Archive for African Animals
Why do Vultures Eat Dead Animals?
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:
Our Very Own “Rock Star”
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:
This Baby is 20 Minutes Old!
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:
How Zoo Keepers Fixed a “Smelly” Problem
The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has come up with an unusual fix for a “smelly” problem. It all started when one of the zoo’s banded mongooses had his medical checkup. Upon his return, zoo keepers noticed that the troop was reluctant to allow him back in. He was the same old mongoose, ready to join his troop, but he smelled different. That was a big problem, because mongooses recognize each other by their scent. His troop refused to socialize with this now strange-smelling mongoose or share their space with him. Some of the others even became aggressive despite his clean bill of health. What’s a mongoose to do!?!
Zoo keeper Nancee Hutchinson found a unique solution to the problem. “We bring them indoors and spray Vicks Vap-O-Rub on the floor. The whole troop comes running and rolls all around in it. Then they all smell the same, even the one who spent some time away.”
When a troop of mongooses rolls around in a smell it’s called “scent marking”. It’s common in the wild and ensures that all troop members smell the same. Hutchinson became interested in using Vicks Vap-O-Rub with the mongooses after she learned that a zoo in Europe had used a similar technique with meerkats. “When we spray Vicks inside the mongoose enclosure, the mongooses respond by scent-marking. They all roll around in the Vicks. This overrides any old smells that might have caused them to reject a member.”
This fall, Hutchinson will share what she learned at the American Association of Zoo Keepers national conference.
Click on the photos to enlarge:
Picky Eaters? We’ve Got Them, Too!
Bill the lion may have a big appetite, but that doesn’t mean he’ll eat anything! According to African Journey Area Director Amber Eagleson, Bill’s reluctance to accept dietary change lead to his reputation as a “picky eater”.
“All our big cats eat a commercial ground-meat diet we purchase by the ton. Whenever we switch meat companies, Bill is always the last to comply. We find it ironic since he eats the largest amount of meat in the entire zoo!” states Eagleson.
Fortunately for Bill, who consumes approximately eight pounds of meat each day, the zoo changes animal diets only a supplier cannot meet the necessary nutritional requirements. To ease the transition to a new diet, Eagleson explains that “For most carnivores, we will mix 75% of the meat they are accustomed to with 25% of the new meat for a week and then go to 50:50 and then 25:75. Almost always, it is no big deal for the animal. However, Bill has given us problems almost every time.”
What’s a zoo keeper to do? In the case of Bill “The Picky Eater” Lion, the transition starts at 95% new to 5% old and proceeds gradually from there.
In the Indonesian Rain Forest, the term “picky eating” takes on a different definition. Melati, Tengku, and Tara, the zoo’s Sumatran orangutans, approach their lunch very carefully. They reach inside of pumpkins and carefully pluck out seeds one at a time. The orangutans then shell and eat each pumpkin seed until the last one is gone. According to Tanisha Dunbar, Area Director for the Indonesian Rainforest, Melati approaches the task so precisely that she finishes every last seed “without breaking a single one.”
Dunbar also points out that, “Melati can peel grapes without breaking them.” How’s that for “picky eating”?
Where Do the Animals Go in the Winter?
At the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, we often hear the question, “Where do the animals go in the winter?” The answer is – They stay right here! The zoo is quieter since we closed for the season on October 13, but our animals and zoo keepers haven’t gone anywhere. Some animals spend the winter outdoors, some indoors, and many have the opportunity to do both. Here’s a list of where a few of our animals spend their fall and winter “vacation”:
Why do some of the animals stay in while others go out? According to African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson, it all depends on something called “access temperature”. The access temperature is the threshold that’s safe for a particular species. “Zoo keepers monitor the outdoor temperature to determine whether an animal can go outside”, states Eagleson. Access temperature varies considerably, even for animals from the same geographic region. For example, giraffes have an access temperature of 45 degrees. African birds can endure much lower temperatures. Eagleson states that “Ostriches have an access temp of zero degrees and for storks it’s five to ten degrees.”
The animals of the Indonesian Rain Forest also have a diverse range of access temperatures. According to Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar, primates venture outdoors as long as temperatures are above 40 degrees. The 40-degree threshold also applies to tigers. Says Dunbar, “Some of the animals have continuous access to the outdoors, and some go out on exhibit if the weather allows it.” The birds of the rain forest, however, spend the off-season inside the rain forest dome.
So although the zoo is closed for the season, the animals are still here…with the exception of one group. The horses and ponies spend the winter off-site at a family farm.
The animals of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will all be here and ready for opening day on April 26. Will you join us?
Beautiful Birds of Prey
Some of our most fascinating birds are a diverse group of feathered predators known as “birds of prey.” Owls, vultures, and hawks are part of this group.
These birds share some key features: sharp talons, a strong, hooked beak, and excellent eyesight. Some, like owls, can capture a mouse in complete darkness. Vultures can smell a dead animal from up to a mile away!
