sea lion fort wayne

Pucker Up!

You’ve heard of window shopping, but what about window kisses?  You can get your own window kiss at the zoo this year and it won’t cost a thing!  The zoo’s sea lions – Legend, Cassandra, Fishbone, and Grits – give guests window kisses at the end of each Sea Lion Show.  Sea Lion Shows happen twice daily and are free with zoo admission.

Why are the animals so apt to show “affection” to zoo guests?

“It’s a trained behavior.” explains sea lion trainer Britni Plummer. Plummer says, “The girls are trained on a variety of behaviors and all four will swim around the glass for window kisses at the end of the show.”

Training is a form of enrichment for the sea lions.  Zoo keepers use positive reinforcement to train the sea lions, which gives the animals choice and control.  When an animal chooses a behavior, like swimming up to the window for a “kiss,” they receive a tasty treat in return.  The 11AM and 3PM Sea Lion Shows are dynamic and enriching training sessions for the animals.  The sea lions get mental and physical stimulation, lots of fish to eat, and they develop a trusting relationship with their zoo keepers.

And guests get a kiss.  It’s a winning situation no matter which side of the glass you’re on!

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Elvis the kune kune pig square

Pig School

Elvis and Pugsley may be known for their good looks, but did you know that they’re smart, too?  The zoo’s Kunekune pigs are already intelligent animals, and now they’re going to school!

Their school is the barnyard and their teachers are zoo keepers.

Zoo keeper Heather Schuh and section supervisor Laura Sievers train Elvis and Pugsley almost every morning.  Schuh and Sievers begin each training session by greeting the animals and inviting them to participate.  If the animals choose to train that day, keepers offer treats each time an animal performs a desired behavior (like sitting, turning, or moving indoors).  The pigs’ treat is a piece of carrot, which serves as positive reinforcement for the animals.  Keepers also follow the desired behavior with a secondary form of reinforcement, like a quiet whistle.

Why train pigs?  Behavior management coordinator Holly Walsh explains the benefits, “Training gives the animals a choice to participate, thereby reducing stress for both the animals and their keepers.  Training also encourages animals to cooperate in their daily routines and also their veterinary care.” Elvis and Pugsley are learning three behaviors that will help with future vet exams:  sit, turn, and hold still. “We use positive reinforcement to teach the animals how to participate in their own care,” says Walsh. 

Animal training sessions happen every day at the zoo, and they’re fun to watch!  Stop by the Indiana Family Farm on your next zoo trip and ask a keeper if any of the animals are training that day.  You might get to watch the pigs go to school.

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zebra moray eel fort wayne zoo

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

“Yes, he really is in there,” is the answer that aquarist Gary Stoops gives when zoo guests ask, “Are you sure there’s a zebra moray eel?”

Lazarus the zebra moray eel is known for his ability to evade public view, coming out of his hiding places once or twice a day (maybe) for a feeding or brief swim across The Reef aquarium. It’s hard to believe this elusive fish is over three feet long!

His hiding places change all the time. Sometimes a guest will spot Lazarus, but by the time they’ve readied their camera for a photo, the eel has disappeared behind the coral, leaving only an inch or two of his tail visible.  How can you get a look and maybe even snap a photo of an eel known for his hide-and-seek skills?  Stoops offers advice, “Ask an aquarist or a zoo keeper when feeding time is scheduled. We offer him shrimp a few times a week.  Lazarus swims to the top of the tank once or twice during each feeding.  After that he hides again.”

But there is good news—Phase II of the Australian Adventure remodel brought hope for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the black-and-white striped swimmer!

The recent remodel of the 17,000-gallon Reef tank provided Lazarus with a new hiding spot that’s perfect for a stealthy eel.  Near the side viewing window there’s a small cave extending from the coral. If you come on the right day and look carefully inside, you might see a small face looking back at you. That’s Lazarus.

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Zoo Seeks Volunteers

Adults age 18 and older who want to connect kids and animals, support family fun, and inspire concern for nature are invited to volunteer at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Volunteers work in multiple areas of the zoo and support guest service, education programming, and provide operational support.

Anyone age 18 or older can apply to the adult volunteer program.

New volunteers are required to take five hours of training, which begins on April 14, 2016. Class schedules, an online volunteer application, and a recommendation form are available online.

“Volunteers play an important role in connecting our 550,000 annual guests to our animals,” explains Kathy Terlizzi, the zoo’s volunteer manager, “Last year, 426 zoo volunteers donated nearly 38,000 hours. That represents an eleven percent increase over the year before!”

Interested people may contact Kathy Terlizzi at 260-427-6828 or e-mail volunteer@kidszoo.org.

The zoo opens for the 2016 season on Saturday, April 23.

Purdue eye exam Kami Fox square

See What Happens When the Zoo Vet Visits the Farm

What’s it like to give annual physicals to a barn filled with animals?  We followed zoo veterinarian Kami Fox as she visited the Indiana Family Farm this week to give check-ups to the tortoises, barn owl, and cow, and to supervise the donkeys’ yearly hoof-trimming.

Tortoises Norbert and Purdue went first.  Dr. Fox examined their mouths, noses, eyes, skin, and shells.  Zoo keepers condition the tortoises’ shells with baby oil every two weeks to keep them moisturized.  Vet techs Maraiah Russell and Angie Slentz helped Dr. Fox draw blood for lab tests to assess overall health.

Next it was Lindbergh the barn owl’s turn.  Dr. Fox examined Lindbergh’s wings and feet for abnormalities.   Dr. Fox also performed a routine blood draw on Lindbergh, then the owl was weighed on a small scale.  Lindbergh did not appear stressed during the exam but all the activity must have made her sleepy – afterwards she flew up to a high corner and took a nap!

Ellie the cow was the next patient.  Ellie weighs over 800 pounds, making her exam a five-person job from start to finish.   Keepers kept Ellie calm by offering a steady supply of apples and hay for munching.  First came Ellie’s foot exam and hoof filing by a professional farrier, which encourages even weight distribution and contributes to joint health. Next, Dr. Fox felt Ellie’s body for abnormalities and to assess the fat-to-muscle ratio that the large bovine carries.  She then listened to Ellie’s four stomachs with a stethoscope, checked her eyes and mouth, and drew a blood sample.  Finally, it was time for Ellie’s yearly TB test and vaccines.

Donkeys Sarah and Sonja also received special care.  It wasn’t time for their annual annual exam yet, but it was time for a visit from the farrier, who pronounced their feet healthy.

After the round of barnyard exams, Dr. Fox said, “There are no serious medical issues to report at this time.  All the animals are in good condition. Norbert and Purdue’s oil application will be continued to keep their skin and shells conditioned and Ellie will remain on a controlled diet to help her stay lean and healthy.  Of course, we’ll continue to monitor all of the animals year-round for any medical issues.”

When you visit the zoo this summer, stop by the Indiana Family Farm to say hello to your barnyard friends, and wish them continued good health!

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man trimming tree square

Zoo Season Prep: Our Rain Forest Dome Got A Massive Trim

Conditions inside the zoo’s Rain Forest Dome are so good for tree growth that the forest below can get, well…overshadowed.

That’s when we bring in the chainsaws (and the professionals) to give the zoo’s rain forest trees a massive trim.

“We have to trim the trees back to allow light for the smaller plants,” says Kim Weldon, zoo gardener.  Some of the smaller plants in the rain forest include exotic orchids and also spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla.  Guests can even find bamboo growing along the path!

“Bonsai mindset” is the term Weldon uses to describe her approach to maintaining the dome’s small and mid-size plants.  “I try to keep things interesting and mix in new things every year.”  Weldon also oversees the bi-annual trimming of the larger trees that can grow as high as the top of the dome – up to 40 feet tall!

