Dr. Ricko Jaya and Dr. Yenny Saraswati 600pxl

Veterinarians Unite to Save Orangutans

Fort Wayne recently hosted two important conservationists: Indonesian veterinarians Yenny Saraswati and  Ricko Jaya are saving wild Sumatran orangutans with the support of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Dr. Yenny is a senior veterinarian with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), which reintroduces Sumatran orangutans into the wild after they’ve been confiscated from the pet trade.  Keeping critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as pets is illegal in Indonesia.

“We want to put wild orangutans back in the forest,” states Dr. Yenny, “but it’s not simple.  After they are rescued we have to screen for diseases and rehabilitate the dietary problems that human food has caused.”  Dr. Yenny’s visit to the United States helped her better understand advanced animal care.  “At the Fort Wayne Zoo and the Cleveland Zoo we observed medical procedures with orangutans.  These good medical practices are something we can apply to the orangutans we rehabilitate.”

Dr. Yenny is interested in animal care because the SOCP is developing an animal sanctuary called Orangutan Haven in northeastern Sumatra, which will hold Sumatran orangutans who are no longer able to thrive in the wild.

Dr. Ricko knows the plight of exploited orangutans all too well.  He is a veterinarian and rescuer with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) which responds to reports of illegally-kept orangutans and calls regarding human-orangutan conflicts.  Dr. Ricko enters potentially dangerous situations to physically remove the orangutans and literally carry the animals to safety.

“We try to mitigate conflicts between humans and orangutans with education, but sometimes the orangutans are already in need of medical treatment when we rescue them,” stated Dr. Ricko, “We work closely with SOCP to determine whether the orangutans can be released into the wild without additional human intervention.  If so, we release them into a national park.  We try to have as little human contact as possible, but sometimes medical intervention is required.”

Dr. Ricko explained that caring for captive animals differs from field work. “With wild animals, there is no medical recall.  We just have to observe and give them the care we think they need.  Seeing the treatment of captive animals has given me a new set of concerns and knowledge.”

In addition to emergency medical care and public education and outreach programs, the HOCRU works with local governments to develop stronger wildlife protection laws.

The transcontinental visit also benefited the zoo staff here.  Zoo veterinarian Joe Smith said, “Spending a month with Ricko and Yenny stimulated numerous conversations about diseases of orangutans, styles of medicine, available equipment, and even things like culture, politics, and traditions. While the main objective was for them to learn how orangutans are cared for in the United States, my staff, my family, and I probably learned just as much if not more in return.”

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Turkey Vulture

They Needed a Place to Call Home

The zoo is home to two birds that might not fit in anywhere else. Vincent the turkey vulture and Maverick the red-tailed hawk reside here at the zoo because of they are considered “non-releasable.”

Both raptors came to the zoo after being rescued and rehabilitated at regional facilities. Here are their stories:

Turkey VultureVincent the turkey vulture arrived at the zoo in 2004 after spending time at Asherwood Environmental Center in Noble County, which is operated by ACRES Land Trust. Vincent was injured when he swooped down to feed on a dead animal and was hit by a vehicle. Animal carcasses located close to busy roads are dangerous to vultures and are often the result of litter. Humans throw garbage or unwanted food out of their cars, then curious field animals approach and get hit. This is a potentially deadly situation for turkey vultures that instinctively fly toward animal carcasses, regardless of whether those animals died naturally in a field or near a busy road as the result of human activites.

Vincent had bodily injuries and a severely damaged eye when he was rescued. His caregivers gave and continue to give him the best care possible, but Vincent’s injuries have left him unable to fly and also blind in one eye. Vincent is not likely to thrive in the wild and is therefore non-releasable.

Vincent has spent more than a decade here at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo under the care of vet staff and zoo keepers. According to zoo keeper Helena Lacey, Vincent requires daily eye drops and pain medication. Lacey is one of the people who administers his daily medication.

Vincent lives in an exhibit located on the Central Zoo hill across from the red panda exhibit. Despite his challenges, Vincent is usually in good spirits and appears to enjoy visitors. If you approach his exhibit, Vincent will likely turn his head completely to the side so he can see you. (He only sees out of his right eye.) If you’re lucky, you might get to observe Vincent eating rodents during his morning feeding – Just don’t tell him that’s where we put his medicine!

red-tailed hawkMaverick the red-tailed hawk is another non-releasable bird living in the Central Zoo, located near the Indiana Family Farm. According to veterinary technician Maraiah Russell, Maverick was found by a member of the public in July 2006 in Columbia City, Indiana. Maverick was unable to fly but the circumstances leading to his injury are unknown.

Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab got involved, and Dr. Pat Funnel provided care with hopes of releasing Maverick once he recovered. However, the primary feathers on his right wing never grew back, so Maverick will never be able to fly or hunt on his own again. In 2007, the zoo received Maverick as a non-releasable bird and he has done very well here. A note to zoo guests – Don’t be alarmed if you see Maverick lying on the ground inside his exhibit. According to Russell, “Maverick likes to sunbathe on the ground with his wings spread sometimes, and many of our guests have thought he was injured or ill.”

Stories like Vincent’s and Maverick’s are often the result of human carelessness. Please avoid littering or leaving food near the side of the road. If you do spot an injured bird, call a local rehab facility like Asherwood or Soarin’ Hawk for assistance. It is everyone’s job to protect wild animals and to respect the wild places they call home.

orangutans fort wayne zoo

First Photos! – Baby Asmara Explores Her Exhibit

Asmara, a 16-week old Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, went into Orangutan Valley for the first time last week. Until now, Asmara and her mother, Tara, have been living in an off-exhibit bedroom adjacent to the main exhibit.

On their first day in the exhibit, Asmara clung tightly to her mother as Tara explored high up in the trees.  Zoo keeper Angie Selzer watched nervously, buy all went well. “Tara climbed very high right away, but Asmara clung tightly just like she would in the wild,” she said.

Prior to the big day, the exhibit underwent extensive baby-proofing.  Zoo keepers covered the floor with soft straw and checked the trees, walls, and vines for potential safety issues.  The City of Fort Wayne’s tree crews even got involved, helping to reinforce the vines and hammocks.

Will you get to see Tara and Asmara when the zoo opens on April 25?  Zoo keepers are working toward that goal. Indonesian Rain Forest area manager Tanisha Dunbar explained, “The goal is to mix all four of our orangutans behind-the-scenes, and once they’re comfortable, we’ll let them all go out on exhibit together,” said Dunbar.  “And they always have a choice.  They can choose whether or not to go out each morning, although Tara’s never been one to stay behind-the-scenes.”

Born on November 22 to Tara and her mate, Tengku, Asmara is important to the future of Sumatran orangutans, which are Critically Endangered.  About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and an average of 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos. In the wild, these red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations.

Fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Some experts predict orangutans could become extinct in the wild within a few decades if circumstances remain unchanged.

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

Javan Whistling Duck Gwen with Reflection

This New Couple Gets Along Swimmingly

Lewis, a Javan whistling duck and longtime resident of the zoo’s Indonesian Rain Forest, welcomed a new friend last week.

Gwen is a female Javan whistling duck from North Carolina.  She came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo so that Lewis could have a companion.

“He was medically healthy but we could tell he was lonely,” stated zoo keeper Tiffany Jones.  “He spent a lot of time just sitting on his log not doing anything.”

Zoo keepers know that animal introductions can be a sensitive process and sometimes animals need time and space as they acclimate to one another.   In the case of Lewis and Gwen, however, the animals bonded instantly.

Jones observed, “Lewis was asleep on his log when we brought Gwen to the pond.  As soon as she got in the water he woke up, swam over and whistled to her.  They have been together ever since.  I don’t think he’s lonely anymore.”

The two ducks look and behave very similar, but Gwen is a bit smaller than Lewis and her coloring is more contrasted.  (The feathers on her back are much darker than those on her underside.)  Come out to the zoo when we reopen this Spring and see if you can spot the differences!

Zoo officials are happy to report that at the end of one week Lewis and Gwen are still getting along swimmingly.

Click on the photos to enlarge:


Hello, Goodbye: Red Panda Update

Big changes are happening at the red panda exhibit.  We’re saying goodbye to two old friends, hello to a new one, and maybe preparing for a new arrival.

Zoo fans got to know Maliha the red panda cub in 2014.  Maliha was born to mother Xiao and father Junji on June 9.  A team of zoo keepers and veterinarian staff monitored the little cub closely for the first few months, while the path to her exhibit remained closed in an effort to minimize disturbances.  Near the end of the 2014 season, Maliha did venture out into her exhibit and zoo guests had a chance to meet her before we closed in October.

Zoo staff is happy to report that Maliha is still thriving and that the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has received a new breeding recommendation for Xiao!

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

What does all of this mean for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo?  First, it means that a new male red panda has come to Fort Wayne.  His name is Mars and he’s currently getting acquainted with his new mate, Xiao.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Second, male red panda Junji has been called to relocate to Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville.  There is a breeding recommendation in place for Junji and his new mate, Celeste.

Finally, the SSP has recommended relocation for Maliha, which will likely occur in early April, 2015.  Maliha’s new home will be Potter Park Zoo in Lansing Michigan. Red pandas reach sexual maturity at approximately 1 year, 7 months of age, which means Maliha will not be ready to breed until 2016.

In the meantime, Maliha will continue living at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo with her mom Xiao and new friend Mars.  Mars met both females on February 3 and the introductions have gone smoothly.

With all going according to plan, can zoo fans expect panda babies in 2015?  Probably not, but it’s not out of the question.  Area manager Shelly Scherer explains, “Red panda breeding season is January through February.  We are not too optimistic that we will have cubs this summer; however since their breeding season does run until the end of February, there still is a chance.”

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:

Credit to zoo keeper Helena Lacey for Mars photo.

zoo keepers in snow

Zoo Keepers Turn Snow into Fun

This week’s snowfall is creating big fun for zoo keepers and animals.  The extra clean-up is all in a day’s work, and zoo keepers welcomed the challenge with a fun and enriching attitude.

“We shoveled snow off the top of the lynx exhibit yesterday.  It was cold and the snow was heavy but Ashley [Hubbard] and I enjoyed the work,” said zoo keeper Rachel Purcell after spending Monday morning heaving loads of snow in below-freezing weather.  It was important that zoo keepers inspect the safety of all animal exhibits after Sunday night’s record snowfall, and ensure that the structures were sound.

Once the animals’ safety was in check, it was time to have a little fun with the 10+ inches of snow that nature sent our way.  Animal enrichment happens every day at the zoo, and snow provides unique opportunities for enrichment that aren’t available during the warmer months..  Animal enrichment means “providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal.”

For the goats in the Indiana Family Farm, enrichment usually involves a snack.  Each time it snows, and when the weather is above 15 degrees, zoo keepers Heather Schuh and Kylie Kuchinsky let the goats outside for a taste of mother nature’s frozen treat.  “Yesterday we built them a snowman with food in it,” states Kuchinsky.  “They especially like molasses.”

For some zoo animals, it’s too cold to go outside during the winter months.  The Javan gibbons in the Indonesian Rainforest stay indoors in their behind-the-scenes area when the weather gets chilly, but that doesn’t mean they’re left out of the fun.  Zoo keeper Taylor Muzzillo brought the outdoors in this week when he offered the gibbons fresh snow flavored with sugar free drink mix.

Muzzillo loaded a large bucket with snow and brought it indoors.  He then built small enrichment stations in different places around the gibbons’ behind-the-scenes area.  The enrichment Muzzillo provided fell into three categories: textural, edible, and sensory – all of which provide stimulation for the animals.

“They like their snow,” stated Muzzillo.  “As soon as I open the door they all come swinging in.”

Click on the photos to enlarge:

tasmanian devil

Tasmanian Devils Returning to Zoo

After an 11-year absence, Tasmanian devils will soon return to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo as part of an Australian program to save these unique animals from extinction.

“We are very eager to share Tasmanian devils with our fans and to participate in an important conservation effort,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was selected to receive Tasmanian devils from Australia through the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program, which is administered by the Australian government.  It is not yet known how many Tasmanian devils will come to Fort Wayne or when they will arrive.

A parasitic transmissible cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease has wiped out nearly 70% of the wild Tasmanian devil population in the past decade.  The devils slated to arrive in Fort Wayne will be disease-free and will be part of an “insurance population” for this endangered species.  This insurance population could serve as a back-up in the event that Tasmanian devils became extinct in the wild.

From 1987-2004, the zoo housed 12 Tasmanian devils, more than any other North American zoo.  One of these devils was Coolah, who was the last Tasmanian devil living anywhere in the world outside of Australia when he died in 2004.

“Our expertise with Tasmanian devils and commitment to caring for this species most likely played a role in our selection by the Australian government,” said Anderson.

The Tasmanian devils will be exhibited in the Australian Adventure, which is currently undergoing a $7 million renovation.

Native only to the Australian island of Tasmania, Tasmanian devils have long fascinated Americans, especially as the wildly spinning cartoon version “Taz” grew in popularity.  These furry black marsupials (pouched mammals) are about the size of a small raccoon.  Tasmanian devils are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

baby orangutan fort wayne childrens zoo

Baby Orangutan Turns Two Months Old

Baby Asmara turns 2 months old this week!  The critically endangered Sumatran orangutan was born at the zoo on November 22.  Her parents are Tara and Tengku, two of the zoo’s adult orangutans.  Asmara and mom Tara are doing well behind-the-scenes and zoo fans frequently send us questions via social media about the baby.

Angie Selzer is a zoo keeper who cares for the orangutans.  She was present during Tara’s labor and witnessed the delivery of Asmara.  Selzer explains the day-to-day life of Asmara, “She spends all of her time with her mom.  Most of the time she’s nursing or sleeping in her nest.  She grips onto her mom well.”

Developing a strong grip is important for orangutans.  As Asmara grows she’ll begin climbing and swinging from tree to tree.  Selzer reports that Asmara’s development is progressing normally and that Tara is gradually introducing some early independence into her baby’s routine, “Tara is doing a really good job.  She gives Asmara tummy time and has been showing Asmara how to grip onto things other than just mom.”

Dr. Joe Smith is the zoo’s veterinarian.  He explains why the vet staff and keepers have chosen to limit behind-the-scenes access to media and even to most zoo staff, “Orangutan infants have a naïve immune system, just like human babies do, and they can contract many of the same diseases that we humans can carry.  Plus, we’re right in the middle of flu season so we’re choosing to be cautious.”

Dr. Smith stated that baby Asmara’s development is going well and that her vet staff and keepers do not have any medical concerns at this time.

About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and an average of 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos. In the wild, these red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations. Fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Some experts predict orangutans could become extinct in the wild within a few decades if circumstances remain unchanged.

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



fort wayne zoo 50 years birthday

Zoo Announces 50th Birthday Celebration

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo turns 50 years old in 2015, and the entire community is invited to be part of the celebration.

“The zoo was built by this community, starting with the school children who donated pennies to build Monkey Island back in 1965,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.  “Since then, thousands of families and businesses have donated funds to create everything you see at the zoo.”  More than 20 million people have visited the zoo since it opened on July 3, 1965, and more than $32 million has been donated for capital projects.

“The zoo’s 50th Birthday Celebration is our way of thanking the community for five decades of outstanding support,” Anderson said.

To kick off the celebration, the zoo invites the community to submit photos of their families enjoying the zoo.  Photos from the 1960s and 1970s are especially needed, but all photos are welcome.  Submitted photos may be used in the zoo’s 2015 advertising campaign.  Fans may submit photos before February 28 by posting them to the zoo’s social media accounts, emailing them to communications@kidszoo.org, or bringing prints to the zoo, where they will be scanned and returned.

