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Ask Me!

“Connecting kids and animals is the first part of our mission. And it’s exactly what our On-grounds Interpreters are here for. They are the liaison between the animals and our guests,” says Amanda Pressler, On-grounds Interpreter Team Leader.

The program launched with the 2016 season and includes three On-grounds Interpreter Team Leaders and a team of more than 30 Interpreters.

You can find the On-grounds Interpreters at popular, interactive exhibits like the Giraffe Platform, Stingray Bay, Kangaroo Yard, Family Farm Barn, and Outback Springs. They want to answer your questions, such as what a stingray feels like or how best to build a dam in the stream. Our on-grounds Interpreters are here to help you make the most of your visit!

There is always something new to learn at the zoo, and we want you to take home new information about our animals every time you visit. If you have a question about one of our animals, ask an On-grounds Interpreter. Their blue shirts and big yellow “Ask Me!” buttons stand out in a crowd. On-grounds Interpreters love to share unique character traits of the animals at our zoo, important information about their cousins in the wild, and answer any general questions you have about the zoo.

Our new program has already impacted the zoo by giving us the opportunity to hear what our guests want and need. So come to the zoo and ask questions! The more questions you ask, the better we can educate our guests. We love your feedback and want to hear what you are learning at the zoo.

On-grounds Interpreters are even here through our new late hours (last admission is at 7 p.m.; grounds close at 8 p.m. from now through Labor Day). We can’t wait to answer your questions. Just ask!

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buff-crested bustard jessica brita-segyde

This Quirky Bird is Ready To Meet You

Meet J.A.R.V.I.S., the newest animal in the zoo’s African Journey. J.A.R.V.I.S. is a buff-crested bustard, and he’s a bird with quirky behaviors.

Buff-crested bustards are omnivorous, opportunistic hunters and will eat plants, insects, and small rodents in the wild. The zoo’s buff-crested bustard receives a diet of grains, vitamin pellets, tiny mice, meal worms, wax worms, greens, and fruit. Commissary staff chop the bustard’s food into tiny pieces and he eats approximately three ounces at each meal. According to zoo staff, he eats the mice first.

“The tiny mice are his favorite,” says Area Curator Amber Eagleson. “He’s very food-motivated and will go straight for the rodents in his diet.”

Although food gets him out and visible, J.A.R.V.I.S. can be hard to spot when meal-time is over. “He’s good at hiding,” says Eagleson, “but guests can find him if they’re patient and look under the shrubs.”

Quirky behaviors aren’t the only things that define J.A.R.V.I.S. He also has a unique physical characteristic:  J.A.R.V.I.S., like all buff-crested bustards, lacks a hind digit. This prevents his species from perching on branches.  Not to worry – buff-crested bustards have learned to hunt and nest on the ground.

Female buff-crested bustards are the nest-builders in the family. They use what’s available on the ground – clumps of leaves and grass – to make room for baby.

Courtship is also an interesting time for buff-crested bustards. Although male buff-crested bustards rarely fly, a nearby female can render them airborne. If a female were near, J.A.R.V.I.S. would probably try to get her attention with a dramatic flying behavior. Male buff-crested bustards court females by flying up and then careening down, almost crashing into the ground. Just before impact, they reverse direction and fly safely upwards again.

For now J.A.R.V.I.S. is a butler, er, bachelor. He lives with red-billed hornbills Tony and Pepper* in their exhibit near the swamp monkeys.

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*The names J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony, and Pepper are references to the Iron Man superhero series.

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7,503 Guests Celebrated Giraffe Survival with Us

Giraffes in the wild begin life with a meager 8% chance of survival into adulthood.  By the age of one, that rate increases to 50%.

That’s why we threw a big party when Kiango the baby giraffe turned one, then followed with a World Giraffe Day celebration. Combined zoo attendance for both days was 7,503 guests.

The zoo’s reticulated giraffes are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild, helping us to educate guests on the difficult situation that wild giraffes face. “Many people don’t know that giraffe numbers are in decline,” says zoo keeper Aimée Nelson, “Two subspecies of giraffes are already endangered. People are calling it the ‘silent extinction’.”