Weldon remembers bringing the large trees into the zoo when the Indonesian Rain Forest was built in 1994.  “We had to block off part of Sherman Boulevard.  That was over 20 years ago and those trees are still growing.”

Some of the tree species in the Indonesian Rain Forest are midnight horror and malay apple.

Take a moment to enjoy the exotic trees, delicate orchids, and fragrant spices on your next stroll through the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest, and remember that while the zoo’s rain forest trees are protected, wild rain forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Sustainable farming is critical to protect remaining rain forest habitat, especially in the palm oil industry.  You can make choices at home that encourage sustainable palm oil farming:  Choose products that are free of palm oil or products from companies that participate in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  Your choices can help to protect trees in the wild – It’s easier than many people expect!  Click here for a handy shopping guide.

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call duck fort wayne zoo

How To Train A Call Duck – And Why We Do It

The three fluffy call ducks at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s Indiana Family Farm have a busy life.  When they’re not swimming, socializing, eating, or partaking in enrichment activities, our ducks participate in training sessions with their zoo keeper.

Why do we train our ducks?

“Target training gives the animals more choice and control, which reduces stress on them,” says zoo keeper Maggie Sipe.  Sipe trains the call ducks by rewarding them for choosing to target specific objects or stand in designated spots.  “Call ducks can see color very well,” says Sipe, “and our training teaches them to move toward a specific color.  This is useful when the animals must move indoors due to weather or for medical checkups.  The ducks can choose to move into a crate and would not need to be chased or handled.”

The three male ducks, named Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard after a popular T.V. show, eagerly waddle toward their zoo keeper when it’s time for a training session.  “I’m proud of how well these three boys are doing,” says Sipe of the trio’s training efforts, “they are very good at targeting their own colors.”

The zoo employs positive reinforcement when training animals.  With positive reinforcement, zoo keepers offer a reward when an animal performs a desired behavior.  The call ducks receive a reward when they move to a desired location or target their assigned color with their beaks.

Their reward is simple but effective.  “I give them one green pea or a piece of corn when they perform a desired behavior,” says Sipe, “Those are the treats that motivate them.”

This video shows Sipe training Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard in their exhibit while zoo guests observed from the path:

The following photo set is from a recent indoor training session.  (The ducks live indoors when the weather gets cold.)  Click on the photos to enlarge:

monkey fort wayne zoo

Cutest. Baby. Monkey. Ever.

The zoo welcomed yet another cute baby – A male swamp monkey was born on January 7!

As if his big, baby eyes, fuzzy fur, and tiny little hands weren’t cute enough, this baby often sticks his tongue out at the camera!  That makes him {arguably} the cutest baby monkey ever.

Zoo keepers named the little one Bakari, meaning “promising” in Swahili.  Keepers wanted a name that starts with the letter B because baby’s parents are named Bangi and Brie.

One family member, however, doesn’t follow the alliterative status quo.  It’s big sister Luella, and despite their differing initials, she has already taken an interest in her new baby brother.  Luella, now five years old, has been watching mom Brie and trying to assist with motherly duties.

Big brother Orion is also taking an interest in Bakari and often grooms mom while she’s holding the baby.

When can guests meet baby Bakari? Zoo keeper Jess Brinneman says the baby will probably be out on exhibit when the zoo opens April 23. “We expect Bakari to be out when we open for the 2016 season. I’m guessing he’ll take an interest in the grass and leaves and the world around him.  Everyone’s looking forward to watching him explore.”

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Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

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Zoo Reveals Gender of Penguin Chick

It’s a girl! Zoo keepers today revealed the gender of an endangered black-footed penguin chick that hatched at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on November 24.

Zoo keepers made the “gender reveal” announcement and introduced the 8-week-old female chick on Penguin Awareness Day (January 20).

The chick’s gender was determined by a blood test. This is the only way to determine the sex of a young penguin, because males and females look exactly alike. This is the first penguin to hatch at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo since 2012.

