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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.

 

Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

6 Things You Never Knew About Orangutans

With the spotlight on Tara, our new orangutan, we’re sharing some orangutan insights this week!

1. Orangutans are lazy
It’s true – even wild orangutans sleep late and take lots of naps.  Because they are so intelligent, they know exactly which trees are fruiting.  They’ll go directly to the food source, eat, then rest.  No need to wander the forest all day searching for a meal! 

2. Orangutans make their beds
In the wild, orangutans arrange leaves and branches to make a comfy nest.  Check out this video of Tengku, our male orangutan, making a nest out of blankets and shredded paper.   

3. Orangutans are tree-dwellers
Wild orangutans rarely descend to the ground, and the same is true at the zoo.  The artificial trees and vines in Orangutan Valley allow our orangutans to move just as they would in the forest.   Tengku shows how it’s done in the video below. 

4. Orangutans use umbrellas
In the rain forest, orangutans hold big leaves above their heads when it rains.  At the zoo, our orangutans put blankets, hats, and paper bags on their heads.

5. Orangutans aren’t monkeys
Along with gorillas, chimpanzees, and gibbons, orangutans belong to the group of primates called apes.  Apes have bigger brains and are generally larger than monkeys.  The easiest way to tell them apart:  monkeys have tails, apes don’t.

6. Orangutans need our help
Found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans are in trouble.  Sumatran orangutan populations have declined up to 80% since the 1950s, mainly because their habitat is being destroyed.  You can help by shopping responsibly for products that contain palm oil, which is grown in Sumatra and is found in many everyday products. Get a free mobile app to help with your shopping choices. 

Learn more about orangutans
  

Meet Tara, the zoo’s newest orangutan!

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

Tara the orangutan

Tara the Orangutan Now on Exhibit

Tara, the Sumatran orangutan who arrived at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo this spring, is ready to meet the public.  She will be in the orangutan exhibit now through Sunday.

“Tara is amazing,” says zoo keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.  “She has adapted very well to her new home.”

Tara has not yet been mixed with Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, or Melati, a 28-year-old female, so she will be alone in the exhibit through the weekend.  “We want Tara to become completely comfortable in the exhibit before being mixed with the other orangutans,” Selzer said.  So far, the three orangutans have had limited contact with each other through mesh panels behind the scenes.

“Our next step is to allow Tara to meet Melati face to face,” Selzer says.  That encounter will probably happen in the next few weeks behind the scenes, meaning that there could be days when no orangutans are in the exhibit.  After Tara and Melati get to know each other, Tengku will join them.

Tara, age 18, has a habit of climbing up to the skylights in the orangutan exhibit, so zoo guests will have to look carefully to see the petite red ape this weekend.

Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in April from the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo.  She can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands, and feet.

The zoo hopes that Tara and Tengku will someday produce offspring, but it is too early to predict when that might happen.

Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species and are managed in zoos by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  These rare apes are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where their future is threatened by persistent habitat destruction as forests are converted to palm oil plantations, timber concessions, and mining operations. Zoos could prove to be the last stronghold for this species, which some experts predict could become functionally extinct in the wild within 10 to 20 years.

Tara the orangutan

Introducing Tara the Orangutan

Tengku and Melati, the zoo’s Sumatran orangutans, are about to make a new friend:  Tara, a female orangutan, is the newest member of the orangutan family.

“Tara is full of personality,” says zoo keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.  “We’re thrilled to have her in Fort Wayne.”

Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in April, and, after completing a routine 30-day quarantine period, is getting to know male orangutan Tengku, who turns 27 on July 3, and female Melati, age 28.  Introductions are taking place behind the scenes.  “We first allow the orangutans to see each other through mesh doors,” explains Selzer.  “Only after we are comfortable with their interactions will we let them meet face to face.” 

The introduction process could take a few months, Selzer says, so it could be awhile before zoo guests see Tara in the Orangutan Valley exhibit.  During the introduction period, Tengku and Melati will be allowed to move back and forth between the exhibit and the behind-the-scenes areas where Tara lives, so there could be times when no orangutans are in the exhibit.

Born at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tara is 18 years old, which is middle aged for an orangutan (the median life expectancy for female Sumatran orangutans is 32 years).  She moved to the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo in 2002. Both Tengku and Melati have lived in Fort Wayne since Orangutan Valley opened in 1995 in the Indonesian Rain Forest exhibit.

“Tara is an awesome orangutan,” says Selzer.  “The staff at the Columbus Zoo took excellent care of her.”  Selzer notes that Tara is already trained on several medical behaviors, such as presenting her arm for a blood draw, which make her daily management much more efficient.   

Tara can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands, and feet.

Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species and are managed in zoos by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  These rare apes are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where their future is threatened by persistent habitat destruction as forests are converted to palm oil plantations, timber concessions, and mining operations.  Zoos could prove to be the last stronghold for this species, which some experts predict could become functionally extinct in the wild within 10 to 20 years.

Learn how you can help orangutans by making wise purchases of everyday items made with palm oil.

Learn more about Sumatran orangutans.

Click on the images below to enlarge.

 

orangutan

Healthy Hearts for Orangutans

Keeping animals healthy is a zoo keeper’s number one goal.  But because some health problems can remain unseen until it’s too late, zoos keepers turn to diagnostic tools for help.

Heart problems are a leading cause of death for both zoo-managed and wild orangutans and gorillas, so zoos have banded together to develop the Great Ape Heart Project, based at Zoo Atlanta.  The project is collecting data on orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas that will advance understanding of ape heart conditions. 

“This effort will help us understand what healthy ape hearts look like,” said Zoo Veterinarian Joe Smith, DVM, who serves as the veterinary advisor for the Orangutan Species Survival Plan and a member of the Great Ape Heart Project Executive Steering Committee.

At the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, keepers conduct weekly ultrasounds on our two orangutans, Tengku (male) and Melati (female), assisted by  ultrasound technicians Sue Hansen and Kathy Rutschilling.  Ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure where a probe is held against the body, and sound waves emitted from the probe generate an image of structures within the body.  The ultrasound machine was donated by Lutheran Hospital. 

Keeper Angie Selzer explains that getting ultrasound images of orangutan hearts took months of training.  “First, we had to get the orangutans used to the big ultrasound machine,” she said.  The orangutans were already trained to present their chest to the keepers, so the next step was introducing the ultrasound probe and holding it against the chest.  “We started with a piece of PVC pipe with a cap on the end, then we switched to using the real probe,” Selzer said.

All procedures are conducted through heavy wire mesh to protect keepers from the orangutans, who are far stronger than humans of equal size. 

The orangutans are now comfortable with the routine procedure except for one aspect:  the clear gel applied on the end of the ultrasound probe.  “Tengku does not like the ultrasound gel at all,” Selzer said.  “He keeps a blanket nearby to wipe off his chest after each session.” 

After Dr. Dave Kaminskas, a local cardiologist, reads the ultrasounds, then the data is sent to the Great Ape Heart Project’s database, where it will help build a healthy future for apes – both in the wild and in zoos.

Read more about orangutans here.