buff-crested bustard jessica brita-segyde

This Quirky Bird is Ready To Meet You

Meet J.A.R.V.I.S., the newest animal in the zoo’s African Journey. J.A.R.V.I.S. is a buff-crested bustard, and he’s a bird with quirky behaviors.

Buff-crested bustards are omnivorous, opportunistic hunters and will eat plants, insects, and small rodents in the wild. The zoo’s buff-crested bustard receives a diet of grains, vitamin pellets, tiny mice, meal worms, wax worms, greens, and fruit. Commissary staff chop the bustard’s food into tiny pieces and he eats approximately three ounces at each meal. According to zoo staff, he eats the mice first.

“The tiny mice are his favorite,” says Area Curator Amber Eagleson. “He’s very food-motivated and will go straight for the rodents in his diet.”

Although food gets him out and visible, J.A.R.V.I.S. can be hard to spot when meal-time is over. “He’s good at hiding,” says Eagleson, “but guests can find him if they’re patient and look under the shrubs.”

Quirky behaviors aren’t the only things that define J.A.R.V.I.S. He also has a unique physical characteristic:  J.A.R.V.I.S., like all buff-crested bustards, lacks a hind digit. This prevents his species from perching on branches.  Not to worry – buff-crested bustards have learned to hunt and nest on the ground.

Female buff-crested bustards are the nest-builders in the family. They use what’s available on the ground – clumps of leaves and grass – to make room for baby.

Courtship is also an interesting time for buff-crested bustards. Although male buff-crested bustards rarely fly, a nearby female can render them airborne. If a female were near, J.A.R.V.I.S. would probably try to get her attention with a dramatic flying behavior. Male buff-crested bustards court females by flying up and then careening down, almost crashing into the ground. Just before impact, they reverse direction and fly safely upwards again.

For now J.A.R.V.I.S. is a butler, er, bachelor. He lives with red-billed hornbills Tony and Pepper* in their exhibit near the swamp monkeys.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

*The names J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony, and Pepper are references to the Iron Man superhero series.

Zoo Vet Saves Wild Birds from Predatory Snake

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)

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:

monkey fort wayne zoo

Cutest. Baby. Monkey. Ever.

The zoo welcomed yet another cute baby – A male swamp monkey was born on January 7!

As if his big, baby eyes, fuzzy fur, and tiny little hands weren’t cute enough, this baby often sticks his tongue out at the camera!  That makes him {arguably} the cutest baby monkey ever.

Zoo keepers named the little one Bakari, meaning “promising” in Swahili.  Keepers wanted a name that starts with the letter B because baby’s parents are named Bangi and Brie.

One family member, however, doesn’t follow the alliterative status quo.  It’s big sister Luella, and despite their differing initials, she has already taken an interest in her new baby brother.  Luella, now five years old, has been watching mom Brie and trying to assist with motherly duties.

Big brother Orion is also taking an interest in Bakari and often grooms mom while she’s holding the baby.

When can guests meet baby Bakari? Zoo keeper Jess Brinneman says the baby will probably be out on exhibit when the zoo opens April 23. “We expect Bakari to be out when we open for the 2016 season. I’m guessing he’ll take an interest in the grass and leaves and the world around him.  Everyone’s looking forward to watching him explore.”

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

New Giraffe at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

There’s a new giraffe at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!

Faye, a two-year-old female reticulated giraffe, joined the herd this winter.  Her arrival makes a total of eight giraffes in the zoo’s herd.

Is eight enough?

Born at the zoo in Cape May, New Jersey, Faye traveled to Fort Wayne in a specialized truck.  She is not related to either of our male giraffes, so Faye represents a new bloodline that will boost the genetic diversity of the zoo-dwelling giraffe population.  “Faye might breed with Ezeji when she’s mature enough,” says zoo keeper Aimée Nelson, “but that won’t be until she’s at least three to four years old.”

The zoo is committed to ensuring genetic diversity and sustainability within the zoo-dwelling population, and also supports conservation and sustainability of wild giraffes in Africa.  Through financial support, the zoo helps to fund the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s ongoing research to better understand all nine subspecies of giraffes found throughout Africa.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has confirmed that wild giraffe populations are in a state of decline.  Timely research is critical in the race to effectively estimate numbers that remain in the wild and to assess the status of each subspecies.

For now Faye is getting to know the herd in the zoo’s state-of-the-art giraffe barn.  Nelson says that the new girl plays with young Kiango, who was born in June.  Nelson has also observed a possible bond forming between Faye and Kiango’s mom, Zahra.  Faye also displays some bold personality traits.  “She has a fearless quality and she’s doing very well with her training.  We think she’ll choose to go into the exhibit when the weather allows.”

African Journey manager Amber Eagleson expects Faye to be a “regular” at the feeding platform. “She’s always motivated to eat and accepts treats from keepers, so we think she’ll approach the guests this year.”

You can buy lettuce to feed Faye and the rest of the herd when the zoo opens for the 2016 season on April 23.  Until then, learn more about giraffe conservation in the wild and what you can do to support Faye’s wild cousins.

giraffe fort wayne zoo

Faye the giraffe, shown here as a youngster at New Jersey’s Cape May County Zoo, is the newest member of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s herd.  Photo by Dr. Alexander Ernst.

 

 

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:

 

sheep|fort wayne zoo

Mother and Son Makeovers

Roxanne and Jerry (the mother-son sheep duo at the Indiana Family Farm) are sporting new looks this month.  Each is about five pounds lighter and probably feeling much cooler after their routine shearing on August 28.

Shearing is a twice-yearly event at the zoo and requires two zoo keepers.  This time around, keepers Heather Schuh and Laura Sievers did the honors.

This video shows the shearing process:

The wool is donated to local artisans who spin it into yarn.

Click to enlarge Roxanne’s and Jerry’s before-and-after photos:

 

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: