Archive for Conservation

Baby Orangutan Born at the Zoo

baby orangutan fort wayne zoo

Tara, a Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, delivered a healthy female baby in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 22.

The baby is the only Sumatran orangutan born in a United States zoo in 2014, so she represents a significant addition to the population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans.

“We are thrilled with the outcome so far,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon. “Tara is doing everything she should to care for her baby.”

Zoo keepers and veterinary staff expected 19-year-old Tara to give birth between mid-November and early December.  They had been watching Tara by remote camera overnight for several weeks.  When keepers observed Tara pacing late Friday in her off-exhibit bedroom, they suspected she was in labor and arrived at the zoo to monitor the birth.  Tara’s labor lasted a few hours, and she delivered her baby unassisted.

Immediately following the delivery, Tara began cleaning her infant and placed it in her nest – a pile of wood wool and blankets – where she sleeps at night.  The baby was first observed nursing Sunday morning.

No name has yet been chosen for the baby.  For now, Tara and the baby are staying in the bedrooms adjacent to the zoo’s orangutan exhibit.

Tara’s pregnancy was announced in October.  Orangutans are pregnant for an average of 245 days, or a little over eight months.  The baby’s father is Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, who arrived in Fort Wayne from Zoo Atlanta in 1995.

Zoo officials are cautiously optimistic about the baby’s future.  Because this is Tara’s first baby and she has never observed another female caring for an infant, officials were concerned that she may not know how to care for her baby.

To address any potential issues with the birth, zoo keepers spent the last several months preparing an extensive Birth Management Plan.  Prior to the birth, zoo keepers used a plush stuffed toy and operant conditioning to train Tara to bring her “baby” to keepers who could bottle-feed it if Tara failed to nurse.  Tara has also been trained to present her nipple to keepers to nurse a baby, in the event that keepers must provide daily care for the infant.

“So far, none of these measures has been needed,” said Weldon.  “Tara is proving to be a good mother.”

The breeding of Tara with Tengku was recommended by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that seeks to maintain genetic diversity within populations of endangered animals.  Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in 2013 from the Columbus Zoo.  Lori Perkins of Zoo Atlanta chairs the Orangutan SSP, and she says that only eight other orangutans have been born in United States Zoos in 2014, but all are Bornean orangutans – a separate subspecies from the Sumatran orangutans that are held at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Perkins notes that two other Sumatran orangutans are currently pregnant at other US zoos.

Zoo fans can watch for baby photos on the zoo’s Facebook and Twitter pages in the coming weeks. Zoo guests will have their first chance to see the new baby when the zoo opens for the season on April 25.  “Orangutans grow very slowly, so this baby will still be clinging to mom and learning to climb when the zoo opens in the spring,” said Weldon.  Orangutans have the longest childhood of any animal other than humans, and require maternal care until they are six to eight years old.

About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and an average of 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos.  In the wild, these red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations.  Fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild.  Some experts predict orangutans could become extinct in the wild within a few decades if circumstances remain unchanged.

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

Posted in: Baby Animals, Conservation, Indonesian Rain Forest, Orangutans, Zoo News

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

Happy Birthday, Tengku!

Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

Tengku the Sumatran orangutan turns 28 this week.  He was born on July 3, 1986 and came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 1995, shortly after the opening of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest.  During his nearly two decades here, Tengku has formed a special connection with zoo guests.  His social demeanor and playful behavior inspire people to care about orangutans in the wild.

What can you do to support Tengku and his wild cousins?  Here are some ideas from his birthday list:

  • Visit the zoo and spend some time in the Indonesian Rain Forest.  There you can learn more about the plight of orangutans in the wild.
  • Share your photos and stories of Tengku on social media to raise awareness about orangutan conservation.  You can connect with the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Adopt an orangutan to help us provide healthy food, exceptional care, and veterinary needs for your animal for one whole year.
  • Splurge on an orangutan VIP Experience.  Go behind the scenes with Tengku and Melati and watch as they create a unique painting right before your eyes – then take the painting with you for a one-of-a-kind home accent.  (Ages 8 and older only – up to four guests per VIP experience)
  • Get educated about endangered orangutans and find out what you can do to help.  The Orangutan Conservancy, one of the zoo’s conservation partners, is a good resource.

Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar has been working with Tengku for the past 13 years.  She shared her thoughts regarding this very special primate, “It has been a joy working with him since 2001 and I am looking forward to working with him for many years to come.  Happy Birthday, Tengku!”

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

Posted in: Conservation, Indonesian Rain Forest, Orangutans, Zoo News

Baby Red Panda Born at Zoo

red panda in log

A female red panda cub was born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on June 9 to female Xiao (pronounced JOW), age 4, and her 5-year-old mate, Junjie. 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997.  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. 

