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pig with pumpkin

Got Pumpkins?

Got Pumpkins?  We do!  It’s that time of year again, when pumpkins and gourds take over the zoo’s landscape.  They’re festive and provide the perfect backdrop for our annual Wild Zoo Halloween event, but our sea of squash is more than just décor.  The pumpkins we stock also provide enrichment for the zoo’s animals.

Lemurs, red pandas, and pigs are among the many animals at the zoo who have “pumpkin playtime” on their enrichment calendars.  Each animal approaches the Fall treat in a different way.

Lemurs lick honey and raisins off the outside of the pumpkins.  (We can thank their zoo keepers for the five-star dinner presentation.)  Red pandas forage inside pumpkins, but not for the seeds.  Instead, zoo keepers fill the pandas’ pumpkins with their preferred diet of bamboo.  The zoo’s pigs approach the filled pumpkins in a different way, treating each one like an “edible bowl”.

Animal enrichment is a daily event at the zoo with a variety of activities tailored to each animal’s needs.  This time of year, pumpkins are aplenty and provide a seasonal twist for zoo animals.

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

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.

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These Big Cats are Turning Three

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.

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This Animal Has 50 Babies at a Time!

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:

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:

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).

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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.”

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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. 

 

 

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.

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lynx zoo attraction

There’s a New Cat in Town

Actually, we have two new cats at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!  Meet Thor and Loki, a pair of Canada lynx brothers who arrived just in time for zoo opening this week.  The cats were shy at first and spent most of their time inside the hollowed-out logs in their exhibit.  However, feline curiosity eventually prevailed and the young brothers are beginning to explore.

Canada lynx are carnivorous, so the zoo’s lynx eat a special all-meat diet mixed with vitamins and minerals.  Both of the cats are eating well and zoo keepers have found a way to encourage them to explore even more.  According to zoo keeper Rachel Purcell, “We spread their food around the exhibit.  This way they’ll come out of the logs and down the hill.” 

The cats also have distinct personalities.  Purcell states that, “Loki is a little more outgoing but Thor’s confidence is slowly coming along.  On Monday morning they spent an hour exploring near the front of the exhibit.  They’re both doing well.”

canadian lynx zoo attractionNot your household kitty cat Lynx fur is typically yellowish-brown but can include some gray. Their ears boast long, dark hairs that point straight up and act as hearing aids.  Adult lynx as well as kittens display this ear trait.  Canada lynx also have a black-tipped tail.  Lynx have long legs and large, furry paws that act as snow shoes.

A nocturnal loner Lynx usually live alone in a territory that encompasses anywhere from 5 to 100 square miles, and they are nocturnal so they sleep during the day.  The zoo’s lynx are often spotted napping inside their logs but can become active during the day time, especially in the morning.

A northern resident
Canada Lynx (also known as Canadian lynx) live throughout Canada and in northern areas of the United States.  They are typically found in forests but can also live in tundra regions.

The zoo’s Canada lynx exhibit is located just inside the front gates, across from the lion drinking fountain.  Guests can visit Thor and Loki seven days a week – Be sure to get a look at those giant paws!

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