-4 months.  Dead-leaf mantids live about one year.

Dead-leaf mantids eat pinhead crickets and certain types of vegetation but will sometimes prey on each other.  They are native to Southeast Asia.

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

Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

Happy Birthday, Tengku!

Tengku the Sumatran orangutan turns 28 this week.  He was born on July 3, 1986 and came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 1995, shortly after the opening of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest.  During his nearly two decades here, Tengku has formed a special connection with zoo guests.  His social demeanor and playful behavior inspire people to care about orangutans in the wild.

What can you do to support Tengku and his wild cousins?  Here are some ideas from his birthday list:

  • Visit the zoo and spend some time in the Indonesian Rain Forest.  There you can learn more about the plight of orangutans in the wild.
  • Share your photos and stories of Tengku on social media to raise awareness about orangutan conservation.  You can connect with the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Adopt an orangutan to help us provide healthy food, exceptional care, and veterinary needs for your animal for one whole year.
  • Splurge on an orangutan VIP Experience.  Go behind the scenes with Tengku and Melati and watch as they create a unique painting right before your eyes – then take the painting with you for a one-of-a-kind home accent.  (Ages 8 and older only – up to four guests per VIP experience)
  • Get educated about endangered orangutans and find out what you can do to help.  The Orangutan Conservancy, one of the zoo’s conservation partners, is a good resource.

Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar has been working with Tengku for the past 13 years.  She shared her thoughts regarding this very special primate, “It has been a joy working with him since 2001 and I am looking forward to working with him for many years to come.  Happy Birthday, Tengku!”

Below is a photo gallery of some of Tengku’s memorable moments.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

black-breasted leaf turtle

Teeny-Tiny Turtle Baby

Our newest zoo baby may be small, but tiny creatures are a big deal for the zoo keepers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Say “hello” to our brand new black-breasted leaf turtle in the Indonesian Rain Forest

This teensy terrapin is almost three weeks old and weighs just over six grams (about the same weight as a quarter).  Black-breasted leaf turtles are an endangered species managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which makes this a very important birth.  Zoo keepers are caring for the hatchling behind-the-scenes and monitoring its progress carefully. 

Dave Messmann, who works with turtles and other zoo reptiles, related the cautious enthusiasm surrounding the baby animal, “We waited for two weeks before inviting anyone to take pictures.  We wanted to be sure that the hatchling was thriving before introducing it.  We’re excited about hatching an endangered species and we’re monitoring this one very closely.”

Click on the photos to enlarge (additional text below):

Why are black-breasted leaf turtles endangered?  It all comes down to habitat destruction and over-collection.  Black-breasted leaf turtles are native to Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Southern China.  They are used in Traditional Asian Medicine, and are often sold as pets. These turtles’ unique facial expression and small size make them particularly attractive within the pet trade.  However, Messmann contends that this endangered species might not be as easy to rear as people assume.  “Turtles require a lot of care and proper nutrition throughout their lives.  At the zoo we give them a specific diet and document their care.  If people don’t feed and nurture them properly their shells can become deformed.”  The diet to which Messmann refers consists of fruit, vegetables, worms and crickets.

Black-breasted leaf turtles live up to 20 years but only reach an average length of five inches, making them one of the smallest turtles in the world.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital. 

 

 

orangutan

Tengku Helps Wild Orangutans

Tengku, the zoo’s male Sumatran orangutan, has something new to add to his resume:  International Researcher.  Tengku’s contribution to the research of Dr. Graham L. Banes, a biological anthropologist who visited the zoo last week, may help save these rare apes from the brink of extinction.

orangutan research zoo attraction

Dr. Banes shows some of his research to Tengku.

Dr. Banes studies the biodiversity of orangutans in zoos and in the wild and is building a database containing genetic information on every captive orangutan in the world.

Tengku provided a blood sample so researchers can study his DNA as part of a four-generation study.  Zoo keepers had already trained him on this procedure via operant conditioning.  This video from 2012 shows the procedure:

Managed programs have existed in zoos for decades, but zoos are not the only participants in orangutan research.  Orphanages and rehabilitation centers, which are found on the “front lines” of orangutan conservation, are also included in this study.  Such facilities house orangutans who have been displaced, injured, or orphaned as a result of habitat destruction.

Dr. Banes explained that ensuring genetic biodiversity in zoos and rehabilitation centers is important.  A genetically diverse population decreases the likelihood of health problems and reduces the rate of infant mortality.

A healthy zoo population will become essential if Sumatran orangutan populations continue to decline.  Orangutans have endured an 80-90% reduction in their natural habitat.  In other words, they are running out of places to live.  Their species is listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN (source: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39780/0).   To compound this situation, proposed changes in Indonesian law further threaten the survival of orangutans in the wild.  According to Dr. Banes, “Preserves are being un-protected.”

Tengku is helping his wild cousins, and so can you.  The AZA has prepared an online petition to the Indonesian government regarding the destruction of the 10-20% of rain forest cover that remains.  You can go to change.org to review and sign the petition.

The IUCN estimates that there are around 7,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.  To put that number into perspective, consider that Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis holds 70,000 people for NCAA basketball tournaments.

The zoo’s conservation page lists resources for those wanting to get involved with the conservation of wild animals and wild places.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

crocodile skink zoo attraction

The Baby Boom Continues

The zoo’s baby boom continues as zoo keepers welcome a new addition to the Indonesian Rain Forest…a teeny, tiny, two-inch crocodile skink.  It’s the first time this reptile species has ever been hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!  This imperious addition to the animal kingdom weighed-in at two grams, approximately the weight of a pencil eraser. 

Although its name implies a lizard of force and stature, this particular crocodile skink began its life cycle in a fragile state.

Late last year, zoo keepers discovered by accident that the adult crocodile skinks had produced an egg.  Dave Messmann, a zoo keeper in the Indonesian Rain Forest, accidentally disturbed the egg while cleaning the skinks’ aquarium.  “We were concerned about the disturbance.  It’s a best-practice to avoid moving a reptile egg once it’s discovered, ” Messmann stated.  He also explained the reason why zoo keepers would have preferred avoidance, “An air pocket inside the egg can shift if the egg is moved, potentially causing the embryo to suffocate.” 

Hoping for the best, zoo keepers decided to incubate the egg and observe.  They constructed an incubator by filling a deli tub with wet moss and poking holes in the tub’s lid.  The egg was carefully placed atop the moss and the tub was placed on a shelf.  The egg was then allowed to incubate at room temperature, undisturbed.  After sixty days, a live hatchling was observed!

At eleven days old, the crocodile skink baby weighed-in at 2 grams.  Now thirty days old, the baby is doing fine and continues to develop normally.  It will likely reach an adult length of eight inches and top-out at one pound.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Click on the pictures to enlarge: