2015 Zoo Attendance Breaks All Records

Adorable baby animals, new exhibits, and a birthday celebration helped the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo set a new attendance record in 2015.

A total of 618,498 people visited the zoo in 2015, exceeding the previous attendance record of 614,666, set in 2009 when the African Journey exhibit first opened.

This figure includes 590,649 guests who visited during the regular zoo season of April 25-October 11, and 27,849 guests who attended the Wild Zoo Halloween in 2015.

The zoo celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015 and welcomed many baby animals, including a reticulated giraffe and an endangered Sumatran orangutan.  Phase 2 of the $7 million Australian Adventure renovation project opened, featuring tropical fish and sharks in The Reef, and touchable stingrays at Stingray Bay.

Also in 2015, the zoo was named the 7th Best Zoo in the United States and the 20th Best Zoo in the World by TripAdvisor, with rankings based on customer reviews.

“We thank our entire community for your support during this record-breaking season,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson. “I’m proud of our staff for serving over 600,000 guests as we work to fulfill our mission of connecting people with animals.”

The zoo is operated by the non-profit Fort Wayne Zoological Society and receives no tax funding for operations. Ticket sales, membership sales, concessions, other earned revenue, donations, and sponsorships comprise the zoo’s operating budget.

The zoo is the largest tourist attraction in northeast Indiana. About one in five zoo visitors comes from outside of Indiana.  Forty percent of zoo guests are from Allen County.  For more than 90% of out-of-town zoo guests surveyed, the zoo was their main reason for travelling to Fort Wayne.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

# # #

About the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo:  The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s mission is to connect kids and animals, strengthen families, and inspire people to care.  The zoo is northeast Indiana’s largest tourist attraction, hosting more than 600,000 guests annually.  The zoo received the 2015 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award, was named the #7 Zoo in the United States and the #20 zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, was voted Indiana’s #1 “Gotta-Do Summer Attraction,” and is consistently named one of the nation’s Top Ten Zoos for Kids by national media outlets.

The zoo is a conservation leader, contributing more than $80,000 annually to local, regional, and international efforts to protect wild animals and habitats, and participating in cooperative management programs for 91 endangered species and taxa. The zoo was named Northeast Indiana’s Sustainable Business of the Year in 2014.

As a self-supporting facility, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo receives no tax dollars for operations. The zoo’s operations are funded entirely by earned revenue and donations.

The zoo is closed for the season and will reopen April 26, 2016.

3411 Sherman Boulevard   Fort Wayne, IN 46808   P: 260-427-6800   F: 260-427-6820   www.kidszoo.org



otter pumpkin

Animals Go Wild For Pumpkins

Tigers gotta gnaw, otters gotta play, and penguins – well, they’re just penguins!  Zoo critters showed off their animal instincts at the annual Pumpkin Stomp & Chomp as part of last week’s Wild Zoo Halloween festivities.

The award for most action-packed pumpkin encounter went to tigers Indah and Bugara, who attacked their pumpkins at full pounce, then batted them around like rubber toys.  The lemurs practically climbed inside their treat-laden pumpkins.  Some animals, like the sea lions, were more interested in the candy-bag-toting, costumed kids than their pumpkins. Once zoo keepers took the lid off a bamboo-stuffed pumpkin, the red pandas finally figured out that pumpkins aren’t so bad after all.  The penguins, however, were completely indifferent to their smiling jack-o-lantern.

Why did we give pumpkins to zoo animals?  Watching the animals nibble, gnaw, gnarl, play, and sometimes devour their pumpkins is a treat for guests, and provides valuable enrichment for the animals. Enrichment stimulates the animals’ natural behaviors and offers physical and mental challenges.

Click on the photos to find out what the animals did with their pumpkins:


fort wayne zoo

Wild Zoo Halloween Opens Friday, October 16

The event offers a different theme each day.

This weekend’s theme days at the Wild Zoo Halloween presented by Star Financial Bank include:

Friday, October 16 PLUMPkin Day

Guess the weight of the Giant Pumpkin. You could win a prize!

Saturday, October 17 Princess Day

Meet Icey Queen & Princess Sophy (Australian Adventure Plaza),

Cinderella & Fairy Princess (African Journey Pavilions) from 1-3 PM

Sunday, October 18 Mascot Day

Meet Icy (Komets), Johnny (Tin Caps), Johnny Cougar (University of St Francis), Spotz (Fort Wayne Fire Dept.), Don the Mastodon (IPFW), Sparky the Fire Dog (Jonesboro Fire Dept.), Bill the Lion, Admiral Andy (Three Rivers Festival), and Norm (Huntington University) from 2-4 pm in the Australian Adventure Plaza.  Appearance times vary for each mascot.

Click here for a list of all theme days.

Admission is $5 for all ages; admission with treats is $9 for all ages. Zoo Members receive $2 off admission. Babies age 1 and under are admitted free but are charged $4 if they receive treats. Additional fees are charged for the Z.O.&O. Railroad, Endangered Species Carousel, pony ride, and bracelet-making. Food is available for purchase.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Thanks to these generous sponsors for their support: Star Financial Bank (Presenting Sponsor), Lutheran Health Network, Steel Dynamics, Inc, Sweetwater, BAE Systems, 3 Rivers Credit Union, Mainstay Solutions, NIPSCO, Bob Evans, Lee’s Famous Recipe, Granite City Food & Brewery, McDonald’s, and Ellison Bakery.

Wild Zoo Halloween Preview

Wild Zoo Halloween starts next week, and we’re getting the zoo ready!  Now arriving:halloween fort wayne

  • 2 dump trucks filled with pumpkins…including the “PLUMPkin”!
  • 6 truckloads of cornstalks
  • 450 straw bales
  • 12,000 mini pumpkins for the Pumpkin Patch
  • more than 200,000 pieces of candy
  • more than 11,000 zombie teeth whistles

Now in its 37th year, this “merry-not-scary” event is fun for the whole family!  Here’s what you can do at Wild Zoo Halloween 2015:

Trick or treat for candy
Navigate a mini maze
Pick a pumpkin in our Pumpkin Patch
Hear a joke from Lil’ Bill
Enjoy tons of kid-friendly activities
See zoo animals
Meet Broomhilda the Witch

DAILY ACTIVITIES sea lion fort wayne zoo

2:30 Live Animal Show

3:00 Sea Lion Show

3:30 Meet the Lion Mascot

Theme Days:

Friday, October 16  PLUMPkin Day

Guess the weight of the Giant Pumpkin

Saturday, October 17  Princess Day

Meet Icey Queen & Princess Sophy (Australian Adventure Plaza),

Cinderella & Fairy Princess (African Journey Pavilions) from 1-3 PM

Sunday, October 18  Mascot Day

Meet Icy (Komets), Johnny (Tin Caps), Johnny Cougar (University of St Francis), Spotz (Fort Wayne Fire Dept.), Don the Mastodon (IPFW), Sparky the Fire Dog (Jonesboro Fire Dept.), Bill the Lion, Admiral Andy (Three Rivers Festival), and Norm (Huntington University) from 2-4 pm in the Australian Adventure Plaza.  Appearance times vary for each mascot.

Thursday, October 22  Free Carousel Rides all day!

Friday, October 23  Pumpkin Stomp & Chomp

Animals get pumpkin treats – 12:45 Orangutan; 1:00 Penguin; 1:15 Tiger; 1:30 Otter; 2:00 Red Panda, 2:30 Lynx; 3:00 Sea Lion; 3:30 Wallaby; 4:00 Lemur

Saturday, October 24  Hero Day

Meet representatives from the Fort Wayne Fire Department, Fort Wayne Police Department, 122nd Fighter Wing, and United States Marine Corps 1-3 pm at the African Journey Pavilions and Australian Adventure Plaza

Sunday, October 25  Star Wars Day

Meet Star Wars characters from 2-4 pm on the Australian Adventure Plaza

Thursday, October 29 Free Carousel Rides all day! 

Friday, October 30  Pumpkin Decorating Workshop
Design your own special pumpkin to take home.  12-5 pm at Little Poof

Saturday, October 31  Cans for Conservation

Bring an empty, clean aluminum can to recycle at the main entrance and get one free ride ticket.  Limit one free ride ticket per person.

 halloween fort wayne zooBack again in 2015:  The Wild Zoo Halloween photo contest!  Click here for official rules.

Dates, Times, Prices:

October 16-18, 22-25, 29-31
12:00-6:00PM, with last admission at 5:00PM
Admission (all ages*) $5
Admission with Treats (all ages*) $9
Zoo Members get $2 off per person every day
*Babies age 1 and younger receive free admission; babies receiving treats are charged $4. 

buy zoo tickets button

halloween fort wayne


NKOTB (New Kids On The Beach)

The zoo’s penguin exhibit is home to four new black-footed penguins!  The three males and one female are named Ollie, Cricket, Roman, and Tapanga.  They arrived earlier this summer with a breeding recommendation from the  Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Does that mean there’s a penguin chick on the way?

“Not yet,” states zoo keeper Sarah Cox, who cares for the penguins.  “The new males are still young and it may be another year before they’re ready to breed.”

Guests can identify three younger male penguins from the older members of the flock by their markings.  Juvenile black-footed penguins have all-black feathers on their faces and lack a black chest stripe.  They won’t get their adult markings until they molt.

The juvenile males are all one year old.  Tapanga is two years old and has already molted, so she has white facial markings like the other adults.

During the annual molting season, a penguin’s old feathers fall out and are replaced by new feathers, a process that takes several weeks and leaves the penguin with temporary bald spots.  Zoo keeper Britni Plummer explains, “Penguins go through changes in behavior and appearance when they molt.  They gain weight, don’t swim as much, and their whole body looks different.”  Plummer says that guests sometimes express concern about the molting penguins. “We’ve had guests ask if our penguins are sick when they’re molting, because the animals look so different.  They’re not sick, it’s just a normal part of their life cycle.”

When Ollie, Cricket, and Roman are mature enough to breed, one of them is likely to pair up with Tapanga.  Once Tapanga has chosen her beau the other suitors will have to look for a new partner.  Penguins pair for life.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

sheep|fort wayne zoo

Mother and Son Makeovers

Roxanne and Jerry (the mother-son sheep duo at the Indiana Family Farm) are sporting new looks this month.  Each is about five pounds lighter and probably feeling much cooler after their routine shearing on August 28.

Shearing is a twice-yearly event at the zoo and requires two zoo keepers.  This time around, keepers Heather Schuh and Laura Sievers did the honors.

This video shows the shearing process:

The wool is donated to local artisans who spin it into yarn.

Click to enlarge Roxanne’s and Jerry’s before-and-after photos:


bee on flower

2, 4, 6, 8, We Can Help Them Pollinate!

Why are we cheering for pollinators?  Because their work is important to our environment! Pollination is an essential step in the life cycle of many flowering and cone-bearing plants (not just the kinds that look pretty, the kinds we eat as well).

Here are some of the things the zoo is doing to help the pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds, and more) that help to sustain our food chain:

Pollinator Gardens

The proper term for the pollinator gardens at the zoo is “Monarch Waystations,” and we have two of them.  One is located at the Indiana Family Farm and the other is on the hill that runs parallel to the Sky Safari ride in the African Journey.  Gardens like these can look a little rough in their early years, but once established they bear flowers yearly and require minimal upkeep.

Zoo keeper Dave Messmann is part of a team of zoo staff and volunteers working to expand the Monarch Waystations and keep them flourishing.  Messman offers some suggestions regarding pollinator-friendly plants, “There are many species of native plants you could put in a pollinator garden.  Some of the plants we have at the Indiana Family Farm are goldenrod, milkweed, and bee balm.  They’re all different colors.”

Messmann explains that a healthy garden is one that can sustain various forms of life, “If you look close you can see a little ecosystem develop.  Aphids live on the plants, insects eat the aphids.  Sometimes the inside of the stem is a place where insects can develop.  The garden becomes self-sustainable.”

And a sustainable garden is the kind of place where monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators flourish.  Here are photos of some of the plants in the zoo’s Monarch Waystations.  Click on the photos to enlarge, and consider including some pollinator-friendly plants in your next gardening project:

Bee Keeping

There’s a beehive at the zoo, and it’s a unique one.  Our hive has clear sides, so guests can have a look inside at the bees’ hard work.  Bees pollinate a variety of plants, including many of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts we eat.  The next time you eat apples, broccoli, or almonds, thank a bee!  If you’d like to learn more about bee keeping, visit the American Beekeeping Federation website.  Click on the photos to enlarge:


In the summer of 2015, the zoo devoted an entire day to pollinator education at our What’s The Buzz event.  Zoo guests learned about the importance of pollinators like bees and butterflies.  Kids participated in several event stations, and even built “beehives” from re-used materials to learn how bees work together.  Education helps us understand pollinators and the critical role they play in the food chain.  We’re all in this together!

southern stingray|fort wayne zoo

Stingray Bay Opens at the Zoo

stingray bay|fort wayne zoo

Guests at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can now explore Stingray Bay when they visit the Australian Adventure.

