Where Do Animals Go In The Winter?

Winter, in all of its frozen glory, is upon us. Since most of our animals live outside, we get a lot of questions about where our animals live during the off-season. It’s different for every animal, but the basic answer is the same: they all stay at the Zoo!

This might surprise people, since Indiana winters are known to be harsh and filled with snow. But don’t worry; our animals don’t have to stay out in the snow all season. At least, not all of them. That’s right, some of our animals do stay outside during the winter, because they love the snow! Animals like our Canadian lynx and our Red Pandas are used to living in cold climates, and they have many adaptions that help them survive in the cold. For instance, “Red Pandas have fur covering every part of their body- even the bottom of their paws- to help keep them warm,” says Helena Lacey, Zookeeper. So when our keepers get to the Zoo after it snows, they find those animals right at home in their usual exhibits, enjoying the winter wonderland.

The animals that can’t be outside in the cold- like many of the animals that live in the African Journey-have indoor spaces that keep them safe and warm during the winter months. The giraffes have a huge barn that can be seen behind their exhibit where they go into at night and when it’s cold, and our alligators have a building to the left of their exhibit that keeps them toasty warm all year long.

Every animal is different, and each species has a different temperature threshold that they are able to tolerate. For instance, our giraffes can’t be outside if it’s less than 55 degrees outside, but our ostrich Penny can withstand temperatures as low as 0 degree Fahrenheit! Others animals, like our African penguins, surprise people- they actually hate the cold! “Most people assume penguins love the snow, but this particular species comes from southern Africa, and they can’t tolerate the cold Indiana winters,” Mitchell Overmyer (Zookeeper- Aquatics) tells us. So on cold days like today when the temperature is below 32 degrees, they stay inside.

Our animals stay here all year round, but so do our people. There’s another fact that usually surprises our guests: there are workers at the Zoo 365 days a year, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas! People can be shocked to hear this, but even though our gates aren’t open for the public, someone has to come take care of the animals each day. The Zoo is definitely a lot quieter in the off-season without all the guests around, but even in the dead of winter, the Zoo is always alive with activity!

 

Red pandas love playing in the snow!

 

Lynx have large snowshoe-like paws that help them navigate the snowy terrain.

 

Our otters clearly don’t mind the snow and ice!

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:

 

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.

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.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

Panda Cub’s Baby Book

Maliha the red panda is 14 weeks old now and spends a lot of time outside of her nest, but it wasn’t long ago that zoo guests wondered if they’d ever get a look at the adorable cub.  As expected, it took about three months for Maliha to venture outside on her own and begin exploring her surroundings (video and photos below).

 

International Red Panda Day is this Saturday, and Zoo staff put together a Baby Book to commemorate the endangered cub’s first three months of life.   Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

baby red panda cub fort wayne

Red Panda Cub Gets a Name

She’s strong and she’s beautiful, and now the zoo’s six-week-old red panda cub has a name to match.  Zoo keepers have bestowed the name “Maliha” on the little female cub – a name that means “strong and beautiful” in a Nepalese language.

Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily, chose the cub’s name to reflect her wild heritage – red pandas are native to Nepal and China – and to fit the cub’s personality.  “I also wanted her name to reflect the whole journey we’ve been on with our red pandas for the last three years,” she said.  “Plus, she is a very strong cub, and beautiful too!”

Maliha still spends all her time in an air-conditioned nest box with her mother, five-year-old Xiao, but is gradually becoming more active, Lacey says. “Maliha rolls around, plays with her feet, and stays awake more,” she says.  “She tries to walk, but her feet still slide out from under her.”

Red panda cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months. This means that zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.  Zoo keepers monitor Xiao and Maliha via a remote camera mounted in the nest box. This video shows Maliha as she discovers her paws:

Though Maliha is thriving, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family.  Guests can sometimes see Junjie, the cub’s father, lounging on branches in the exhibit.

Maliha is weighed regularly to ensure that she is receiving appropriate maternal care.  She has more than quadrupled her birth weight of 139 grams and now weighs 545 grams (about 1.25 pounds).

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.

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:

baby red panda Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

First Peek at Baby Red Panda

We’re happy to announce that our 30-day-old female red panda cub, born on June 9, has passed a critical milestone and is doing well.  These photos give you a peek at the little cub, who remains behind the scenes in the nest box with her mother.

“About half of all red panda cubs die within 30 days after birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “We are obviously pleased that our cub has made it this far.” 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born to female Xiao, age 5, and her 6-year-old mate, Junjie.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, and a single cub was born in 2013; none of these cubs survived longer than two weeks.  Red pandas are an endangered species.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about the cub,” said Shelley Scherer, who supervises the Central Zoo and Australian Adventure.  “This cub was born healthy and had an above average birth weight.  Xiao is also a more experienced mother, which has certainly been a factor.”