Nelson was pleased with the turnout at both events, “Education is our biggest asset for preventing extinction. Giraffes can’t reverse their population decline on their own. They need our help.”

Baby giraffes are vulnerable to predators, and although their first birthday marks a milestone for their survival rate, other challenges remain. Poaching and habitat loss threaten wild giraffe populations. The zoo is committed to supporting conservation work in Africa and to educating our guests on giraffe conservation.

Why help giraffes? “Most people can’t imagine our planet without giraffes on it,” says Nelson, “There are less than 8,000 reticulated giraffes left in the wild. The time to act is now.”

Here’s what you can do at home to help giraffes in the wild:

  • Visit the zoo! We commit $90,000 annually to conservation projects, including the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Your ticket or membership helps support this effort.
  • Donate your old electronics for use by field researchers. Items currently needed include GPS devices, SD cards, digital cameras, and binoculars. Contact the zoo at (260) 427-6843 for instructions on how to donate.
  • Educate yourself and your children. Our giraffe page is a great place to start!
  • Adopt a zoo giraffe. Your support helps us to care for these important ambassadors.

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How Do You Know if There’s a Joey in the Pouch?

Three new joeys live in the kangaroo yard this year and all of them are mature enough to spend time out of the pouch. We can hardly believe they’re all over eight months old! But with all that time spent in the pouch, we wanted to know how early zoo keepers knew the mama kangaroos had joeys…and how they could tell!

Kangaroos are pregnant for only a month before giving birth to their jelly bean-sized baby (yay for ten-day trimesters), and zoo keepers may not even realize that a kangaroo is pregnant. Immediately after birth, the little one climbs all by itself into the pouch. This takes about 10 minutes. Sometimes zoo keepers witness the tiny bab’s ascent, and sometimes they don’t; so they rely on mom’s behaviors to help clue them in on the pregnancy.

Zoo keeper Marian Powers says it’s difficult to tell when a kangaroo is pregnant, so keepers watch for changes in behavior. “We record all observed breeding behavior, so we have some idea of things that may be happening,” says Powers. “We might also notice mom leaning and preparing her pouch. When the pouch is empty, it develops a waxy coating to keep the skin protected. When mom is getting ready to give birth, she sticks her head in her pouch and begins cleaning that wax off.”

Once the baby is in the pouch it latches on to a teat and stays all safe and snuggled inside for the next six months. During this time, the joey grows and begins moving around. Sometimes it’s during this pouch-only phase of growth that zoo keepers can confirm birth. After about six months a little foot or tail finds its way out, and everyone knows there’s a baby on board.

Zoo keepers wait for the opportunity to confirm a new joey, but it can take time. “The first sighting of a toe or the tip of a tail or nose is an exciting moment. Joey watch requires a lot of patience!” says Powers.

Eventually the joey will leave the pouch for short periods of time. As it grows stronger and gains independence it leaves the pouch for longer durations and begins hopping like the adult kangaroos. But for the first half year of life, a joey’s entire world is a safe, snug little nursery attached to mom.

Animal babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

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We’re Staying Open Late this Summer

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will stay open later beginning Saturday, May 28 and continue late hours through Labor Day, September 5. The zoo will be open from 9 a.m. – 7p.m. daily. Last admission will be at 7 p.m.; grounds will close at 8 p.m.

The zoo is extending its hours to better serve members and guests. In 2015, the zoo offered extended hours on Wednesdays during the summer months. Feedback was positive and afternoon arrivals increased. This year’s late hours will happen seven days a week through September 5.

“We observed an upward trend in the number of guests arriving in the afternoon when we offered later hours,” says Ann Barker, director of finance for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Barker looks forward to the change in hours for 2016, “Summer evenings are a beautiful time to enjoy the zoo, and now we can offer that benefit to our guests seven days a week.”

Zoo Director Jim Anderson says, “We hope the evening hours will allow more people to enjoy the zoo this summer. Our zoo exists for the community, and we want to share our animals with as many people as possible.”