The 50th Birthday Celebration will continue all season long.  Highlights will include a “Happy Birthday to Zoo” Party on July 1 with performances by local youth choirs; a giant Birthday Card for zoo guests to sign; appearances by the zoo’s new Mascot at community events; partnerships with the Three Rivers Festival and Fort Wayne TinCaps; paw prints painted on roads leading to the zoo this summer; signs showing “Then & Now” zoo photos; a Nature Scavenger Hunt for kids; contests on social media; an expanded zoo history section on the zoo’s website; and more.  Commemorative merchandise will be available in the zoo’s Wild Things Gift Shop all season.

“The support of our community has made the zoo the world-class facility we are today,” said Anderson.  “We’re excited to share 50 years of zoo memories as we continue to grow the zoo for the next generation of kids and families.”

The zoo opens for the 2015 season on April 25.  The zoo’s 50th Birthday is sponsored by Sweetwater, PNC, Strahm Building Solutions, Do it Best, Centier Bank, and Mainstay Solutions.

Click here to see historical photos of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

# # #

Zoo History Highlights:

  • July 3, 1965:  Zoo opens for the first time
  • 1976:  African Veldt opens
  • 1979:  Great Zoo Halloween opens (now called Wild Zoo Halloween)
  • 1987:  Australian Adventure opens
  • 1994:  Indonesian Rain Forest opens
  • 1995:  Orangutan Valley opens
  • 1996:  Tiger Forest opens
  • 2001:  Indiana Family Farm opens
  • 2002:  Sea Lion Beach opens
  • 2009:  African Journey (formerly the African Veldt) opens
  • 2014:  Phase 1 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens
  • 2015:  Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens
  • 2016:  Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens


Recent Zoo Accolades:

  • Travelers’ Choice Award, TripAdvisor, 2014
  • Best Family Attraction in Indiana, VacationHomeRentals.com, 2014
  • Indiana’s #1 Gotta-Do Summer Attraction, Indiana Office of Tourism Development survey, 2012
  • One of the Nation’s Ten Best Zoos for Kids, Parents Magazine, 2009


Zoo Animal & Conservation Highlights:

  • Critically endangered Sumatran orangutan birth, 2014
  • Endangered red panda birth, 2014
  • One of only two zoos nationwide to house endangered Javan gibbons
  • Contribute more than $80,000 annually in conservation support
  • Innovative Kids4Nature program allows zoo guests to help direct zoo conservation funding
  • Z-TEAM Conservation Crew involves youth in local hands-on conservation programs
  • Participate in breeding and management programs for more than 90 endangered and threatened animal species and taxa through the  Association of Zoos & Aquariums
  • Named Northeast Indiana Sustainable Business of the Year in 2014


Community and Economic Impact:

  • A non-profit organization that receives no tax support
  • More than 20 million visitors since 1965; currently host more than 500,000 people per year
  • More than $22 million in economic impact annually
  • 95% of out-of-town zoo guests cite the zoo as their main season for travelling to Fort Wayne
  • Currently employs 71 full-time and 21 part-time employees year-round; additional 75 hired each summer
  • More than 30,000 school children visit the zoo annually
  • More than 35,000 people attend zoo education programs annually
  • 400 people donate more than 33,000 hours of volunteer time annually
toads fort wayne zoo

Yes, Toads are Cute.

Really, they are! —————–>

 OK, so maybe you’re still on the fence about whether toads are cute or just plain toad-looking.  Take a look at the photos below.  The fire-bellied toads in the Indonesian Rain Forest welcomed several groups of babies this year, and they definitely get a “cute” vote from the staff here at the zoo!

Want to help native toads and frogs?  Participate in FrogWatch and help gather data about amphibians in your backyard.  Training classes are coming up in February.

Click on the photos to enlarge and see our baby toads grow up:

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.