Zoo Blog

August 13, 2014

These Big Cats are Turning Three

Tiger with guest 107pxl

Indah and Bugara, the zoo’s twin Sumatran tiger siblings, are turning three this week…but their birthdays aren’t on the same day.  Why not?

“Indah was born before midnight and Bugara was born shortly after,” explains zoo keeper Kristen Sliger.  “So even though they’re litter-mates they have different birthdays.”

The pair arrived in Fort Wayne last spring when they were still one year old.  Guests can get up close and personal with the tigers – their glass wall exhibit is designed for close (but safe) encounters.  Children can have fun playing “peek-a-boo” with Indah and Bugara when the cats venture in and out of sight near the large glass viewing area.

Guest interaction keeps the tigers active, but what happens before and after hours?  Sliger discusses some of the enrichment activities that tigers enjoy before and after they go out on exhibit.

“We spray Indah and Bugara with an all-natural fly spray every morning just after we put them out on exhibit,” states Sigler.  “They get active during and after the spray.  We think it has something to do with the mint smell and its close relation to catnip.”

Indah and Bugara eat a specially-mixed feline diet of meat and vitamins, but Sliger shares that Sunday evenings are extra-special for the pair.  “Every Sunday when they come in for the night they each get a huge bone.  It’s a cow’s femur.”

Each tiger gets its own bone to avoid any sibling rivalry.  Indah may be a little older, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to share her treats yet.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Animal Diets, Enrichment, Indonesian Rain Forest, Tigers, Zoo News

August 6, 2014

This Animal Has 50 Babies at a Time!

Mantid 104pxl

If you have trouble keeping track of your kids, imagine having 50 of them at once!  That’s how many offspring the dead-leaf mantids in the Indonesian Rain Forest produce in a single batch.  These big bugs are a type of praying mantis perfectly camouflaged to look like dead leaves.

Zoo keepers are working on breeding a self-sustaining population of this species, so the 50 tiny mantids were a welcome addition.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann explains why it’s important for the zoo to breed and support its own population of dead-leaf mantids, as opposed to relying on outside sources.  “We want to sustain our population so we don’t have to have new insects shipped to us,” he said.  “If one of our populations crashes, there is no guarantee that another zoo is still exhibiting this species. Even if they do have some, they may not have any surplus animals to send us.”

Dead-leaf mantids can reproduce in two ways.  One is fertilization, when a male mantid approaches a female in the traditional mating ritual, resulting in fertilized eggs.  As with other praying mantis species, the female is larger than the male and may become aggressive shortly after mating.  Females can also reproduce via the asexual method of parthenogenesis.  This happens when the female lays unfertilized eggs that hatch into viable young.  Parthenogenesis typically results in female offspring since there is no genetic component from a male without fertilization.

mantid fort wayne zooWhether fertilization or parthenogenesis occurs, the next step is the same:  the female produces an egg case called an “ootheca” (see photo on left) in which eggs are deposited.  In the case of fertilization, the female makes the ootheca 4-6 weeks after mating.  The material for the ootheca is excreted from her abdomen like a ribbon and formed into a case that will protect her eggs.  She adheres the ootheca to the wall of the aquarium she lives in.

The zoo currently has one adult male mantid and keepers believe that the 50 new babies resulted from fertilized eggs.

Babies emerge from the ootheca after five weeks and look like miniature adults.  They go through six instars (phases) before reaching full maturity.  The young, or “nymphs”, double in size during each instar, then shed their skin before doubling in size again.  The six instar phases take about 3-4 months.  Dead-leaf mantids live about one year.

Dead-leaf mantids eat pinhead crickets and certain types of vegetation but will sometimes prey on each other.  They are native to Southeast Asia.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Indonesian Rain Forest, Insects

July 30, 2014

Our Very Own “Rock Star”

giraffe fort wayne zoo

Did you know we have a “Rock Star” at the zoo?  That’s what Zoo Keeper Aim’ee Nelson calls Jelani the giraffe!  Other zoo staffers call him “The King of the Platform,” because  there’s no doubt who’s in charge when Jelani rests his massive head on the railing of the feeding platform.   “When Jelani comes up for lettuce everyone wants to feed him,” says Nelson.

Jelani celebrates his 16th birthday this week and just about every staff member, volunteer, and zoo guest has a fond nickname or special memory to share.  African Journey area Manager Amber Eagleson smiles when she talks about meeting him for the first time.  “I came to the zoo in 2000 when he was only two.  He was already friendly…and hungry!”

Eagleson has observed Jelani’s friendly demeanor year after year.  “He makes an impression on everyone.  When someone has worked in the giraffe barn, Jelani is the one they always remember.”

Eagleson shares a story from a 2003 celebration when a crowd gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” to the then 5-year-old giraffe.   “He started running around the exhibit and put on a big show.  No one was expecting it.”

Zoo guests are invited to Jelani’s sweet 16 celebration on Friday, August 1  from 10AM-3PM.  Some highlights include:

- Adding spots to a giraffe art piece

-Singing “Happy Birthday” and presenting Jelani with his “cake” at 11AM

- Trivia games

- Pin the tail on the giraffe

- A birthday card to sign

- A picture spot with a giraffe in his sweet sixteen car

- Coloring pages

You can visit Jelani and the rest of the herd seven days a week.  Lettuce is available for 1 token ($1) and when Jelani the hungry giraffe is on exhibit, he’s usually ready to eat.  “He lays his head on the platform railing until someone comes to feed him,” says Eagleson.  “We have to ask zoo guests to stay back a few feet because of his size and strength, but that doesn’t stop him from getting his lettuce.  He’s never full.”

Below is a gallery of some of Jelani’s memorable moments.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Giraffes, Zoo News

July 23, 2014

Red Panda Cub Gets a Name

baby red panda cub fort wayne

She’s strong and she’s beautiful, and now the zoo’s six-week-old red panda cub has a name to match.  Zoo keepers have bestowed the name “Maliha” on the little female cub – a name that means “strong and beautiful” in a Nepalese language.

Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily, chose the cub’s name to reflect her wild heritage – red pandas are native to Nepal and China – and to fit the cub’s personality.  “I also wanted her name to reflect the whole journey we’ve been on with our red pandas for the last three years,” she said.  “Plus, she is a very strong cub, and beautiful too!”

Maliha still spends all her time in an air-conditioned nest box with her mother, five-year-old Xiao, but is gradually becoming more active, Lacey says. “Maliha rolls around, plays with her feet, and stays awake more,” she says.  “She tries to walk, but her feet still slide out from under her.”

Red panda cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months. This means that zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.  Zoo keepers monitor Xiao and Maliha via a remote camera mounted in the nest box. This video shows Maliha as she discovers her paws:

Though Maliha is thriving, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family.  Guests can sometimes see Junjie, the cub’s father, lounging on branches in the exhibit.

Maliha is weighed regularly to ensure that she is receiving appropriate maternal care.  She has more than quadrupled her birth weight of 139 grams and now weighs 545 grams (about 1.25 pounds).

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals.

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  They are classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Though red pandas share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related.  The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Central Zoo, Red Panda, Zoo News

July 11, 2014

First Peek at Baby Red Panda

baby red panda Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

We’re happy to announce that our 30-day-old female red panda cub, born on June 9, has passed a critical milestone and is doing well.  These photos give you a peek at the little cub, who remains behind the scenes in the nest box with her mother.

“About half of all red panda cubs die within 30 days after birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “We are obviously pleased that our cub has made it this far.” 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born to female Xiao, age 5, and her 6-year-old mate, Junjie.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, and a single cub was born in 2013; none of these cubs survived longer than two weeks.  Red pandas are an endangered species.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about the cub,” said Shelley Scherer, who supervises the Central Zoo and Australian Adventure.  “This cub was born healthy and had an above average birth weight.  Xiao is also a more experienced mother, which has certainly been a factor.”

“This cub is feisty, squirmy, and chubby,” said Zoo Keeper Helena Lacey, who works with the red pandas daily. 

Though the cub has survived the first 30 days, she still faces other hurdles. “Weaning is a critical time for red panda cubs as they make the transition from mother’s milk to solid food,” explained Lacey.  Weaning occurs when the cub is five to six months old.

Zoo keepers monitor the duo via a remote camera mounted in the nest box.  “They sleep most of the time, but we also see Xiao grooming herself and the cub,” said Lacey.  Xiao leaves the nest box several times a day to eat climb in the exhibit. 

Xiao and her cub spend nearly all of their time tucked in a nest box within the red panda exhibit, where Xiao nurses, grooms, and sleeps next to her cub.  This is natural behavior for red pandas, who nest in hollow trees in the wild.  Cubs typically remain in the nest box for about three months, which means zoo guests have little chance of seeing the cub until late August or early September.

Three to four times a week, zoo keepers distract Xiao with a tasty bamboo branch and quickly weigh the cub.  So far, the cub is gaining weight, and has more than tripled her birth weight of 139 grams to 454 grams (about one pound).  Twice a week, they perform a more thorough exam on the cub, checking for any abnormalities.