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Zoo Vet Saves Wild Birds from Predatory Snake

Click on the Photos to See Dr. Smith’s Field Journal from the Mariana Islands:


How the Snake Became a Threat And What We’re Doing to Save the Birds:

North of Guam in the Pacific Ocean is an archipelago of volcanic islands known as the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Two of those islands, Tinian and Saipan, are home to birds found nowhere else on earth. Those birds have thrived inside a utopia without natural predators. However, a new threat emerged during World War II.

The War made its way to Guam in the early 1940s and with it came boats, planes, and cargo. A stowaway species, the brown tree snake, found its way onto Guam and became established. This was a big problem for the birds of Guam, which had evolved without fear of predation. They were not adapted to defend against the invasive snake and made easy prey for the newcomer! The brown tree snake has also been sighted in the Mariana Islands.

The brown tree snake continues to threaten bird populations today. A not-for-profit group called Pacific Bird Conservation (PBC) is working to save the birds of the Mariana Islands, and they’ve enlisted the help of thought-leaders from zoos around the world.

Dr. Joe Smith, Director of Animal Programs at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, spent two weeks in the islands serving as a veterinary advisor to PBC’s Marianas Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Program. According to PBC’s website, the MAC Program “is intended to provide the avifauna of the Mariana archipelago with the best possible chances for long-term survival.*”

How does the MAC Program accomplish their goal?

“It’s a twenty-four-year plan,” says Dr. Smith, “and each year the program picks one or two bird species. We carefully capture the birds in large nets, then retain them for captive breeding or translocate them to another island in the chain where brown tree snakes are not detected.” This year, the team translocated Tinian monarchs and bridled white-eyes to the remote island of Guguan.

Why breed some bird species and translocate others?

“Some species are good candidates for captive breeding and others are not. Captive breeding has saved other birds from extinction, including the Guam rail. However, one of the species included in this year’s project was the Tinian monarch, a type of flycatcher. Flycatchers eat on the fly and it can be challenging for us to maintain them in captivity. Including translocation as a conservation strategy offers them the best chance of survival.”

The MAC Program also focused on the bridled white-eye this year. For this species, both captive breeding and translocation are being utilized as conservation strategies.

PBC set out to collect 50 birds of each species during the 2016 collection effort. A team of zoo professionals collected 102 individual birds and translocated them to a different island. The MAC Program also provides food and veterinary care for the birds until they can be released. Prior to release, each bird received a physical exam, blood collection, fecal parasite check, and unique leg bands that will allow it to be identified as an individual in the future. All told, the team spent three weeks on the islands of Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and Guguan.

The project will continue in 2017, with a focus on saving the rufous fantail and the Mariana fruit dove. Dr. Smith expects the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will continue its yearly commitment to the MAC Program. The zoo has actively participated in the MAC Program since 2014.

Why does a zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana care so much about wildlife in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Dr. Smith offers a conservationist’s perspective, “Every species has inherent value. We are all part of the same planet. Humans caused this ecological disruption, and it’s up to us to fix it.”

*(http://www.pacificbirdconservation.org/mariana-conservation-program-mac.html, accessed 5/16/16)

Echo on exhibit square

And baby makes three…Generations!

Echo, the penguin chick, is the beginning of a third generation of African black-footed penguins at the zoo. She’s the offspring of Chunk and Flash, and all four of her grandparents live with the zoo’s colony as well!

Echo’s parents are known for their strong bond. Last year, the pair was recommended for breeding by the Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP). The Penguin SSP is a collaborative management program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that works to maintain sustainable, genetically diverse penguin populations in zoos.

Zoo keepers were delighted when Echo hatched last November, but the baby boom didn’t stop there. The penguin colony grew by one more when Blue hatched in February. Blue is the offspring of L. Pink and R. Pink, making him Echo’s uncle.

African black-footed penguins are endangered, and every new chick gives hope to the future of their species.  The zoo financially supports SAANCOB Saves Seabirds, a non-profit organization working to reverse the decline of wild penguin populations.

Visit the zoo this season to see three generations of feathered cuteness.

