Posts

vulture

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:

giraffe fort wayne zoo

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:

baby wildebeest

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:

mongoose zoo attraction

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:

lemur zoo attraction

From the Island of Madagascar

Say “hello” to one of the zoo’s newest residents!  Ombe the male lemur joined females Cushla and Kyna last November.  Now two years of age, Ombe is fitting right in.  Zoo keepers have observed him acclimating to his new troop.

“Ombe developed a strong bond with Kyna right away.  They spend a lot of time together and he also interacts with Cushla,” states zoo keeper Helena Lacey. 

Prior to zoo opening, zoo keepers worked with Ombe using positive reinforcement.  “We trained Ombe with small approximations – small steps,” Lacey explains.  “Training an animal to willingly move from one location to another is helpful for the times when they have to move indoors because of cold weather.”madagascar zoo map

A really big island Off the coast of eastern Africa, the ring-tailed lemur lives on the large island of Madagascar. They live mainly in forested areas.

What do they eat? Lemurs munch on fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, grass, and tree sap. Lemurs eat by holding food with their front feet.

lemur zoo attraction

The lemur look Lemurs’ bodies are covered with soft, thick, brown-grey fur that is very pale on their chest and stomach. Preening takes up much time of a lemur’s time.

All three of the zoo’s lemurs display the typical lemur look, but zoo keepers can easily tell them apart.  Lacey explains that “Cushla is the easiest to spot because of her short tail.  Kyna has a small, narrow face and Ombe is fluffy and handsome.”

Swift movers Ring-tailed lemurs are active both during the day and at night. Although they live mainly on the ground, they are very comfortable moving around in treetops. Lemurs escape to these treetops when threatened. They will defend their territory and signal alarm with loud calls.

Uncertain future Less than 10% of Madagascar’s original forest cover remains, putting all 30 species of lemurs in jeopardy.   The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is committed to the conservation of wild animals and wild places.  Learn more here.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

colobus baby zoo attraction

The Colobus Babies Have Names!

This just in – Zoo keepers have named the two colobus monkey babies at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo! 

~Jibini’s baby is male and named Obi (pronouced “oh-bee”).  His name means “heart.”

~Wamblenica’s baby is female and named Mchumba  (pronouced “meh-choom-ba”).  Her name means “sweetheart.”

Obi and Mchumba were born in late January.  Click here to read the zoo’s earlier blog post announcing the colobus babies’ births.

Why did keepers wait so long to name the babies?  “We wanted to wait until we found out both of their sexes so we could give them corresponding names,” says African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson.  Determining Mchumba’s sex took longer because the infant monkey clung very tightly to her mother, and keepers waited some time before approaching mom and baby.  This clinging behavior is typical in colobus infants.

Zoo Keeper Jessica Walker reports that the babies are developing normally and have undergone behavioral as well as physical changes.  “Since their arrival, the babies have developed rapidly!  Initially they clung tight to their respective mothers, and either nursed or slept for the majority of the day.  They vocalized only slightly.  Now, although they still display the clinging and nursing behaviors of infancy, both babies have been moving more and have found their voices.”

Walker also notes changes in Obi and Mchumba’s physical appearance.  “The first couple of days after birth the little ones were completely white.  Their coloration is slowly changing to resemble the black-and-white pattern of an adult colobus monkey.   The change will be more noticeable in the coming weeks.” 

The photos below were taken on February 27, 2014, around the time of the babies’ one-month birthday.  Click to enlarge:

colobus baby zoo attraction

Oh, Baby!

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo enjoyed a baby boom during the last week of January when two black-and-white colobus monkeys were born within two days of one another. 

“The fact that they were born within two days of each other was a big surprise,” stated African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson.  “We were aware that both of the adult females were pregnant, but based on their size we anticipated that one mother would deliver a bit later than the other.  We never expected two infants at the same time!”

The babies, which have not yet been named, were born on January 26 and January 28, 2014.  They were born without complication and have displayed healthy postnatal behavior.  Dr. Kami Fox, the zoo’s veterinary intern, states that “Both babies and moms are doing very well.  The newborns are clinging tightly to their respective mothers, just like they should.  The keepers have witnessed them nursing frequently as well.” 

The colobus monkeys will live indoors until the weather permits outdoor access.  During the zoo season, guests can observe the troop on exhibit in the African Journey.  The following six monkeys make up the zoo’s colobus troop:

  • adult male Finnigan
  • adult female Wamblenica
  • adult female Jibini
  • Wamblenica and Finnigan’s newborn (gender unknown)
  • Jibini and Finnigan’s one-year-old daughter Kaasidy
  • Jibini and Finnigan’s male newborn

 

Eagleson explains why the sex of the second colobus baby remains unknown, “We have yet to determine the gender of Wamblenica’s baby because mom is extremely overprotective.  Her baby clings tightly to her at all times and we’ve allowed Wamblenica some distance to avoid unintended stress on mother and baby.”

 

Colobus monkeys live in the rain forests of central and eastern Africa.  They grow into adept climbers despite their unique hand structure.  Although it is common practice to reference the “opposable thumbs” of primates, colobus monkeys lack this feature and instead use their four full-sized fingers to form a hook that helps them grasp branches. In addition to climbing, colobus monkeys can leap from tree to tree by launching themselves from a high limb on one tree to a lower limb on another.  Guests of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can observe this behavior when the zoo opens on April 26.

 

 

 

Click on the images below 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”?

otter fort wayne zoo

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”:

 Outdoors Indoors                    Both                       
  • North american river otters
  • Indonesian Rain Forest Birds
  • African Journey birds
  • Sea lions
  • Komodo dragon
  • Primates
  • Red pandas
  • Jelly fish
  • Lions

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:

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Eurasian eagle owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Names:  Igor, Wednesday, Morticia, & Gomez
Location:  African Journey
Look for these birds on the deadfall perches on the
savannah. Learn more

Names:  Gypsy & Seeker
Location:  Central Zoo
Seeker, the female, is the larger of the two birds.
Learn more

 
Verreaux's Eagle Owl

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

 
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Name:  Roosevelt
Location:  African Journey
These birds are also known as Milky Eagle Owls.

Name:  Vincent
Location:  Central Zoo
Vincent was struck by a car and brought to the zoo. 
He cannot be released because he has an eye injury.

 
Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 
Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Name:  Maverick
Location:  Central Zoo
Red-tailed hawks are common in our area.  Look
for them on fence posts as you drive on the highway.

Name:  Lindbergh
Location:  Indiana Family Farm
Peek through the wooden barrier in the Big
Red Barn to get a look at this nocturnal bird. 
Learn more