The cub’s eyes are now open, and she makes high-pitched squeals during her weigh-ins and checkups. 

The path to the red panda exhibit remains closed to zoo guests in an effort to minimize disturbances for the new family. 

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in zoo-dwelling populations of endangered animals. 

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  Though they share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related.  The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.”

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Baby Animals, Central Zoo, Red Panda, Zoo News

July 9, 2014

This Baby is 20 Minutes Old!

baby wildebeest

Zoo guests got a wonderful surprise this morning when a wildebeest gave birth in the African savannah at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Zoo keepers noticed that the mother was in labor at approximately 9:38AM and she delivered a calf at 10:08AM this morning.  The calf stood and began walking within minutes.  It also began nursing shortly after birth.  These photos were taken when the baby was just 20 minutes old!

Several zoo guests were fortunate to observe the birth, since it occurred during zoo hours.  Zoo keepers and vet staff were aware of the pregnancy, but could not pinpoint a due date.  The calf’s gender has not yet been determined.

For now, the zebras are staying in the barn while the new baby adjusts to life on the pasture.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Baby Animals

July 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Tengku!

Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

Tengku the Sumatran orangutan turns 28 this week.  He was born on July 3, 1986 and came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 1995, shortly after the opening of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest.  During his nearly two decades here, Tengku has formed a special connection with zoo guests.  His social demeanor and playful behavior inspire people to care about orangutans in the wild.

What can you do to support Tengku and his wild cousins?  Here are some ideas from his birthday list:

  • Visit the zoo and spend some time in the Indonesian Rain Forest.  There you can learn more about the plight of orangutans in the wild.
  • Share your photos and stories of Tengku on social media to raise awareness about orangutan conservation.  You can connect with the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Adopt an orangutan to help us provide healthy food, exceptional care, and veterinary needs for your animal for one whole year.
  • Splurge on an orangutan VIP Experience.  Go behind the scenes with Tengku and Melati and watch as they create a unique painting right before your eyes – then take the painting with you for a one-of-a-kind home accent.  (Ages 8 and older only – up to four guests per VIP experience)
  • Get educated about endangered orangutans and find out what you can do to help.  The Orangutan Conservancy, one of the zoo’s conservation partners, is a good resource.

Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar has been working with Tengku for the past 13 years.  She shared her thoughts regarding this very special primate, “It has been a joy working with him since 2001 and I am looking forward to working with him for many years to come.  Happy Birthday, Tengku!”

Below is a photo gallery of some of Tengku’s memorable moments.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: Conservation, Indonesian Rain Forest, Orangutans, Zoo News

June 25, 2014

How Zoo Keepers Fixed a “Smelly” Problem

mongoose zoo attraction

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has come up with an unusual fix for a “smelly” problem.  It all started when one of the zoo’s banded mongooses had his medical checkup.  Upon his return, zoo keepers noticed that the troop was reluctant to allow him back in.  He was the same old mongoose, ready to join his troop, but he smelled different.  That was a big problem, because mongooses recognize each other by their scent.  His troop refused to socialize with this now strange-smelling mongoose or share their space with him.  Some of the others even became aggressive despite his clean bill of health.  What’s a mongoose to do!?!

Zoo keeper Nancee Hutchinson found a unique solution to the problem. “We bring them indoors and spray Vicks Vap-O-Rub on the floor.  The whole troop comes running and rolls all around in it.  Then they all smell the same, even the one who spent some time away.” 

When a troop of mongooses rolls around in a smell it’s called “scent marking”.  It’s common in the wild and ensures that all troop members smell the same.  Hutchinson became interested in using Vicks Vap-O-Rub with the mongooses after she learned that a zoo in Europe had used a similar technique with meerkats.  “When we spray Vicks inside the mongoose enclosure, the mongooses respond by scent-marking.  They all roll around in the Vicks.  This overrides any old smells that might have caused them to reject a member.”

This fall, Hutchinson will share what she learned at the American Association of Zoo Keepers national conference.   

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Posted in: African Animals, Zoo News

June 12, 2014

Baby Red Panda Born at Zoo

red panda in log

A female red panda cub was born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on June 9 to female Xiao (pronounced JOW), age 4, and her 5-year-old mate, Junjie. 

This is the third litter of cubs to be born at the zoo since 1997.  Two cubs were born to Xiao in 2012, and a single cub was born in 2013; none of these cubs survived longer than two weeks. 