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Fort Wayne Children's Zoo entrance square

Zoo Preview 2016

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo opens for the 2016 season on Saturday, April 23 with new exhibits, new animal species, and some adorable zoo babies!

“Our 50th season was a big one,” says Zoo Director Jim Anderson, “and we have even more for our guests to do and see in Season 51!”

Australian Adventure Renovation

Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens this season and will feature a complete renovation of The Outback. Animal highlights include a new reptile house featuring knob-tailed geckos and a woma python, three new aviaries featuring galah cockatoos and straw-necked ibises, and the Tasmanian devil exhibit set to open in late summer.

Renovations to The Outback also include the all-new Outback Springs play stream and updates to the Crocodile Creek Adventure Ride. “We think guests will love the new look and feel of the Crocodile Creek Adventure Ride,” says Anderson. “It’s a great time for the whole family.”

Echo the African Penguin Chick…and a Surprise New Chick!

Zoo fans are eagerly awaiting their first chance to see baby Echo, a female penguin chick that hatched at the zoo in November, 2015. Echo’s arrival marked the start of a third penguin generation at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

The zoo’s penguin colony grew by one more (surprise!) when Blue hatched in February. Blue is a male and is the offspring of bonded pair L. Pink and R. Pink, making him Echo’s uncle.

Blue still lives behind-the-scenes and will join the flock on exhibit later this spring.

Anderson says, “African black-footed penguins are endangered and their population in the wild is declining. Every new chick is important to the future of their species.”

Sumatran Orangutan Baby

Asmara the baby Sumatran orangutan is one year old this season and starting to test her independence. Asmara is sure to delight guests as she climbs, explores, and tries to steal mom’s food! Born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo to parents Tara and Tengku, Asmara represents a critically endangered species on the brink of extinction.

“Asmara is a little ambassador for her wild cousins,” says Anderson. “She helps us fulfill our mission of connecting kids with animals and inspiring people to care.”

More Zoo Babies

Guests of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can expect to find many adorable babies during their visit. In addition to a baby Sumatran orangutan and two feathery penguin chicks, guests can visit three new kangaroo joeys, a baby crocodile skink, and a baby swamp monkey.

“Animal babies are always a guest favorite,” says Anderson, “and visiting new babies is a fun way for families to connect.”

Extended Hours from Memorial Day through Labor Day

The zoo will stay open late until 7p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission gates will close at 7p.m., with zoo grounds closing at 8p.m.

“We listened to our guests,” says Anderson, “and what we heard is that they want more time to enjoy the zoo. We are pleased to offer this benefit to zoo guests.”

Extended hours also create an opportunity for guests to enjoy dinner or schedule evening picnics in the Parkview Physicians Group Pavilions. Catered group picnics were previously available during lunch hours and the zoo expects the later time slots to fill quickly.

More of What’s New

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation is officially complete and includes Stingray Bay (opened September, 2015) and a new Shark Conservation Area in the Australian Adventure Plaza

Exclusive VIP Experiences take guests behind the scenes for close encounters with their favorite animals. This year’s VIP lineup features new experiences including stingray encounters, vulture feeding, and orangutan training. For an additional fee, guests can schedule a VIP Experience and spend quality time with our animals and zoo keepers!

Updates to the Indonesian Rain Forest include a new roof in the tiger viewing area and a renovated exhibit featuring lesser sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Faye the reticulated giraffe arrived from the Cape May County Park & Zoo last winter and is sure to be a new favorite among guests. “Faye is getting along well with the herd, and we expect her to be a regular at the feeding platform,” says Anderson.

Conservation

By participating in cooperative management programs for more than 90 species and taxa, the zoo is helping to preserve genetic diversity in endangered and threatened animals from around the world, including Sumatran orangutans, reticulated giraffes, and African penguins.

Kids4Nature is a kid-friendly conservation program that invites every guest to participate,” says Anderson. Guests receive a recycled metal washer at the ticket booth. Each washer counts as a “vote” toward one of three conservation projects. “Last year, our guests helped direct more than $90,000 of the zoo’s conservation commitment toward conservation projects around the world,” says Anderson.

Plan a visit in 2016 to see what’s new at the zoo!

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