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countdown zoo attraction

Only 10 More Days!

We selected April 26 as our opening day way back in September of 2013, and now it’s almost here!  We are nearly caught up from the challenges that the winter weather threw at us, and our staff is in high gear prepping for opening day.  Here’s a list of what we’re doing this week:

  • Exhibits are getting minor repairs and new paint jobs on warm days.
  • Rides are being cleaned and “un-winterized” to prepare for the required state inspection they undergo every year.  This winter provided a few hurdles: the Australian Adventure River Ride finally thawed at the end of March!  This week, crews are reinstalling the Sky Safari ride chairs.  (See the photo gallery below.)
  • Landscaping crews are mulching the zoo’s many flower beds.
  • New employees are being trained to take on their new tasks.
  • Zoo favorites like the Lion Drinking Fountain get a makeover to look their best in your family photos!
  • Last but not least, the animals who have been living in warm indoor quarters will move into their outdoor enclosures next week.
capuchin monkey zoo attraction

The capuchin monkeys will move onto Monkey Island next week.

All of the staff and volunteers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo are counting down the days to April 26.  We hope you’ll join us in making 2014 the best zoo season ever!

Click on the images below to enlarge:

orangutan

Tengku Helps Wild Orangutans

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:

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

 

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:

 

zoo bat attraction

These Endangered Species Need YOUR Help

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:

A diver chats with guests at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

This Job Never Gets Cold

After spending 113 hours and 36 minutes under water in 2013, the zoo’s Dive Team is far from “all wet!” The divers, along with support from staff on the dry side, completed 85 dives last year in their quest to keep the zoo’s Great Barrier Reef tanks sparkling clean.  

Though the 78 degree water temperature sounds balmy, Aquarium Area Manager and Dive Safety Officer Gary Stoops says divers need to wear wet suits to retain body heat, which is lost faster in water than in air.  The thick wet suits also protect divers from aggressive fish.  “Some of the fish are very territorial.  The triggerfish and even the zebra moray eel have been known to challenge the divers, and even nip at their wet suits.”

The shark tank is a different story.  No diver has ever been bitten during a dive with the blacktip reef sharks.  “They just stay away from us,” states Stoops.

When the zoo is open for the season, guests can witness dives and can even get involved in an interactive dive chat!  Divers are outfitted with a speaker and microphone that  allow for live question-and-answer sessions.  Dive Chats are held every Wednesday and Thursday at 1:30 PM.

All-told, divers spend about 90 minutes in the water during each dive.  Most of that time is spent cleaning the coral, and of course avoiding the eel.  At 15, he is the aquarium’s oldest resident and is an expert at defending his territory.

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”?

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.

 

kids4nature logo 107

Did You Help Us Change the World in 2013?

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:

entrance with red ZOO letters

2013 Attendance Second-Highest Ever

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo experienced its second-highest yearly attendance ever in 2013 with a total of 545,900 guests. 

This figure includes 525,744 people who visited during the regular zoo season of April 21-October 13, and 20,156 who visited during the Wild Zoo Halloween.

The zoo’s attendance record is 614,666, set in 2009 when the African Journey exhibit opened.  This figure includes regular season and Wild Zoo Halloween attendance.

The zoo opened to the public for the first time in 1965.

“We are thankful for the support of our members, out-of-town guests, and the entire community for another great year,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.  “Our staff works hard to provide an excellent experience for our visitors.  I’m proud of the work we do to connect our guests with animals every day.”

The zoo is operated by the non-profit Fort Wayne Zoological Society and receives no tax funding for operations.  Ticket sales, membership sales, concessions, other earned revenue, donations, and sponsorships comprise the zoo’s operating budget.

The zoo is the largest tourist attraction in northeast Indiana.  About one in five zoo visitors comes from outside of Indiana.  Forty percent of zoo guests are from Allen County.  For more than 90% of out-of-town zoo guests surveyed, the zoo was their main reason for travelling to Fort Wayne.

The zoo is currently closed for the season and will reopen on April 26, 2014.