An endangered species, red pandas are difficult to breed and rear in zoos.  About half of all cubs die within 30 days of birth.  Only a few dozen red panda cubs are born in United States zoos each year.

Contact with Xiao and her cub is extremely limited to improve the cub’s odds of survival.  For now, the pathway in front of the red panda exhibit is closed to zoo guests.   Keepers monitor the new mother, who spends most of her time in a nest box with the cub, via a remote camera system.

“We are monitoring the cub and are cautiously optimistic at this point,” says Area Manager Shelley Scherer.  “But there are still many challenges ahead for this little cub.”

An extensive protocol is in place to monitor the cub while minimizing stress on the mother.  Keepers allowed Xiao and her cub complete privacy for the first day, because data show that cubs have a better chance of survival if they are left alone with the mother for the first 24 hours.  On Tuesday, keepers quickly weighed the cub while Xiao was out of the nest box feeding; the cub weighed 139 grams.  On Wednesday, the veterinary staff performed a brief hands-on health check and determined the cub’s gender.

Daily weigh-ins will continue and supplemental feeding or hand-rearing will be implemented depending on the cub’s progress.

“We always prefer that animals raise their own young, but we are prepared to do all we can to ensure the survival of the cub,” said Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “However, hand-rearing provides no guarantee that the cub will survive.”  Weldon noted that hand-reared cubs have a 50-50 chance of survival. 

Zoo keepers conducted weekly ultrasounds on Xiao this spring to monitor the cub before birth.  Xiao was trained to stand and accept the ultrasound, during which she was rewarded with a food treat.  Her diet, which includes commercially-produced chow and fresh bamboo, was altered to provide additional nutrition during her pregnancy.  Keepers also installed a second air-conditioned nest box in the exhibit to give Xiao comfortable options for nesting.  

Tests revealed that cub born to Xiao in 2013, which survived for only three days, never ingested any milk, though the reason for this is not known.  That cub was scheduled to undergo a complete physical on the day it died.

Mary Noell of the Cincinnati Zoo serves as North American Regional Studbook Keeper for red pandas and maintains data on all red pandas in United States and Canadian zoos.  “This is not an unusual situation,” she said last year after the cub died.  Noell visited the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 2013 and noted that the zoo’s facilities and protocols met all current standards for red panda care. 

Red panda cubs are born blind and deaf.  The mother spends nearly all her time nursing and grooming her cubs during the first week.  The cubs remain in the nest until they are about three months old.  Little is known about red panda cub mortality in the wild.

“If the cub survives, zoo guests are unlikely to see it outside of the nest box until sometime in August or September,” said Scherer.   Until then, the zoo will post updates on its website and social media accounts.

The breeding of red pandas is overseen by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).  The goal of the SSP is to maximize genetic diversity in captive populations of endangered animals. 

Red pandas are native to the forested foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in China and Nepal, where they feed primarily on bamboo.  Though they share a name with the famed black-and-white giant pandas, the two are not closely related.  The name “panda” comes from the Nepalese word ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.”

Posted in: Baby Animals, Conservation, Red Panda, Zoo News

June 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sea Lions!

Grits 100 pxl

The zoo’s California sea lions will celebrate their birthday this Saturday, June 14.  The festivities begin at 11AM and will coincide with the scheduled sea lion show.

Three of our sea lions – Fishbone, Grits, and Cassandra – were actually born on June 14.  (Legend’s birthday is on May 6.)  How does a colony of four aquatic mammals celebrate their special day?  With a “cake” and some water games!  Zoo keeper Nikki Finch is involved in planning the festivities.  “The sea lions will get a very special birthday cake made of fish and ice,” states Finch.  They will also perform behaviors and play in the water.  Zoo guests are invited to the party!

The sea lion show, which happens every day at 11AM and 3PM, is a guest favorite at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Sea lions are known for their intelligence, and the zoo’s colony has the opportunity to showcase their smarts at the daily shows.  Fishbone, Grits, Legend, and Cassandra are trained to perform a variety of behaviors and seem to enjoy the attention from zoo keepers and guests.

The show is fun and energetic, but the zoo also hopes that guests will take an important message with them:  Our sea lions eat sustainable seafood and we can, too!  By choosing seafood that is harvested and farmed in a way that protects our oceans, we can make a big difference.  The zoo has partnered with Seafood Watch to help guests understand why sustainable seafood matters.  We even have a free app to help you make better seafood choices.    Stop by a show this summer to find out more, and be sure to wish the zoo’s sea lions a Happy Birthday on June 14!

Posted in: Central Zoo, Zoo News
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