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.

Wild Zoo Halloween 2016

Already missing the Zoo? Well, here’s a treat for you!

The 38th annual “merry-not-scary” Wild Zoo Halloween event is almost here! Join us at the Zoo from noon to 5 p.m. on October 14-16, 20-23, or 27-31 (grounds close at 6 p.m.).

This October, wander down the treat trails to visit your favorite animals and pick up candy along the way. Don’t forget your Halloween costumes! Broomhilda the Witch loves taking photos with all of the princesses, dragons, and other Halloween creatures.

Plenty of activities will take place daily. Watch our California sea lions perform a “spook-tacular” show on the Sea Lion Beach or meet Sydney the Kangaroo Mascot in the Australian Plaza. Even pick a pumpkin from our Pumpkin Patch and take it home.

Different Halloween activities are happening each day too. On Friday October 21, all of the animals will be celebrating Halloween with pumpkin enrichment treats at the Pumpkin Stomp & Chomp event. For a full list of which animals are receiving treats and other special holiday events, visit our Wild Zoo Halloween event page.

We can’t wait to see you back at the Zoo this fall!

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.

7,503 Guests Celebrated Giraffe Survival with Us

Giraffes in the wild begin life with a meager 8% chance of survival into adulthood.  By the age of one, that rate increases to 50%.

That’s why we threw a big party when Kiango the baby giraffe turned one, then followed with a World Giraffe Day celebration. Combined zoo attendance for both days was 7,503 guests.

The zoo’s reticulated giraffes are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild, helping us to educate guests on the difficult situation that wild giraffes face. “Many people don’t know that giraffe numbers are in decline,” says zoo keeper Aimée Nelson, “Two subspecies of giraffes are already endangered. People are calling it the ‘silent extinction’.”

Nelson was pleased with the turnout at both events, “Education is our biggest asset for preventing extinction. Giraffes can’t reverse their population decline on their own. They need our help.”

Baby giraffes are vulnerable to predators, and although their first birthday marks a milestone for their survival rate, other challenges remain. Poaching and habitat loss threaten wild giraffe populations. The zoo is committed to supporting conservation work in Africa and to educating our guests on giraffe conservation.

Why help giraffes? “Most people can’t imagine our planet without giraffes on it,” says Nelson, “There are less than 8,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild. The time to act is now.”

Here’s what you can do at home to help giraffes in the wild:

  • Visit the zoo! We commit $90,000 annually to conservation projects, including the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Your ticket or membership helps support this effort.
  • Donate your old electronics for use by field researchers. Items currently needed include GPS devices, SD cards, digital cameras, and binoculars. Contact the zoo at (260) 427-6843 for instructions on how to donate.
  • Educate yourself and your children. Our giraffe page is a great place to start!
  • Adopt a zoo giraffe. Your support helps us to care for these important ambassadors.

Click on the photos to enlarge: