Zoo Blog

September 10, 2014

Now THAT’S a Power Lunch!

Penelope 107pxl

When we say “power lunch,” we’re not talking about business executives making big decisions while noshing on a meal.  No, we’re talking about actual power – like when a 200-pound alligator lunges forward, clamps its massive jaws onto a jumbo-sized rat off a stick, then swallows it whole.

Feeding the zoo’s alligators is not for the faint of heart.  Zoo keepers deliver the gators’ food with long tongs, staying as far away from the reptiles as possible.  The zoo’s two American alligators, Ron and Penelope, are cooperative at feeding time, but they’re far from cuddly.

Aside from rats, the alligators also eat specially-formulated biscuits and gelatin – yes, gelatin – twice a week.  According to area manager Shelley Scherer, “They’re still hungry after eating the rats and biscuits.  The gelatin keeps them full without adding unnecessary calories.”

Alligators were once endangered in the United States. But strong laws and careful management brought this species back from the brink of extinction. The population of alligators is now stable.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Animal Diets, Central Zoo, Enrichment, Reptiles, Zoo News

September 4, 2014

Why do Vultures Eat Dead Animals?

vulture

Vultures are often characterized as scary, Halloween-esque creatures.  Their appetite for dead flesh doesn’t win them many fans.  If you check the zoo’s Facebook page you’d be hard-pressed to find a “vulture selfie” or “save the vultures” post from any of our followers, but these birds aren’t as ghoulish as their reputation suggests.

International Vulture Awareness Day is this Saturday, September 6 – A day when conservationists and vulture aficionados bring attention to these misunderstood but important creatures.

Back to the question at hand…Why do vultures eat dead animals?  The removal of carrion (a.k.a. rotting flesh) is a necessary link on the food chain.  Vultures can eat rotting flesh that contains anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria with no ill effects because acids in the vulture’s stomach destroy these organisms, thereby removing them from our ecosystem.

At the zoo, the vultures eat a commercial meat diet, plus rats and small bones.

Have you ever met one of the zoo’s vultures? Vincent the turkey vulture lives in the Central Zoo across from the lemurs.  He enjoys a morning rodent diet and he’s known for displaying his beautiful, black wingspan throughout the day.  The African Journey is home to four Ruppell’s griffon vultures.  You can find them on the Savannah where they’ll often perch near the pedestrian deck for a photo op!

Stop by and visit the vultures on your next zoo visit…and bring your questions.  Our zoo keepers are happy to talk about these fascinating but misunderstood birds.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Animal Diets, Birds, Central Zoo, Zoo News

August 27, 2014

Mr. Happy: Still “Rockin’” One Year Later

Mr. Happy 107 pxl

Zoo fans might remember the story of Mr. Happy, a 27-year-old Blanding’s turtle who came to us last year with a serious medical issue.  The friendly turtle, who resides at Pokagon State Park, had ingested a large rock that was blocking his digestive tract.

Blanding’s turtles are endangered in Indiana, so Mr. Happy is an important ambassador for our state’s wildlife.  When he got sick and stopped eating last year, park officials and zoo staff were quick to respond.  You can read about his surgery here.

We’re happy to report that one year later, Mr. Happy is doing great!  Staff from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo recently paid a visit to Mr. Happy and his caregivers and discovered that the turtle is healthy and thriving.

Interpretive naturalist Mandi Webb spoke of the turtle’s healthy appetitie, “He’s doing very well.  He eats a lot.  We call Mr. Happy the ‘finisher-upper’ because of how much he eats.”  Webb works with Mr. Happy almost every day and stated that his appetite never wanes.

Long-time park naturalist Fred Wooley concurred with Webb, “Mr. Happy is doing very well.  We’re fortunate to have contacts within the animal conservation field who will provide medical care for sick or injured animals.  Blanding’s turtles can live to be 80 and Mr. Happy is eating and behaving normally.”

To demonstrate his vigor, Pokagon staff arranged a race for Mr. Happy.  His opponent was Mr. Box, an eastern box turtle who resides with Mr. Happy at the park’s Nature Center.

Although Mr. Happy didn’t win this time, Webb assured his fans that the turtle wasn’t upset about the loss.  “Mr. Happy does win races sometimes, but he’s easily distracted.  Sometimes he just wants to stop and look at the leaves on the ground.”

Perhaps Mr. Happy’s story has a lesson to offer:  Don’t race too quickly to the finish line without stopping to enjoy the journey.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Conservation, Veterinary Care, Zoo News

August 20, 2014

How Does a Sea Lion Get to the Dentist?

Sea lions 107 pxl

How does a sea lion get to the dentist?  That’s a trick question.  Sea lions don’t go to the dentist – the dentist comes to them!  Or, in this case, the zoo’s veterinary intern, Dr. Kami Fox makes the “house call.”  Dr. Fox recently performed a dental exam on Fishbone, an thirteen-year-old sea lion at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

“Training with Fishbone has gone very smoothly and she’s very eager to work,” states Dr. Fox.

dental exam sea lionZoo keepers regularly look into the sea lions’ mouths, but the team wanted to employ x-rays to spot potential tooth problems before they become serious. To take x-rays, though, the keepers needed to prepare the animals through training that involved operant conditioning.   Zoo keeper Rachel Purcell began by training Fishbone to become comfortable with the x-ray plate in her mouth.  “I started by putting a small x-ray plate on a tongue depressor and getting her used to me situating it around in her mouth.  After she was doing well with that, Dr. Fox started visiting with the hand-held x-ray machine,” she said.

Purcell describes the sea lion’s reaction to the new procedure, “Fishbone wasn’t quite sure what to think of it at first, especially when it was touching her whiskers, but she soon got used to it.”

Dr. Fox noted that Fishbone’s mouth is generally healthy and she did not order any treatment at this time.  She did indicate some areas of concern that zoo keepers and vet staff will continue to monitor.

Dr. Fox explains the benefit of preventive exams, “Now that we know there are abnormalities associated with several of her teeth, we can continue to monitor her closely with oral exams and periodic radiographs.  If any changes occur, we are now better prepared for the necessary dental work.  This has been a prime example of how behavior training assists us with preventative medicine so that we can be proactive and provide the best possible care for our animals.”

(Click on the photos to enlarge.)

 

Posted in: Central Zoo, Veterinary Care, Zoo News

August 13, 2014

These Big Cats are Turning Three

Tiger with guest 107pxl

Indah and Bugara, the zoo’s twin Sumatran tiger siblings, are turning three this week…but their birthdays aren’t on the same day.  Why not?

“Indah was born before midnight and Bugara was born shortly after,” explains zoo keeper Kristen Sliger.  “So even though they’re litter-mates they have different birthdays.”

The pair arrived in Fort Wayne last spring when they were still one year old.  Guests can get up close and personal with the tigers – their glass wall exhibit is designed for close (but safe) encounters.  Children can have fun playing “peek-a-boo” with Indah and Bugara when the cats venture in and out of sight near the large glass viewing area.

Guest interaction keeps the tigers active, but what happens before and after hours?  Sliger discusses some of the enrichment activities that tigers enjoy before and after they go out on exhibit.

“We spray Indah and Bugara with an all-natural fly spray every morning just after we put them out on exhibit,” states Sigler.  “They get active during and after the spray.  We think it has something to do with the mint smell and its close relation to catnip.”

Indah and Bugara eat a specially-mixed feline diet of meat and vitamins, but Sliger shares that Sunday evenings are extra-special for the pair.  “Every Sunday when they come in for the night they each get a huge bone.  It’s a cow’s femur.”

Each tiger gets its own bone to avoid any sibling rivalry.  Indah may be a little older, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to share her treats yet.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Animal Diets, Enrichment, Indonesian Rain Forest, Tigers, Zoo News

August 6, 2014

This Animal Has 50 Babies at a Time!

Mantid 104pxl

If you have trouble keeping track of your kids, imagine having 50 of them at once!  That’s how many offspring the dead-leaf mantids in the Indonesian Rain Forest produce in a single batch.  These big bugs are a type of praying mantis perfectly camouflaged to look like dead leaves.

Zoo keepers are working on breeding a self-sustaining population of this species, so the 50 tiny mantids were a welcome addition.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann explains why it’s important for the zoo to breed and support its own population of dead-leaf mantids, as opposed to relying on outside sources.  “We want to sustain our population so we don’t have to have new insects shipped to us,” he said.  “If one of our populations crashes, there is no guarantee that another zoo is still exhibiting this species. Even if they do have some, they may not have any surplus animals to send us.”

Dead-leaf mantids can reproduce in two ways.  One is fertilization, when a male mantid approaches a female in the traditional mating ritual, resulting in fertilized eggs.  As with other praying mantis species, the female is larger than the male and may become aggressive shortly after mating.  Females can also reproduce via the asexual method of parthenogenesis.  This happens when the female lays unfertilized eggs that hatch into viable young.  Parthenogenesis typically results in female offspring since there is no genetic component from a male without fertilization.

mantid fort wayne zooWhether fertilization or parthenogenesis occurs, the next step is the same:  the female produces an egg case called an “ootheca” (see photo on left) in which eggs are deposited.  In the case of fertilization, the female makes the ootheca 4-6 weeks after mating.  The material for the ootheca is excreted from her abdomen like a ribbon and formed into a case that will protect her eggs.  She adheres the ootheca to the wall of the aquarium she lives in.

The zoo currently has one adult male mantid and keepers believe that the 50 new babies resulted from fertilized eggs.

Babies emerge from the ootheca after five weeks and look like miniature adults.  They go through six instars (phases) before reaching full maturity.  The young, or “nymphs”, double in size during each instar, then shed their skin before doubling in size again.  The six instar phases take about 3-4 months.  Dead-leaf mantids live about one year.

Dead-leaf mantids eat pinhead crickets and certain types of vegetation but will sometimes prey on each other.  They are native to Southeast Asia.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Indonesian Rain Forest, Insects

July 30, 2014

Our Very Own “Rock Star”

giraffe fort wayne zoo

Did you know we have a “Rock Star” at the zoo?  That’s what Zoo Keeper Aim’ee Nelson calls Jelani the giraffe!  Other zoo staffers call him “The King of the Platform,” because  there’s no doubt who’s in charge when Jelani rests his massive head on the railing of the feeding platform.   “When Jelani comes up for lettuce everyone wants to feed him,” says Nelson.

Jelani celebrates his 16th birthday this week and just about every staff member, volunteer, and zoo guest has a fond nickname or special memory to share.  African Journey area Manager Amber Eagleson smiles when she talks about meeting him for the first time.  “I came to the zoo in 2000 when he was only two.  He was already friendly…and hungry!”

Eagleson has observed Jelani’s friendly demeanor year after year.  “He makes an impression on everyone.  When someone has worked in the giraffe barn, Jelani is the one they always remember.”

Eagleson shares a story from a 2003 celebration when a crowd gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” to the then 5-year-old giraffe.   “He started running around the exhibit and put on a big show.  No one was expecting it.”

Zoo guests are invited to Jelani’s sweet 16 celebration on Friday, August 1  from 10AM-3PM.  Some highlights include:

- Adding spots to a giraffe art piece

-Singing “Happy Birthday” and presenting Jelani with his “cake” at 11AM

- Trivia games

- Pin the tail on the giraffe

- A birthday card to sign

- A picture spot with a giraffe in his sweet sixteen car

- Coloring pages

You can visit Jelani and the rest of the herd seven days a week.  Lettuce is available for 1 token ($1) and when Jelani the hungry giraffe is on exhibit, he’s usually ready to eat.  “He lays his head on the platform railing until someone comes to feed him,” says Eagleson.  “We have to ask zoo guests to stay back a few feet because of his size and strength, but that doesn’t stop him from getting his lettuce.  He’s never full.”

Below is a gallery of some of Jelani’s memorable moments.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Giraffes, Zoo News

July 23, 2014

Red Panda Cub Gets a Name

baby red panda cub fort wayne

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:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Central Zoo, Red Panda, Zoo News

July 11, 2014

First Peek at Baby Red Panda

baby red panda Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

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:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Central Zoo, Red Panda, Zoo News

July 9, 2014

This Baby is 20 Minutes Old!

baby wildebeest

Zoo guests got a wonderful surprise this morning when a wildebeest gave birth in the African savannah at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Zoo keepers noticed that the mother was in labor at approximately 9:38AM and she delivered a calf at 10:08AM this morning.  The calf stood and began walking within minutes.  It also began nursing shortly after birth.  These photos were taken when the baby was just 20 minutes old!

Several zoo guests were fortunate to observe the birth, since it occurred during zoo hours.  Zoo keepers and vet staff were aware of the pregnancy, but could not pinpoint a due date.  The calf’s gender has not yet been determined.

For now, the zebras are staying in the barn while the new baby adjusts to life on the pasture.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Baby Animals
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