The exhibit, which features a 20,000-gallon saltwater tank depicting a fishing village and Australian mangrove swamp filled with stingrays, opens today, September 3.

“We’re thrilled to introduce our guests to these awesome animals,” said Zoo Director Jim Anderson.

Two species of stingray inhabit the tank – southern stingrays and cownose rays – for a total of 20 stingrays in the exhibit. Southern stingrays can grow up to five feet wide from fin to fin. Cownose rays are smaller at 24-30 inches wide.

Guests can view the stingrays through the chest-high, clear acrylic walls of the tank. Or, guests can choose to reach over the walls in hopes of touching a stingray as it swims past.

Stingrays have barbed venomous spines at the bases of their tails, which are used for defense against predators.   At the zoo, these spines have been trimmed and removed, so there is no danger to guests.

Closely related to sharks, stingrays are a type of fish with skeletons made of cartilage rather than bone. They breathe by taking in water and passing it over their gills to extract oxygen. Stingrays’ downward-facing mouths are filled with stubby teeth that crush clam and snail shells. After the flesh is eaten, shell fragments are spit out. At the zoo, keepers feed whole fish to the stingrays by hand. They also scatter food in the tank, allowing the rays to forage.

Stingray Bay occupies the former Nocturnal Building, which once housed bats, echidnas (spiny anteaters), and other creatures active at night.

The new exhibit will emphasize ocean conservation. “We want to empower our guests to make choices that help our oceans,” said Anderson. Staff at Stingray Bay will distribute information to help guests choose sustainable seafood at grocery stores and restaurants.

Stingray Bay is part of a $7 million, three-phase renovation of the Australian Adventure, which was originally built in 1987 at a cost of $2.5 million. All funds for the current project, as well as the 1987 project, were donated by individuals, foundations, and businesses. The zoo is especially grateful to the Gary Probst Family, sponsor of Stingray Bay.

“Stingray Bay was made possible with the generous support of the Gary Probst Family. Mr. Probst also donates his time and talents as a zoo board member. Everything you see at the zoo is built with the support of our community,” Anderson shared.

Phase 1 of the Australian Adventure renovation opened in 2014 and included visitor amenities such as expanded restaurant seating, additional restrooms, and improvements to the train station, which was renamed the Z.O.&O. Railroad.

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation includes Stingray Bay and The Reef, which opened in May and features a 17,000-gallon tank filled with tropical fish, and a 50,000-gallon tank housing 2,000 schooling fish and five sharks.

The Outback in the Australian Adventure closed on August 11 so construction could begin on Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure. Scheduled to open in 2016, Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure will include a play stream called Crocodile Creek, new bird aviaries, a new reptile exhibit, and renovations to the River Ride, kangaroo yard, and dingo exhibit. The zoo is also scheduled to receive Tasmanian devils from Australia as part of an Australian government program aimed at protecting this species. Wild Tasmanian devils are under severe threat from a deadly transmissible cancer.

Donations to the Australian Adventure Capital Campaign are welcome. For $400, a Recognition Tile can be engraved with the names of individuals, families, and businesses and displayed on a decorative wall at the Australian Adventure entrance.   For donation information, visit kidszoo.org or contact the zoo at 260-427-6800.

Stingray Bay Facts:

  • Tank volume: 20,000 gallons of artificial seawater
  • Species: Southern Stingrays and Cownose Rays
  • Location: Australian Adventure exhibit

Stingray Facts

  • Stingrays are closely related to sharks.
  • Stingrays breathe underwater with gills. Water enters through the spiracles and as it passes over the gills, oxygen seeps through the walls of tiny blood vessels and into the blood. Gills perform the same function as our lungs, except that our lungs remove oxygen from the air.
  • Stingrays have flat bodies, which allow them to lie flat on the sea floor, hidden in the sand. With eyes on top of their heads, they can watch for predators while remaining partially buried.
  • Spines are used for defense. When rays feel threatened, they may raise their powerful tails and slam their barbed spines into attackers.
  • Stingrays’ spines are covered in venomous mucus. When the spines pierce flesh, the venom is released, causing severe pain.
  • Stingrays flap their fins on the sea floor to uncover buried clams, snails, and fish.
  • Stingrays’ downward-facing mouths are filled with stubby teeth that crush clam and snail shells. After the flesh is eaten, shell fragments are spit out.
  • Because stingrays’ eyes are on top of their heads, they can’t see food on the sea floor. Instead, rays find food by smelling, touching, and detecting tiny electrical fields emitted by every animal.

