Humans are clearing millions of acres of rain forest in Asia, Africa, and South America every year. In Sumatra and Borneo, these forests were once home to many species, like Sumatran orangutans. Now, plantations in these countries produce the most palm oil in the world, displacing these great apes.
Sumatra and Borneo are the only native habitats for orangutans. With the slowest reproductive rate of any mammal (six to ten years) and devastating habitat loss, the wild orangutan population has declined from 300,000 to lower than 45,000 in 14 years (1990–2004). The Sumatran orangutan species may have dropped as low as 6,600.
Plantations in Borneo and Sumatra produced more than 44 million metric tons of palm oil in 2009, and the number is rising. It is the most widely spread edible oil because it is used in thousands of products, including health care products, pet foods, and candy.
Palm oils themselves are not the problem; it is the sustainability of the product. Plantations can produce more edible oil on the same plot of land than any other oil, but some companies are choosing to destroy more forest area using wildfire techniques instead of replanting.
As we purchase candy for our upcoming Wild Zoo Halloween event, we are keeping the orangutans in mind by checking labels — and you should too! But be aware, there are more than 50 different names for palm oil on product labels. Check out this helpful sustainable palm oil candy brand guide.
For more information regarding the palm oil crisis, visit the Orangutan Conservancy website.
WOAH! Slow down, Norbert. You’re growing up too fast!
We are excited to celebrate our male Aldabra Tortoise‘s 54th birthday this week. Norbert is the oldest animal at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. And even though he was born on September 23, 1962, he is still like a teen in tortoise years. Giant tortoise species can grow up to be over 200 years old! The oldest Aldabra Tortoise alive today is 176 years old.
Aldabra Tortoises are also one of the largest tortoise species in the world. Average giant tortoises weigh around 550 pounds. Norbert currently weighs 566 pounds. No wonder tortoises aren’t very fast! These tortoises have strength instead of speed. Aldabra Tortoises can knock over shrubs and small trees to get to their food.
“Norbert may not be the fastest animal at the Zoo, but he comes over pretty quickly when zoo keepers arrive with food,” says Kylie Linke, Section Supervisor. “He also loves neck rubs.”
Norbert, like other Aldabra Tortoises, enjoys his fruits and vegetables. In their native habitats on the Aldabra Islands (north of Madagascar), these tortoises eat grass, plants and other wild weeds. At the Zoo, our Commissary Staff prepares watermelon, cantaloupe and grapevine for Norbert and his exhibit-mate, Purdue.
“Norbert and Purdue also love eating the leaves that are scattered around the exhibit, especially in the fall when they’re crunchy,” says Linke.
Purdue arrived at the Zoo in 1992, two years before Norbert. She was born in the wild and is thought to be in her late 60s. Like other female tortoises, she is a lot lighter than Norbert–weighing in at only 286 pounds.
Sadly, Norbert and Purdue’s kin have been listed as a vulnerable species due to drastic habitat loss. Even though this species has no true predators due to its size, sailors over the past 100 years have captured and killed the Aldabra Tortoises for food. And when their boats reached the Aldabra Islands, rats and dogs leave the ships to eat tortoise eggs. But recently, these tortoises have been held in wildlife conservation areas, and they were removed from the endangered species list.
Stop by the Aldabra Tortoise exhibit this week and wish Norbert a happy birthday!
“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!
Click on photos to enlarge:
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.
Click on the photos to enlarge:
*The names J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony, and Pepper are references to the Iron Man superhero series.
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.
Click on the photos to enlarge:
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.
Click on the photos to enlarge:
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.”
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)