Mr. Happy “Rocks”

A few weeks ago, our friends at Pokagon State Park called with a problem:  a 26-year-old Blanding’s turtle named Mr. Happy wasn’t looking so happy.  This turtle, named for the perpetual “smile” on his face, lives at Pokagon’s Nature Center and is a staff and visitor favorite.

Blanding’s turtles are endangered in Indiana, so Mr. Happy is an important ambassador for our state’s wildlife.  In May, Mr. Happy stopped eating and became lethargic. Fred Wooley, Pokagon’s longtime naturalist, called on Zoo Veterinarian Joe Smith for help.

“When Mr. Happy arrived at the zoo, he didn’t look well at all,” said Smith, who quickly determined the cause of Mr. Happy’s dire state:  Mr. Happy had swallowed a very large rock.  The rock was lodged in the turtle’s stomach and completely blocked his digestive tract.  He also had pneumonia, because bits of food had made their way into his lungs.

Using an endoscope (a flexible tube which can be inserted down the throat), a steady hand, and much patience, Smith was able to remove the pesky pebble.  “It took two hours to get the rock out,” Smith said.

With his stomach now freed of the rock, Mr. Happy got right back to business. “He started eating almost immediately after we finished the procedure,” Smith said.

Mr. Happy is back at Pokagon’s Nature Center, basking in the admiration of his many fans.  “People beam when I tell them the story of that turtle,” said Wooley.  “I have to give Dr. Joe and his staff all the credit in the world.”  And the rock?  “We have it pinned above his aquarium,” Wooley said – presumably where the turtle can’t take a bite of it again.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

Our Growing Gibbon Family

The Javan gibbon baby born at the zoo on April 16 is growing more adventuresome by the day, thanks to excellent care by his mother Dieng – and perhaps some encouragement by his rambunctious big brother, two-year-old Jaka.

The male baby, who has not yet been named, spends most of his time clinging to Dieng’s belly, but keepers have noticed more activity lately.  “We’ve seen him reach out to grab a branch once in a while,” said zoo keeper Kristin Sliger.  “But he’s still too little to move around on his own.”

Jaka, on the other hand, is always on the move.  During a recent photo shoot he rarely sat still, preferring to leap and swing among the branches and vines in the tree-filled exhibit in the Indonesian Rain Forest. 

Javan gibbons are rare – so rare that one other United States zoo exhibits this rare species.   When Jaka was born in 2011, he was the first Javan gibbon born in any United States zoo.  Dieng, her mate Lionel, and their two youngsters are the largest group of Javan gibbons in a U.S. zoo.

“We are honored to be one of only two zoos in to exhibit this endangered species,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “With this species, we can make a significant impact on conservation.”

UPDATE July 1, 2013:  The baby has a name!  It’s Kado, which is an Indonesian word meaning “gift.”

Learn more about Javan gibbons.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

red panda in log

Red Panda Update

Updated June 7, 2013:

A red panda born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on Monday, June 3, has died.

“Our staff is truly saddened by this news,” said Animal Curator Mark Weldon.

The male cub was born to female red panda Xiao (pronounced JOW), age 3, and her 4-year-old mate, Junjie. 

“Our daily visual checks did not reveal any problems with the cub,” Weldon said.  The cub was seen curled up in the nest box, which is normal behavior.  The cub was scheduled for a full physical exam today.

This was the second litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, but neither cub survived. About half of red panda cubs born in zoos die within the first month of life.  In 2012, 30 red panda cubs were born in North American zoos.  Fifteen of those cubs survived.

A necropsy conducted by the zoo’s veterinary staff revealed that the cub had not ingested any milk.  This could mean that the cub did not nurse, or that Xiao did not produce any milk.

“Raising animals in zoos is not an exact science,” said Weldon.  “Our preference is always for animals to raise their own young, rather than hand-rearing them.  Mother-raised babies always become better parents when they have their own young.  It’s a fine line to know when to intervene.” 

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 of the cub’s death.  “Xiao is still a very young panda.”  In general, young mothers are less successful in rearing young.

“There is a genetic line within this subspecies where [the females] do not produce enough milk,” Noell said.  “Unfortunately we don’t know this is a possibility until a cub dies.”

Noell said that Xiao’s future as a breeding red panda will be evaluated.  Recommendations for breeding and transferring animals among zoos are made annually.  Both Noell and Weldon noted that either Xiao or Junjie could be moved to another zoo to find a new mate in the future.

Zoos continually share information on best practices and advances in husbandry for red pandas and all animals.  A new air-conditioned nest box was installed in the red panda exhibit this spring. It includes a side window that allowed keepers to peek into the box once a day and view the cub.  “We tried to disturb mom and the cub as little as possible,” Weldon said.  The zoo pathway leading to the exhibit was closed off when Xiao began nesting on Monday.


Below is the original post, announcing the cub’s arrival
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Zoo keepers were counting the days until Xiao’s due date, but they were prepared when the red panda delivered a single cub on June 3, a few days earlier than expected.  

This is the second litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997.  Two cubs were born to Xiao and her mate Junjie  in 2012, but neither cub survived. 

“The next few weeks are critical to the cub’s survival,” said Central Zoo Area Manager Shelley Scherer. “Xiao is behaving just as we would expect, so we are cautiously optimistic.”

An endangered species, red pandas are difficult to breed and rear in captivity.  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.

Keepers conducted a brief health check on the cub this morning.  The cub, whose gender is not known, weighed 117 grams and was vocalizing.  Xiao frequently carries her cub among nest boxes in the exhibit, which is normal behavior.  

Keepers will keep a close eye on the cub, but prefer not to intervene in its care unless the cub is in danger.  “It’s always best to allow a mother to rear her babies,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.

To give Xiao and her cub complete privacy, the exhibit pathway is closed to guests.

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.

“If the cub survives, zoo guests are unlikely to see it outside of the nest box until sometime in August or September,” said Scherer.   

 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.”

Learn more about red pandas.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

 

Bugs for Breakfast

Do you ever wonder what’s in your food? At the zoo, we need to know exactly what’s in the animals’ food. In fact, we analyze everything that our animals eat – including mealworms.

Mealworms are eaten by many animals including mongooses, bat-eared foxes, and Australian birds. It’s not the mealworms themselves, but what the mealworms have eaten that determines their nutritional value. “What the mealworms eat has a direct effect on animals that consume the mealworms,” says Brooke Stowell, zoo commissary supervisor.

Mealworms are a good source of protein, and are kept alive in the commissary until they are fed to animals.  But mealworms don’t come with a nutrition label, so Stowell is varying the mealworms’ diet and testing their nutritional value. “We are testing the mealworms because we want them to be as nutritious as possible,” says Stowell.

Do the animals notice the difference?  “Probably not,” says Stowell.  “They just enjoy eating the mealworms!”  

Testing mealworms may seem like an extreme measure, but it’s all part of our commitment to excellent animal health. Says Stowell, “We do this so our animals eat the very best food that will promote the very best health.”

Read about animal diets on our Animal Information Pages.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

 

kangaroo

Hoppy…er, Happy Birthday, Kangaroo!

Mako the kangaroo got extra attention on his 12th birthday last week, and none of the 23 other eastern grey kangaroos in the mob were complaining. “He was more than willing to share his birthday treat,” said zoo keeper Marian Powers.

Mako got special treatment because he IS special: he’s the only adult male in the mob and has fathered 12 joeys here (with more possibly on the way). His birthday “cake” was a tasty combination of willow and ash branches, sprinkled with cottonwood and grape leaves.

“When we delivered the cake, Mako actually shied away from it,” says zoo keeper Kierra Klein. “We think he prefers to stay out of the spotlight.”

 

As dozens of zoo guests gathered to watch the birthday festivities, Mako stretched out and gave himself a good belly scratch while the female ‘roos and their joeys investigated – then devoured – the leafy cake.

 “Overall, Mako’s birthday celebration was pretty low-key, which fits with his relaxed personality,” says Powers. Perhaps more of us should follow Mako’s example of how to spend the perfect birthday: After nibbling on his cake, he lounged by the pool (actually the small pond in the Kangaroo Walkabout) for the rest of the day.  Hoppy Birthday, Mako!

Learn more about eastern grey kangaroos.

sheep

Extreme Makeover: Sheep Edition

The sheep got serious “haircuts” last week on the Indiana Family Farm, with each sheep shedding about ten pounds of wool!

Roxy, an 8-year-old female, and Jerry, her 7-year-old son, got their semi-annual shearing at the hands of zoo keeper Sarah Sloan.  Wielding heavy-duty electric clippers, Sloan carefully trimmed every inch of each sheep, creating mounds of wool on the barn floor.  The wool is donated to local artisans, who spin it into yarn for knitting. 

“Shearing helps keep the sheep comfortable now that the weather is warmer,” Sloan said.  “If we didn’t shear them, their wool would continue to grow and become matted.”

The sheep were surprisingly calm during the procedure.  Zoo keeper Heather Schuh held each sheep’s head while Sloan did the shearing.  Sloan stopped occasionally to check the temperature of the shearing blade, making sure it wasn’t getting too hot.  “The blade gets caked with lanolin from the wool,” she explained.  “We replace it after each shearing session.”  Lanolin is a waxy substance that naturally occurs in sheep’s wool and allows the wool to easily shed water.  Lanolin is used in lotions, ointments, and many industrial products.

After their extreme makeovers, Roxy and Jerry appeared unfazed by their now-slim silhouettes.  “After shearing, we can get a good look at their body condition, and they’ll be a lot more comfortable in the hot weather,” said Sloan.  The sheep already have their next “haircut” appointment booked for August.

Click the photos below to enlarge to full screen.

 

Javan gibbon baby sleeping

Rare Javan Gibbon Born at Zoo

A very rare baby – one of only two born in the United States in the last 12 months – has arrived at the zoo.  A male Javan gibbon was born on April 16 in the Indonesian Rain Forest.

“We are thrilled with the birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon. “Dieng is being a good mother and the baby appears healthy.”

On a visit to the gibbons’ indoor quarters, Dieng, the mother, held her new baby tightly to her chest as she swung gracefully from branch to branch.  The baby had no choice but to hang on tight to Dieng’s furry belly or risk falling to the ground.  But luckily, nature has equipped baby gibbons with a strong grip!

Lionel, the baby’s father, and big brother Jaka, who was born here in March 2011, were more focused on the treats being offered by zoo keeper Kristen Sliger than on the new baby.  “Jaka is curious about his new sibling, but Dieng is also very protective,” she said.  The new arrival does not yet have a name.

For now, the gibbons’ access to the outdoors will be limited to time periods when the temperature is above 60 degrees.  The apes will only be allowed to venture into the overhead chute that connects their indoor quarters to the outdoor exhibit.  “We just want to play it safe and make sure the baby is ready to move into the big exhibit before we give them complete access,” Sliger said. 

Javan gibbons are rare in zoos and in the wild.  Fewer than 4,000 of these gibbons remain on the island of Java, where they are under intense pressure from the island’s burgeoning human population.   Read more about Javan gibbons here.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

waterfowl and sea lions in flood

Opening Day Update

Who knew we’d experience snow flurries and flooding rains on the eve of the zoo’s Opening Day!  We want to inform our fans that due to  unseasonable weather, about 20 of the zoo’s 200 animal species will not be on exhibit for Opening Weekend, April 20-21.

Affected species include vultures, owls, pelicans, some Australian birds, storks, hornbills, zebras, alligators, gibbons, sitatunga, capuchin monkeys and possibly giraffes.   We feel its important to protect the health of these amazing creatures in our care, so we’ll be monitoring the weather carefully and moving them outdoors as the temperatures warm in the next few weeks. 

All guest pathways are completely accessible and free of floodwater, but as of Friday evening, some exhibits contained standing water.

The zoo is committed to excellent animal care and outstanding guest service.  Enjoy your visit and return often this season!

kangaroo joey with mother in Australian Adventure

What’s New for 2013

You’ll enjoy new babies, old favorites, and upgraded amenities when the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo opens for its 49th season on Saturday, April 20. 

A highlight of the season is the arrival of two new Sumatran tigers. The brother and sister pair, named Bugara and Indah, arrived form the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas in February to replace tigers Teddy and Kemala, who moved to other zoos for breeding purposes.  The 1-1/2 year-old cats are playful and very interested in people because they were hand-reared after being rejected by their mother. 

Two baby monkeys born last fall are lively additions to the African Journey.  A baby colobus monkey named Kaasidy was born in September and a swamp monkey named Orion joined the troop in November. 

At least three kangaroo joeys are exploring the Australian Adventure.  Born last May or June, the joeys have only recently been out of their mothers’ pouches.  All of the joeys were sired by the zoo’s only adult male kangaroo, Mako, who arrived here two years ago.

Two unique southeast Asian reptiles will arrive in the Indonesian Rain Forest later this season.  Viper boas, which are small nonvenomous snakes, will live in Dr. Diversity’s Rain Forest Research Station.  Crocodile skinks are unusual lizards found along jungle waterways.  They’ll be housed near the rain forest’s waterfall.

Many construction projects were completed to improve guest service and maintain the high quality of exhibits within the zoo.  The red panda exhibit was rebuilt this winter, and the colobus monkey exhibit was relocated within the African Village; it remains under construction through May.  Both projects were funded by generous donors.  To improve accessibility, the mulch pathway in the Indonesian Rain Forest was replaced with a boardwalk made from recycled plastic lumber, thanks to the support of the AWS Foundation.

The African Village underwent significant improvements, including replacement of mulched walkways with concrete paths, expansion of the African Oasis concession stand, additional seating for the concession stand, renovations to the restroom facilities, and new landscaping.  The zoo’s food service partner, Service Systems Associates, participated in the upgrades.

“We are eager to share our new babies – and the entire zoo experience – with our half-million guests in 2013,” says Anderson.  “It’s going to be a great season at the zoo!

Photographer captures unique zoo animals on film

What’s it like to work with a world-famous photographer on a life-long quest to document endangered species?  Several zoo staff members found out last fall when National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore visited the zoo  to photograph some of our most unusual species for his Photo Ark project.  Sartore’s main goal was to photograph our honey badgers, which are rare in zoos.  While here, he also snapped our blue-crowned hanging parrots, hunting cissas, black storks, Ruppell’s griffon vultures, banded mongoose, wildebeest, and other species.

Sartore photographs each species on a black or white background, which provides a stark contrast for the complex beauty of each animal.  In the photo, Sartore photographs one of our black storks in a white “tent” built especially for this task. 

Nearly half of the world’s fauna are threatened with extinction on some level.  Sartore hopes his Photo Ark will one day hold images of all species present in North American zoos, documenting them before they disappear.  About 2,400 species have been photographed so far.  We’re honored to be part of this educational and inspiring project.  See all Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo animals in the Photo Ark.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.