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

Contact with Xiao and her cub is extremely limited to improve the cub’s odds of survival.  For now, the pathway in front of the red panda exhibit is closed to zoo guests.   Keepers monitor the new mother, who spends most of her time in a nest box with the cub, via a remote camera system.

“We are monitoring the cub and are cautiously optimistic at this point,” says Area Manager Shelley Scherer.  “But there are still many challenges ahead for this little cub.”

An extensive protocol is in place to monitor the cub while minimizing stress on the mother.  Keepers allowed Xiao and her cub complete privacy for the first day, because data show that cubs have a better chance of survival if they are left alone with the mother for the first 24 hours.  On Tuesday, keepers quickly weighed the cub while Xiao was out of the nest box feeding; the cub weighed 139 grams.  On Wednesday, the veterinary staff performed a brief hands-on health check and determined the cub’s gender.

Daily weigh-ins will continue and supplemental feeding or hand-rearing will be implemented depending on the cub’s progress.

“We always prefer that animals raise their own young, but we are prepared to do all we can to ensure the survival of the cub,” said Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “However, hand-rearing provides no guarantee that the cub will survive.”  Weldon noted that hand-reared cubs have a 50-50 chance of survival. 

Zoo keepers conducted weekly ultrasounds on Xiao this spring to monitor the cub before birth.  Xiao was trained to stand and accept the ultrasound, during which she was rewarded with a food treat.  Her diet, which includes commercially-produced chow and fresh bamboo, was altered to provide additional nutrition during her pregnancy.  Keepers also installed a second air-conditioned nest box in the exhibit to give Xiao comfortable options for nesting.  

Tests revealed that cub born to Xiao in 2013, which survived for only three days, never ingested any milk, though the reason for this is not known.  That cub was scheduled to undergo a complete physical on the day it died.

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 last year after the cub died.  Noell visited the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 2013 and noted that the zoo’s facilities and protocols met all current standards for red panda care. 

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.  Little is known about red panda cub mortality in the wild.

“If the cub survives, zoo guests are unlikely to see it outside of the nest box until sometime in August or September,” said Scherer.   Until then, the zoo will post updates on its website and social media accounts.

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.”

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

Ribbit. Croak. Blurp.

frog zoo attraction

A core component of the zoo’s mission is “inspiring people to care.”  One of the ways that inspiration manifests itself is through the grassroots conservation efforts of zoo fans like YOU. Back in March, the zoo trained local volunteers on a program called FrogWatch USA.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) started FrogWatch USA more than ten years ago a way for “individuals and families to learn about the wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads.”  (Source: https://www.aza.org/frogwatch/) 

This type of grassroots, research-driven conservation is also known as “citizen science.”  Kathy Terlizzi, Volunteer Coordinator with the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo oversees the zoo’s FrogWatch USA program.  Terlizzi trains new volunteers every year in March so that they can observe and report on frog calls throughout the season.  Terlizzi states that, “Volunteers are out in Fort Wayne right now listening for frogs and reporting their results online.  They’ll be uploading their data all summer long.”

frog watch USA zoo conservation

Frogs are an important part of our ecosystem, and FrogWatch USA is helping to conserve many species around the country.  It’s not all work, though.  Terlizzi notes that, “The fun they have while participating is an added bonus!”

Do you want to learn more about Indiana frogs and hear their calls?  Click here for the AZA’s Indiana Frogs page.  You could join us in March to train as a FrogWatch citizen scientist!

frog zoo attraction

Trained volunteers listen for local frog calls and report them to a national scientific database.

 

Posted in: Conservation, Zoo News

Tengku Helps Wild Orangutans

orangutan

Tengku, the zoo’s male Sumatran orangutan, has something new to add to his resume:  International Researcher.  Tengku’s contribution to the research of Dr. Graham L. Banes, a biological anthropologist who visited the zoo last week, may help save these rare apes from the brink of extinction.

orangutan research zoo attraction

Dr. Banes shows some of his research to Tengku.

Dr. Banes studies the biodiversity of orangutans in zoos and in the wild and is building a database containing genetic information on every captive orangutan in the world.   

Tengku provided a blood sample so researchers can study his DNA as part of a four-generation study.  Zoo keepers had already trained him on this procedure via operant conditioning.  This video from 2012 shows the procedure:

Managed programs have existed in zoos for decades, but zoos are not the only participants in orangutan research.  Orphanages and rehabilitation centers, which are found on the “front lines” of orangutan conservation, are also included in this study.  Such facilities house orangutans who have been displaced, injured, or orphaned as a result of habitat destruction.

Dr. Banes explained that ensuring genetic biodiversity in zoos and rehabilitation centers is important.  A genetically diverse population decreases the likelihood of health problems and reduces the rate of infant mortality. 