“This cub is feisty, squirmy, and chubby,” said Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily. 

Though the cub has survived the first 30 days, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

Zoo keepers monitor the duo via a remote camera mounted in the nest box.  “They sleep most of the time, but we also see Xiao grooming herself and the cub,” said Lacey.  Xiao leaves the nest box several times a day to eat climb in the exhibit. 

Xiao and her cub spend nearly all of their time tucked in a nest box within the red panda exhibit, where Xiao nurses, grooms, and sleeps next to her cub.  This is natural behavior for red pandas, who nest in hollow trees in the wild.  Cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months, which means zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.

Three to four times a week, zoo keepers distract Xiao with a tasty bamboo branch and quickly weigh the cub.  So far, the cub is gaining weight, and has more than tripled her birth weight of 139 grams to 454 grams (about one pound).  Twice a week, they perform a more thorough exam on the cub, checking for any abnormalities.

The cub’s eyes are now open, and she makes high-pitched squeals during her weigh-ins and checkups. 

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family. 

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered animals. 

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  Though they 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:

red panda in log

Baby Red Panda Born at Zoo

A female red panda cub was born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on June 9 to female Xiao (pronounced JOW), age 4, and her 5-year-old mate, Junjie. 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, and a single cub was born in 2013; none of these cubs survived longer than two weeks. 

An endangered species, red pandas are difficult to breed and rear in zoos.  About half of all cubs die within 30 days of birth.  Only a few dozen red panda cubs are born in United States zoos each year.

Contact with Xiao and her cub is extremely limited to improve the cub’s odds of survival.  For now, the pathway in front of the red panda exhibit is closed to zoo guests.   Keepers monitor the new mother, who spends most of her time in a nest box with the cub, via a remote camera system.

“We are monitoring the cub and are cautiously optimistic at this point,” says Area Manager Shelley Scherer.  “But there are still many challenges ahead for this little cub.”

An extensive protocol is in place to monitor the cub while minimizing stress on the mother.  Keepers allowed Xiao and her cub complete privacy for the first day, because data show that cubs have a better chance of survival if they are left alone with the mother for the first 24 hours.  On Tuesday, keepers quickly weighed the cub while Xiao was out of the nest box feeding; the cub weighed 139 grams.  On Wednesday, the veterinary staff performed a brief hands-on health check and determined the cub’s gender.

Daily weigh-ins will continue and supplemental feeding or hand-rearing will be implemented depending on the cub’s progress.

“We always prefer that animals raise their own young, but we are prepared to do all we can to ensure the survival of the cub,” said Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “However, hand-rearing provides no guarantee that the cub will survive.”  Weldon noted that hand-reared cubs have a 50-50 chance of survival. 

Zoo keepers conducted weekly ultrasounds on Xiao this spring to monitor the cub before birth.  Xiao was trained to stand and accept the ultrasound, during which she was rewarded with a food treat.  Her diet, which includes commercially-produced chow and fresh bamboo, was altered to provide additional nutrition during her pregnancy.  Keepers also installed a second air-conditioned nest box in the exhibit to give Xiao comfortable options for nesting.  

Tests revealed that cub born to Xiao in 2013, which survived for only three days, never ingested any milk, though the reason for this is not known.  That cub was scheduled to undergo a complete physical on the day it died.

Mary Noell of the Cincinnati Zoo serves as North American Regional Studbook Keeper for red pandas and maintains data on all red pandas in United States and Canadian zoos.  “This is not an unusual situation,” she said last year after the cub died.  Noell visited the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 2013 and noted that the zoo’s facilities and protocols met all current standards for red panda care. 

Red panda cubs are born blind and deaf.  The mother spends nearly all her time nursing and grooming her cubs during the first week.  The cubs remain in the nest until they are about three months old.  Little is known about red panda cub mortality in the wild.

“If the cub survives, zoo guests are unlikely to see it outside of the nest box until sometime in August or September,” said Scherer.   Until then, the zoo will post updates on its website and social media accounts.

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in captive populations of endangered animals. 

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  Though they 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.”

capuchin monkey and pumpkin

Pumpkin Playtime

Animals and pumpkins may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they are a big hit at the zoo.  With so many pumpkins here for the Wild Zoo Halloween, zoo keepers are grabbing gourds to use as enrichment with the animals.

Enrichment is the practice of introducing novel foods and objects to provide mental and physical stimulation for the animals.  

Pumpkins can be used as toys, food, or a container for treats.  The dingoes’ pumpkins were covered in papier-mâché to make them extra-challenging to open.  The red pandas got pumpkins stuffed with bamboo leaves and grapes, and the capuchin monkeys received jack-o-lanterns with treats inside.  The orangutans simply cracked open the pumpkins and ate the seeds!

Enjoy these photos of zoo critters with their pumpkins – click on the photos to enlarge.