As top predators in their ecosystems, birds of prey face unique conservation challenges. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo supports the conservation efforts of the Peregrine Fund in Tanzania as they work to protect these amazing animals.
Meet the birds of prey exhibited at the zoo:
Posted in: African Animals, Birds
How to Train a Crane
For sheer beauty and elegance, few zoo birds rival the wattled cranes in the African Journey. You’d never guess that these seemingly peaceful birds have an aggressive streak.
“They will jab at you with their beak,” says Amber Eagleson, who manages the African Journey. “And there is some serious power in those legs – they will kick right at you.”
Wattled cranes stand four to five feet tall and are native to wetlands throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Our birds, Betty and Hannibal, are an established pair who produced their first clutch of eggs last year. Unfortunately, both eggs were crushed, probably by the cranes themselves as they moved around in their nest – not uncommon in first-time parents.
Because of the potential for injury, zoo keepers always work in pairs when entering the cranes’ marshy enclosure, which sits along the boardwalk near the African Journey’s exit. They also wear goggles for eye protection, and carry a broom to fend off the birds if they get aggressive.
Another tool used to manage the cranes is training. “The cranes are trained to station on a target,” like a colored board on a stick, Eagleson explains. “By rewarding them when they touch their beak to the target, we can move them to a different area of the exhibit.” This allows keepers to keep the cranes’ attention when crews are performing maintenance in the exhibit, for example. “It also allows us to see the birds up close and inspect their body condition,” Eagleson says. The cranes are rewarded for their participation with pinky mice.
Wattled crane populations are shrinking in Africa, due to destruction and alteration of wetlands.
Click on the photos below to view them full screen.
Betty and Hannibal reinforce their pair bond with unison calls – loud, shrill honks that are made with heads tilted back. They also perform an elaborate mating dance, jumping up and down with wings flapping while moving back and forth. “I see this nearly every day,” Eagleson says. Also, watch for nest-building activity this fall – eggs are usually laid in late August or early September in a huge grassy nest.
Perfect Plumage for a Penguin
If you’re a penguin, your feathers are super-important: they keep you warm in chilly waters, they keep your skin dry, and provide you with a snappy tuxedo-like outfit.
But once a year, it all falls apart – literally. During a one-to two-week period each year, all of a penguin’s feathers fall out. This process is called molting, and it causes dramatic changes in the zoo’s African black-footed penguin flock.
“Each of our 17 penguins molts on a different schedule,” says zoo keeper Kasey DeLucenay. “There is almost always someone in the process.”
Molting begins with each penguin increasing its weight by about 50% in just a few weeks. “A bird that weighs five pounds might gain more than two pounds,” DeLucenay says. The weight gain helps a penguin get through the molt – a time when it can’t swim and hunt for fish – without eating.
During the molt, the penguins look scruffy, with patches of fluffy feathers popping up in random spots. “The molt seems to start at the tail and work its way up the body,” DeLucenay says.
Eventually, the old plumage is replaced by a sleek new set of feather. In juveniles, the brown feathers are replaced by the black-and-white plumage of the adults. As a finishing touch, the penguins preen each feather by rubbing it with waterproofing oil, which is taken from a gland at the base of the tail.
Click the photos below to enlarge.
How to Make a Lion Eat His Dinner
Bill the lion needs no introduction. His laid-back attitude and stunning physique make him a crowd favorite. Thanks to his penchant for resting on the exhibit window, he’s in thousands of family photos. Could he be any more of a superstar?
“I think Bill just enjoys being awesome,” says zoo keeper Jennifer McDermott.
Bill was only two years old with a scruffy little mane when he debuted at the African Journey’s grand opening in 2009. As he prepares to celebrate his 7th birthday on July 22, he has matured into a beautiful 435-pound adult male lion.
But amid all the hype, Bill has a few bad habits. According to McDermott, “Bill is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen.”
Because lions eat only one thing – meat – this can be a problem. The zoo buys a frozen prepared meat diet (similar to a tube of ground beef) by the ton. When a new batch of meat arrives, keepers know that Bill will snub his finicky nose at it, at least for the first few days.
“He makes what I call a ‘yuck’ face, like a little kid,” says McDermott. “He’ll scrunch up his eyes, stick out his tongue, and walk away from his food.” In lion-speak, this apparently means “I don’t wanna eat this, and you can’t make me!”
McDermott doesn’t worry about Bill’s diva-like attitude regarding his dinner. “He eventually eats it,” she says.
Unlike Bill, Ina the lioness is very interested in her food. When McDermott calls the cats to dinner at the end of the day, Ina makes a beeline for the meat placed in their night quarters. Bill, on the other hand, takes his sweet time. “We just wait him out,” says McDermott. When he does decide to come inside, “He walks very slowly,” she says.
Bad habits aside, McDermott is in awe of Bill. “I love looking into his eyes,” she says. “He’s just beautiful.”
Click the photos below to enlarge.