A healthy zoo population will become essential if Sumatran orangutan populations continue to decline.  Orangutans have endured an 80-90% reduction in their natural habitat.  In other words, they are running out of places to live.  Their species is listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN (source: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/39780/0).   To compound this situation, proposed changes in Indonesian law further threaten the survival of orangutans in the wild.  According to Dr. Banes, “Preserves are being un-protected.” 

Tengku is helping his wild cousins, and so can you.  The AZA has prepared an online petition to the Indonesian government regarding the destruction of the 10-20% of rain forest cover that remains.  You can go to change.org to review and sign the petition.

The IUCN estimates that there are around 7,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.  To put that number into perspective, consider that Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis holds 70,000 people for NCAA basketball tournaments. 

The zoo’s conservation page lists resources for those wanting to get involved with the conservation of wild animals and wild places.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Conservation, Indonesian Rain Forest, Orangutans

These Endangered Species Need YOUR Help

zoo bat attraction

Most Hoosiers have seen a brown bat (aka Myotis lucifugus or “Little Brown Bat”).   It’s the mosquito-gobbling, attic-dwelling species native to much of North America.  Bats, the only flying mammal in the animal kingdom, play an important role in our ecosystem.  They control the insect population and help to pollinate many plant species.

Sadly, many of our other bat species are harder to spot and their survival may be in jeopardy.

All told, 12 species of bats live in Indiana, but four of these are endangered, including:

~Indiana bat
~Gray bat
~Northern long-eared bat
~Evening bat (endangered in Indiana)

Six other species of bat are listed as species “of special concern” by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (source: http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7662.htm). 

Because bats are a misunderstood yet essential part of our ecosystem, it is important that they continue to thrive in Indiana.

bat houses zoo conservation

A bat house hangs at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

What can you do to help? Build your own bat house!  Last summer, our Z-Team teen volunteers built several of these simple wooden structures, which now hang on zoo buildings.  Pam George, a retired educator, led this essential conservation effort. “This project did more than help our local bats,” said George. “It helped these teens learn new skills, and more importantly, that they can make a difference for wildlife.”

Get easy-to-use bat house plans from Bat Conservation International at batcon.org.

Please remember that bats, like any wild animal, should not be handled.

 Click on the images below to enlarge:

Posted in: Conservation

Did You Help Us Change the World in 2013?

kids4nature logo 107

If you visited the Kids4Nature Kiosk this summer, then you sure did!  With your help, we directed $80,000 to the zoo’s Conservation Programs.  More than 180,000 zoo guests voted by releasing a metal washer into one of three coin funnels this season.   

So who won?

  • African Lions got 43% of the votes 
  • Javan Gibbons earned 34%
  • Sandhill Cranes secured 23%
Every vote counts!

Every vote counts!

We will soon send more than $80,000 to these and other organizations to support their conservation work.  By voting at the Kids4Nature Kiosk, making donations, and rounding up  at the Wild Things Gift Shop,  you’ve helped us to protect animals and their habitats.  Thank you to everyone who got involved.  Together we’re changing the world!

For a complete listing of the Zoo’s conservation commitments, click here.

Click on a photo of one of this year’s featured projects to enlarge:

Posted in: Conservation, Zoo News

Who’s the Cutest Zoo Animal?

red panda in log

There’s never been a Cutest Animal Contest at the zoo, but we’re pretty sure the red pandas would be strong contenders for the title.  In fact, “awwww” is the most frequently uttered word at the red panda exhibit! 

Male red panda Junjie, age 5, and his mate Xiao, age 4, have distinct personalities.  According to zoo keeper Sam Emberton, Junjie is the more cautious of the two.  “Junjie prefers to sit and watch before approaching us,” she says.  Xiao (pronounced JOW) is also shy, but she gets very interested when keepers arrive with food.  “She is very food-motivated, so she is willing to approach us,” Emberton says.

The red pandas are more than just cute critters – they are vulnerable to extinction in their native Himalayan home, which includes parts of China and Nepal.  That’s why we’re celebrating International Red Panda Day on Saturday, September 21 from 11 AM – 3 PM.

The red panda population has dwindled more than 40% in the last 50 years, according to some estimates.  Illegal hunting, loss of habitat, and competition with domestic livestock pose serious threats to the red pandas’ survival.  Only about 10,000 of these bamboo-eating animals remain in the wild. 

What is the zoo doing to protect this rare species?  By participating in the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, we help manage a genetically diverse zoo-based panda population.   (Although Xiao has produced two litters of cubs in 2012 and 2013, none of the cubs survived.)  By participating in events like International Red Panda Day, we can help spread the word about these fascinating creatures.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

 

Posted in: Conservation, Red Panda, Zoo News

How to Train a Crane

Wattled crane 107x107px

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.

Viewing Tip:

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.

Posted in: African Animals, Birds, Conservation