Mangrove Facts

  • Mangrove trees grow where the freshwater of rivers and lagoons meets the saltwater of the ocean. Because of this the salinity of the water in a mangrove ecosystem can vary as the tides go in and out. Branching roots (called “prop roots”) form underwater “forests” that shelter thousands of species, including stingrays, crabs, worms, and mollusks. These areas also serve as breeding grounds for many seagoing fish—the young fish grow up in the shelter of the mangrove roots until they are large enough to survive in the open ocean.
  • Where mangroves are present, shorelines are protected from powerful ocean waves. On riverbanks, mangroves trap sediments before they flow into the ocean.
  • Mangroves shed excess salt through leaves and bark. Special “breathing roots” poke up through the water to take in air.
  • Bats, snakes, lizards, and insects live in mangrove treetops.
  • Australia has the 3rd largest mangrove area of all countries in the world, after Indonesia and Brazil.




peacock square|fort wayne zoo

Peacocks 101

Peacocks are a guest favorite the zoo.  Some of the most impressive photos posted by guests our Facebook and Twitter pages are close-ups of these beautiful birds.  Here’s the 101 on our shy, feathered friends:

First, about half of them aren’t technically peacocks  Only the males are called peacocks.  The females are called peahens, and babies are called pea chicks. Collectively, we call them peafowl.  And if you really want to get technical, their scientific name is Pavo cristatus.

Now that we have the terminology straight…how can we tell them apart?  It’s easy:  The males have a big, fancy train of tail feathers that they use to impress the females.  Males can be brightly-colored or all-white.  Females are either brown or all-white.

Guests sometimes ask whether the white peafowl are albino, but they’re not.  Zoo keeper Helena Lacey works with the peafowl, and notes that some of them have a “genetic color mutation” that causes the all-white coloring, but this is different from the medical condition albinism.

Now for the big question…Can peafowl fly ?
Many zoo visitors are surprised to learn that these large birds can fly.  This is most obvious at night, when they fly up to roost in trees for safety from predators.  But the peafowl are not likely to fly away from the zoo – after all, their food, caregivers, and familiar surroundings are all right here!

Although they roam freely and may not seem like an “exhibit animal,” the zoo’s peafowl are an important part of our collection.  They receive excellent care just like the other animals, including a nutritious diet, shelter in the winter, and yearly checkups from our vet staff.  The next time you see a peacock or peahen at the zoo, approach carefully and quietly – you might end up with a great photo and memory to share!

Shark School

“They’re not just mindless eating machines.”  That’s what zoo aquarist Gary Stoops hopes guests will learn when they visit the zoo’s five new sharks and observe them swimming alongside the 2,000 pilchards that share their tank.

The Reef in the zoo’s renovated Australian Adventure is now home to four blacktip reef sharks and one zebra shark.  Although sharks are predators, they don’t feed constantly (not even in the wild), and they’re generally disinterested in the pilchards that share their 50,000-gallon saltwater tank.

Pilchards are schooling fish, so to the sharks they appear as one large organism.  While the sharks sometimes swim through the middle of the school, they usually swim around the large mass of pilchards while navigating the tank.

Stoops refers to the balance between sharks and pilchards as “equilibrium,” but states that the sharks may occasionally try to eat the weakest member of the school.  However, aquarists and zoo keepers feed the sharks often, decreasing the likelihood of predatory encounters.

Zoo keeper Kevan Mensch helps feed and train the sharks.  According to Mensch, “We’re using operant conditioning to train the sharks to eat at different ends of the tank, so they won’t compete for food.”  Zoo keepers also measure and record the amount of food sharks eat to ensure that every animal is consuming enough to stay full.

To date, all three species of fish in the shark tank (blacktip reef shark, zebra shark, and pilchard) are coexisting peacefully.  Stop by The Reef in the Australian Adventure to see them up-close!

Click on the photos to enlarge: