Wet, Wild, and Rare- Helping Conserve Local Habitat

When you visit the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and cast your vote at the Kids4Nature Kiosk or round up your total at the Wild Things Gift Shop, you’re helping to protect local habitat with ACRES Land Trust. Most recently, your support helped conserve and study Quog Lake, a local, wild and rare quaking bog that is part of an incredible wetland complex in LaGrange County.

Over the past few years, through the Kids4Nature and “round up” programs, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo visitors have contributed $13,500 toward the preservation and study of this 807-acre LaGrange County wetland complex, protected in part by ACRES Land Trust. State-endangered Marsh Wrens and Massasauga rattlesnakes call this secluded wildlife habitat home. Recent bird surveys document 75 bird species in the area; notable species include Veery, Northern Water thrush and a bouquet of warbler species including a Cerulean Warbler.

Your contributions at the Zoo have supported two exciting ACRES preserves within the complex:

  • Marsh Wren Nature Preserve, a 50-acre high-quality wetland preserve. Zoo funding created and launched ACRES’ preserve management plan to remove invasive non-native plants and restore critical natural habitat.
  • Quog Lake, a 126-acre wetland preserve that protects one of a few remaining quaking bogs in the state. A quaking bog – the origin of Quog Lake’s name – describes a floating mat of sphagnum moss along the shore of the lake.

Zoo funding helped ACRES purchase this land for permanent protection and conduct a plant inventory. Plant life at the preserve includes carnivorous pitcher plants and sundew in great abundance.

Did you know that Zookeepers and staff partner with ACRES, too? This spring, a team of eleven bird-brained zookeepers volunteered to count birds for ACRES’ inaugural Bird Blitz event. ACRES’ Bird Blitz welcomed 76 total bird blitzers, who visited 35 ACRES properties, counting 89 species of birds. Their work helped ACRES understand and communicate the value of protecting habitat. These results will be recorded on ebird.org, an online citizen science birding database developed and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.

Thank you for helping protect habitat for local animals when you visit the Zoo. Happy trails!

 

 

 

Quog Lake nature preserve’s floating sphagnum moss mat is thin in areas and contains holes throughout, making a trail for visitors to view the bog impossible. The preserve is closed to the public, but will be open for ACRES members 6 am, Saturday, November 11 for a guided waterfowl viewing event. For more event information, visit: acreslandtrust.org/participate/events.

Submitted by Lettie Haver, Outreach Manager for the ACRES Land Trust.

“Quacking” the Code

When most people think of training animals, they think of alligators, lions, or other exotic animals that would be difficult to handle. However, our keeper Maggie Sipe is here to tell you that is not always the case! Even ducks- a seemingly simple animal- take patience and dedication to “quack” the code to successful training! Here’s Maggie’s report on how our three call ducks (adorably named after “The Big Bang Theory” characters) responded to their training, and how they are doing now:

Three call duck clutch mates, named Sheldon, Howard, and Leonard, arrived at the zoo in April of 2014. They were wary of keepers and unsure of their new environment. A need for training was established and positive relationship building began immediately.

Before training could begin, it was necessary to get the ducks more comfortable with the keepers and to get them to accept food from keepers. For months, all keepers who worked in the area would spend as much time as they could with the ducks to desensitize them to the keepers’ presence. Pretty soon, they readily accepted food from the keepers’ hands and would anticipate the arrival of keepers by exiting the pool to approach them.  Now that reinforcement could be delivered, the call duck training program began.


Training all three ducks at once proved to be a challenge, so individual training was pursued instead. Target training- getting the ducks to respond only to their specific target (corresponding to a color) was the first behavior goal for the ducks. The trainers believed it would be the most useful tool as a base for training.

Sheldon was the most dominant and food motivated individual at the time so training began with him. Sheldon was presented with the yellow target stick first. Through his natural curiosity, he pecked at it and caught on quickly that pecking the yellow stick led to a reward. Next he had to be taught that ignoring the red and blue targets led to a reward.  The trainer presented the red or blue target then bridged and reinforced before Sheldon had a chance to peck it.  Howard proved the second-most eager to participate, so he was trained next.  Sheldon remained indifferent to a second participant, as long as he received target training in the same session. The process was repeated with Howard using the red target stick. Having already trained color discrimination with Sheldon, the trainer applied previously learned lessons.  When Howard was introduced to the other targets, the trainer immediately reinforced for no reaction to yellow or blue.  This made the process much smoother for this individual.

Leonard was the least dominant individual and often displaced from food by his clutch mates.  To build Leonard’s confidence, the other two individuals were targeted out of the pool and heavily reinforced on the ground so that Leonard could train in the pool. Leonard was presented with the blue stick and quickly caught on that pecking it lead to a reward. By the time Leonard was ready to learn color discrimination, the other two no longer had to be separated out of the pool. It then became apparent that no training had to be done for this step as Leonard already avoided the other two targets.

Target training became such a strong and well established behavior that every time the trainer would enter the duck enclosure, the ducks would excitedly crowd around the trainer and run around displacing each other for opportunities to train, even fighting occasionally. This was the basis for the decision to train a station behavior next because stationing would be incompatible with running around and fighting. The criteria for the finished behavior would involve each duck calmly standing with both feet on their station mat.  The station mats were color specific which matched to each individual’s target color.  This mat could be moved throughout a session, and the duck would follow.

 

All three ducks on their training mats!

While the stations were successful in keeping the ducks in a relative location, they would not stay on station for any length of time.  A change in approach for station training was adapted from our sea lion training team and solved the issue. The sea lions at our facility are only reinforced once they have returned to station after completing a desired behavior and are calm for the acceptance of reinforcement.  When applied to the ducks, they would be targeted to a different area, but reinforcement was only given once they were back calmly waiting on their station.

The call ducks are vastly more comfortable in keepers’ presence after completing their training. The ducks are no longer fearful of enrichment items presented by the keepers and readily investigate new things. Keepers are able to observe their behaviors more easily and are able to determine the effectiveness of the enrichment towards eliciting natural behaviors. The ducks readily come out of their pool at night and shift into their indoor holding without the need of aversives. Monthly weights are recorded with no stress to the ducks at all.

The lives of these three individual ducks have improved greatly since the initiation of their training program. Giving the animals the choice to participate in their care has proved beneficial in improving the welfare for these individuals. Training these three small ducks has proved that every animal, no matter how big or how small, deserves a chance to have the choice and control in their environment.

 

Zoo Welcomes New “Little” Girl

On the morning of Sunday, August 6th, our giraffe keepers walked into the barn to find a big surprise. Zahra, our expectant mother giraffe, was in labor!

When keepers arrived for their morning shift at 7 AM, Zahra had already gone into active labor, and after a few more hours of pushing, we welcomed a beautiful new female giraffe calf into our zoo family at 9:28 AM! Giraffes give birth standing up, so the baby had a long way to the ground. As the largest living land animal, it’s no surprise that giraffes give birth to large babies- and though our new calf is on the smaller side by giraffe standards, she still weighed 172 pounds and was over 6’1″ tall at birth- that’s one big newborn! She’s growing quickly too- at a week and a half old, keepers estimate her to be 6’3″ now, and is gaining weight right on pace.

Just minutes after she was born.

Just thirty minutes after birth, the new calf learned to stand, and was aptly given the name Kita, which means “to stand firm” in Swahili. Calves must learn to stand quickly so that they can immediately begin nursing, which is what Kita did shortly after standing.

The next day, it was time for Kita’s neonatal exam. At first, she vocalized at the vet staff and ran away! They were finally able to hold her so that the vet could perform a thorough exam, take some blood samples, and make sure she was healthy. “I think she was a little mad at us for a day or two,” said giraffe keeper Aimee after the exam, “but she is now back to readily giving kisses!” None of the tests revealed any concerns, and Kita is a very healthy little girl.

As for the rest of our giraffes- they are simply fascinated with the newest addition to their family. The younger girls, Mystic, Luna, and Faye, rush over to check on Kita as soon as they come inside the barn after being out in their exhibit all day, and her dad and grandparents love interacting with her. She can touch and smell the other giraffes next to her, but does not share a space with them quite yet. As they all get used to each other, she will be introduced to the other giraffes in a shared space, starting with her Grandma Zuri. She already has formed a strong bond with Grandma, who likes to stick close by and watch over Zahra and the new baby.

Though Mom lets her little one have fun, she is also extremely protective of her. Kita is Zahra’s second calf with Ezeji, and keepers say that she seems more prepared this time around. Zahra is very wary of new visitors in the giraffe barn, and Kita takes her cues on what to do from Mom.

Kisses from Mom!

Now over a week old, Kita’s personality is beginning to shine through. She is very curious, and is beginning to show a feisty streak! Keepers say she has started to demonstrate a “sassy personality, and is very similar to how her mother was at that age.” Aimee also reports that though she still naps a lot, like most babies, she often “fights sleepiness because there is so much cool stuff going on in the giraffe barn! Right now, her favorite game is running circles around Mom.” As Kita grows and begins to interact more with the other giraffes, her personality will continue to develop, though her keepers say that she is already more feisty than her brother Kiango was!

Kita also loves her keepers already- she interacts with them regularly and likes to watch them work. They discovered that she enjoys their auto waterers, and loves to splash the water up in the air!

In addition to adding more fun and cuteness to our giraffe herd, this new baby also serves as an ambassador for the declining giraffe populations in the wild. Giraffes are considered to be a “vulnerable” species due to habitat loss and human population growth and illegal hunting. Once widespread across southern and eastern Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36 to 40 percent decline in the giraffe population. Our partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation helps to support giraffe research and implement plans to save them. You can help by visiting our giraffe platform and by supporting the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Despite being the size of a full-grown human, Kita acts just like any other baby would, and spends her days napping, playing with mom, and exploring her new world. Although it will be a few weeks before Kita is able to be introduced to the public, we can’t wait for you all to meet her!

Here she is on August 17th looking adorable as ever!

 

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!

Wild Orangutans on vines

Trick-Or(angutan)-Treat

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.

Norbert’s Going Too Fast

WOAH! Slow down, Norbert. You’re growing up too fast!

We are excited to celebrate our male Aldabra Tortoise‘s 54th birthday this week. Norbert is the oldest animal at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. And even though he was born on September 23, 1962, he is still like a teen in tortoise years. Giant tortoise species can grow up to be over 200 years old! The oldest Aldabra Tortoise alive today is 176 years old.

Aldabra Tortoises are also one of the largest tortoise species in the world. Average giant tortoises weigh around 550 pounds. Norbert currently weighs 566 pounds. No wonder tortoises aren’t very fast! These tortoises have strength instead of speed. Aldabra Tortoises can knock over shrubs and small trees to get to their food.

“Norbert may not be the fastest animal at the Zoo, but he comes over pretty quickly when zoo keepers arrive with food,” says Kylie Linke, Section Supervisor. “He also loves neck rubs.”

Norbert, like other Aldabra Tortoises, enjoys his fruits and vegetables. In their native habitats on the Aldabra Islands (north of Madagascar), these tortoises eat grass, plants and other wild weeds. At the Zoo, our Commissary Staff prepares watermelon, cantaloupe and grapevine for Norbert and his exhibit-mate, Purdue.

“Norbert and Purdue also love eating the leaves that are scattered around the exhibit, especially in the fall when they’re crunchy,” says Linke.

Purdue arrived at the Zoo in 1992, two years before Norbert. She was born in the wild and is thought to be in her late 60s. Like other female tortoises, she is a lot lighter than Norbert–weighing in at only 286 pounds.

Sadly, Norbert and Purdue’s kin have been listed as a vulnerable species due to drastic habitat loss. Even though this species has no true predators due to its size, sailors over the past 100 years have captured and killed the Aldabra Tortoises for food. And when their boats reached the Aldabra Islands, rats and dogs leave the ships to eat tortoise eggs. But recently, these tortoises have been held in wildlife conservation areas, and they were removed from the endangered species list.

Stop by the Aldabra Tortoise exhibit this week and wish Norbert a happy birthday!

Ask Me!

“Connecting kids and animals is the first part of our mission. And it’s exactly what our On-grounds Interpreters are here for. They are the liaison between the animals and our guests,” says Amanda Pressler, On-grounds Interpreter Team Leader.

The program launched with the 2016 season and includes three On-grounds Interpreter Team Leaders and a team of more than 30 Interpreters.

You can find the On-grounds Interpreters at popular, interactive exhibits like the Giraffe Platform, Stingray Bay, Kangaroo Yard, Family Farm Barn, and Outback Springs. They want to answer your questions, such as what a stingray feels like or how best to build a dam in the stream. Our on-grounds Interpreters are here to help you make the most of your visit!

There is always something new to learn at the zoo, and we want you to take home new information about our animals every time you visit. If you have a question about one of our animals, ask an On-grounds Interpreter. Their blue shirts and big yellow “Ask Me!” buttons stand out in a crowd. On-grounds Interpreters love to share unique character traits of the animals at our zoo, important information about their cousins in the wild, and answer any general questions you have about the zoo.

Our new program has already impacted the zoo by giving us the opportunity to hear what our guests want and need. So come to the zoo and ask questions! The more questions you ask, the better we can educate our guests. We love your feedback and want to hear what you are learning at the zoo.

On-grounds Interpreters are even here through our new late hours (last admission is at 7 p.m.; grounds close at 8 p.m. from now through Labor Day). We can’t wait to answer your questions. Just ask!

Click on photos to enlarge:

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.