The baby penguin will be on exhibit with first-time parents Chunk and Flash (and the rest of the flock) when the zoo opens for the 2016 season on April 23.

It’s not just the baby’s “cute factor,” that has the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and the conservationist community excited about the new arrival.

“The zoo participates in the Penguin Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program administered by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that manages zoo-dwelling populations of rare animals,” said Dr. Joe Smith, director of animal programs at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

“The zoo supports conservation of wild penguin populations as well,” Dr. Smith said. “We financially support SANCCOB, an organization in South Africa that conserves coastal birds in their native habitat.”

Two Fort Wayne zoo keepers recently volunteered at the SANCCOB facility. Zoo keepers Britni Plummer and Maggie Sipe travelled to SANCCOB’s headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa and spent two weeks rehabilitating and releasing wild black-footed penguins.

The choices we make at home also have an impact on wild coastal birds. By keeping rivers clean and demanding sustainably-harvested seafood, we can keep our oceans healthy and ensure that wild penguins can hunt, nest, breed, and thrive for generations.

Facts About African Black-Footed Penguins

  • Black-footed penguins are the only penguin species native to Africa. The climate in their South African coastal habitat is similar to that of Indiana, with warm summers and cold winters.
  • They are classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature with a decreasing population trend.
  • Black-footed penguins eat fish. Unregulated fishing and oil spills in South African waters contribute to their decline in the wild.
  • Chicks have different color patterns than adult penguins. Chicks’ feathers are fluffy and gray. At 14-16 months old, their juvenile plumage begins a two-phase molting process and is eventually replaced by the familiar black and white pattern of adults.
  • All 17 types of penguins (including the African black-footed) live south of the equator, so you’ll never see penguins and polar bears (which live in the Northern Hemisphere) together.
  • The African penguin can often be heard making a loud donkey-like braying noise, which is how they received the nickname “jackass penguin.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

Faye as a calf at Cape May Zoo square

New Giraffe at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

There’s a new giraffe at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo!

Faye, a two-year-old female reticulated giraffe, joined the herd this winter.  Her arrival makes a total of eight giraffes in the zoo’s herd.

Is eight enough?

Born at the zoo in Cape May, New Jersey, Faye traveled to Fort Wayne in a specialized truck.  She is not related to either of our male giraffes, so Faye represents a new bloodline that will boost the genetic diversity of the zoo-dwelling giraffe population.  “Faye might breed with Ezeji when she’s mature enough,” says zoo keeper Aimée Nelson, “but that won’t be until she’s at least three to four years old.”

The zoo is committed to ensuring genetic diversity and sustainability within the zoo-dwelling population, and also supports conservation and sustainability of wild giraffes in Africa.  Through financial support, the zoo helps to fund the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s ongoing research to better understand all nine subspecies of giraffes found throughout Africa.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has confirmed that wild giraffe populations are in a state of decline.  Timely research is critical in the race to effectively estimate numbers that remain in the wild and to assess the status of each subspecies.

For now Faye is getting to know the herd in the zoo’s state-of-the-art giraffe barn.  Nelson says that the new girl plays with young Kiango, who was born in June.  Nelson has also observed a possible bond forming between Faye and Kiango’s mom, Zahra.  Faye also displays some bold personality traits.  “She has a fearless quality and she’s doing very well with her training.  We think she’ll choose to go into the exhibit when the weather allows.”

African Journey manager Amber Eagleson expects Faye to be a “regular” at the feeding platform. “She’s always motivated to eat and accepts treats from keepers, so we think she’ll approach the guests this year.”

You can buy lettuce to feed Faye and the rest of the herd when the zoo opens for the 2016 season on April 23.  Until then, learn more about giraffe conservation in the wild and what you can do to support Faye’s wild cousins.

giraffe fort wayne zoo

Faye the giraffe, shown here as a youngster at New Jersey’s Cape May County Zoo, is the newest member of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s herd.  Photo by Dr. Alexander Ernst.