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Happy Birthday, Sea Lions!

The zoo’s California sea lions will celebrate their birthday this Saturday, June 14.  The festivities begin at 11AM and will coincide with the scheduled sea lion show.

Three of our sea lions – Fishbone, Grits, and Cassandra – were actually born on June 14.  (Legend’s birthday is on May 6.)  How does a colony of four aquatic mammals celebrate their special day?  With a “cake” and some water games!  Zoo keeper Nikki Finch is involved in planning the festivities.  “The sea lions will get a very special birthday cake made of fish and ice,” states Finch.  They will also perform behaviors and play in the water.  Zoo guests are invited to the party!

The sea lion show, which happens every day at 11AM and 3PM, is a guest favorite at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Sea lions are known for their intelligence, and the zoo’s colony has the opportunity to showcase their smarts at the daily shows.  Fishbone, Grits, Legend, and Cassandra are trained to perform a variety of behaviors and seem to enjoy the attention from zoo keepers and guests.

The show is fun and energetic, but the zoo also hopes that guests will take an important message with them:  Our sea lions eat sustainable seafood and we can, too!  By choosing seafood that is harvested and farmed in a way that protects our oceans, we can make a big difference.  The zoo has partnered with Seafood Watch to help guests understand why sustainable seafood matters.  We even have a free app to help you make better seafood choices.    Stop by a show this summer to find out more, and be sure to wish the zoo’s sea lions a Happy Birthday on June 14!

goat zoo scale

Guess Which Animal Weighs 120 Pounds

If you visited the Indiana Family Farm at the zoo last weekend, you might have noticed that our goats got some extra attention from zoo keepers.  Many of our guests were curious why the goats were paraded, one at a time, into a nearby barn.  It was goat-weighing day, of course!

The zoo keeps a variety of records on each of its animals, including weight.  Zoo keepers track each goat’s weight throughout the year to look for any fluctuations.  Keeping accurate health records, including weight, helps zoo keepers and vet staff monitor for changes in the animals.  This in turn helps the keepers and staff to spot potential health concerns early.

“We weigh each goat monthly, or more often if we have concerns about the animal not eating enough,” states zoo keeper Chase Caldwell.

With goats, however, keeping up a robust diet usually isn’t a problem.  Most of the zoo’s goats will try to eat almost anything, including maps, purses, shoe laces, and even the scale.  “It’s a goat thing,” says Caldwell.  “They like to test everything out to see if they can eat it.  We don’t even have to train them to step onto the scale.  We just put food out and they step right up.”

Which goat topped the scale?  It was Oliver, a buff-colored male weighing in at 55.3 kilograms (about 120 pounds).

Click on the photos to enlarge:

 

black-breasted leaf turtle

Teeny-Tiny Turtle Baby

Our newest zoo baby may be small, but tiny creatures are a big deal for the zoo keepers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Say “hello” to our brand new black-breasted leaf turtle in the Indonesian Rain Forest

This teensy terrapin is almost three weeks old and weighs just over six grams (about the same weight as a quarter).  Black-breasted leaf turtles are an endangered species managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which makes this a very important birth.  Zoo keepers are caring for the hatchling behind-the-scenes and monitoring its progress carefully. 

Dave Messmann, who works with turtles and other zoo reptiles, related the cautious enthusiasm surrounding the baby animal, “We waited for two weeks before inviting anyone to take pictures.  We wanted to be sure that the hatchling was thriving before introducing it.  We’re excited about hatching an endangered species and we’re monitoring this one very closely.”

Click on the photos to enlarge (additional text below):

Why are black-breasted leaf turtles endangered?  It all comes down to habitat destruction and over-collection.  Black-breasted leaf turtles are native to Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Southern China.  They are used in Traditional Asian Medicine, and are often sold as pets. These turtles’ unique facial expression and small size make them particularly attractive within the pet trade.  However, Messmann contends that this endangered species might not be as easy to rear as people assume.  “Turtles require a lot of care and proper nutrition throughout their lives.  At the zoo we give them a specific diet and document their care.  If people don’t feed and nurture them properly their shells can become deformed.”  The diet to which Messmann refers consists of fruit, vegetables, worms and crickets.

Black-breasted leaf turtles live up to 20 years but only reach an average length of five inches, making them one of the smallest turtles in the world.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital. 

 

 

Who Ordered This?

com·mis·sar·y

noun, pronounced: [kom-uh-ser-ee]

1. a store that sells food and supplies to the personnel or workers in a military post, mining camp, lumber camp, or the like.

2. a dining room or cafeteria, especially one in a motion-picture studio. 

(Source:  dictionary.com)

Great definition, but they forgot about zoos!  Did you know that the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo operates its own commissary?  The zoo has four staff members who work seven days a week, 365 days a year prepping food for the animals.  Their daily tasks include meal planning, nutrition research, food prep, meal distribution, and of course cleanup.

To showcase the commissary staff’s handiwork, we put together a quiz called “Who Ordered This?”  Try to guess which animal goes with each of these nutritionally-balanced culinary masterpieces.  (You can find the answers at the bottom of this page):

 food quiz answers

 

pheasant pigeon zoo attraction

For Your Zoo-to-Do List…

Maggie, a very friendly green-naped pheasant pigeon in Indonesian Rain Forest, experienced a life-changing event in August when she was introduced to Zazu, a male pheasant pigeon.  Maggie and Zazu quickly became a pair, and recently welcomed a new baby!

Winter has been a busy time for Maggie and Zazu.  They built a nest on the forest floor and took turns incubating their single egg.  Now that their chick has hatched, both parents hunt for seeds, fruit, and insects to feed their chick.    

Feeding a new baby bird is a tireless job, but all their work is paying off.  The new chick is already half the size of its parents and will soon be foraging for food on its own.

Keepers are eager to learn the chick’s gender, but they’ll have to wait until they can catch it.  The chick is always on the move and darts behind vegetation when approached. “The way we determine a pheasant pigeon’s sex is by doing a blood draw.  We’re waiting until the baby gets a little older and more comfortable with the staff before we approach it,” says zoo keeper Tiffany Jones.  

Green-naped pheasant pigeons are native to New Guinea and nearby islands, and they are considered endangered in parts of their range.  Pheasant pigeons are non-flighted birds, but they can glide for short distances.  The zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan for these birds to manage breeding and maintain a genetically healthy zoo population.

Because she often strolled alongside the rain forest boardwalk, Maggie is well-known to zoo guests.  We’ll see if she returns to her old habits this summer when her chick becomes independent.  Visit Maggie and see if you can spot the new chick when the zoo opens for the season on April 26.

Click on the images below to enlarge:

 

reticulated python zoo attraction

How Many Keepers Does it take to Hold a Python?

When Bo the reticulated python got his annual physical last week, it took seven people just to hold onto this unusual patient in the Indonesian Rain Forest.

At 15’ 3” long, Bo is 61 pounds of pure muscle and squirmed mightily to express his displeasure at this visit from the vet. 

Reticulated Python zoo attraction
It took seven zoo keepers to hold Bo during his annual vet exam.

Zoo staffers get their hands on this powerful snake only once a year, so despite Bo’s protests, zoo veterinarians Dr. Joe Smith and Dr. Kami Fox wanted to examine every inch of him (one hundred eighty-three inches, to be exact!) 

Lead snake keeper Dave Messmann held Bo’s head while other keepers and veterinary staff lined up to stretch out the snake.  Keepers inspected Bo’s skin, looking for irregularities in his scales or lumps under the skin. 

Messmann gently held Bo’s mouth open with a rubber spatula so Dr. Fox could examine the snake’s teeth.  A string was run down Bo’s spine to determine his exact length, and Dr. Fox drew blood from Bo’s tail for testing. 

“Bo is a healthy snake,” said Dr. Smith after the exam.  As if he was trying to prove his excellent physical condition, Bo downed a tasty rat immediately after being returned to his exhibit.

New Year, New Babies!

Zoo keepers got a big surprise last month when a tentacled snake in the Indonesian Rain Forest gave birth to seven babies overnight!

Zoo keepers knew that the female snake was pregnant, but weren’t sure when the babies would arrive.  An ultrasound done in December revealed a tangle of little snakes inside the mother.

Dr. Kami Fox, the zoo’s veterinary intern states that the length of gestation and anticipated due date for tentacled snakes is difficult to determine.  “We try to assess how far along they are via ultrasound but rarely do we witness the actual birth.  In this particular case, the snake gave birth during the night and in the morning we observed the new babies.” 

Tentacled snakes are ovoviviparous, which means they produce eggs inside their body, but instead of laying eggs they give birth to live young.  Here’s how it works:  The unborn snakes are nourished via egg yolk (the mother has no placenta), and the eggs hatch prior to birth.  The mother snake then delivers live young.

Tentacled snakes are ambush hunters. According to Zoo Keeper Dave Messmann, “They use their tails to anchor themselves and wait for their prey.”  At this point, the unique tentacles for which the species is named allow the snake to sense vibration from the unsuspecting prey – usually a small fish.  Once the predator becomes aware of its prey it strikes with its mouth.  The strike is lightning-fast, lasting only a matter of milliseconds. 

Baby tentacled snakes begin hunting just hours after birth.  According to Dr. Fox, “The babies come out hungry so we provide size-appropriate fish for them.”

Our veterinary team performed an ultrasound on a pregnant tentacled snake. Click for video.

 

 The only known predator to tentacled snakes is humans.

cookie pony 107x107

Goodbye, Cookie

For 22 years, thousands of children took their very first pony ride on a friendly zoo pony named Cookie.  We are saddened to report that Cookie passed away last month at age 38.

“We always put first-time riders on Cookie,” said Byron Hooley, whose family has operated the zoo’s pony rides for nearly 40 years.  “She could sense if kids were a little scared and would take it nice and slow.” 

A 38-year-old pony is considered very old, according to Hooley. 

In her advanced age, Cookie only worked a few days a week last season.  “Everyone always asked for Cookie,” Hooley said.  “There were so many parents who rode Cookie when they were kids, and wanted their children to have the same experience.”

“All my grandkids took their first pony ride on Cookie,” Hooley said.  “She was one of those ponies who took care of her rider.  Cookie will be tough to replace.”

Share your memories of Cookie on the zoo’s Facebook page.

 

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?

capuchin monkey and pumpkin

Pumpkin Playtime

Animals and pumpkins may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they are a big hit at the zoo.  With so many pumpkins here for the Wild Zoo Halloween, zoo keepers are grabbing gourds to use as enrichment with the animals.

Enrichment is the practice of introducing novel foods and objects to provide mental and physical stimulation for the animals.  

Pumpkins can be used as toys, food, or a container for treats.  The dingoes’ pumpkins were covered in papier-mâché to make them extra-challenging to open.  The red pandas got pumpkins stuffed with bamboo leaves and grapes, and the capuchin monkeys received jack-o-lanterns with treats inside.  The orangutans simply cracked open the pumpkins and ate the seeds!

Enjoy these photos of zoo critters with their pumpkins – click on the photos to enlarge.