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!

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Baby Giraffe Goes on Exhibit

Updated 8/12/15:  Video of baby Kiango’s birth and first steps.  Filmed at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo on June 14, 2015.

Updated 7/30/15: Video of baby Kiango sleeping. Is he having a giraffe-sized dream?


Kiango, a 6-week old reticulated giraffe at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, ventured into the giraffe pasture in the zoo’s African Journey for the first time this morning.

Kiango (kee-ON-go) was born strong and healthy on June 14 and began walking within an hour of birth. Until now, Kiango and his mother, Zahra, have been living in the zoo’s state-of-the art giraffe barn while Kiango got acquainted with the zoo’s herd of six adult giraffes.

The zoo has shared photos and video of the calf on its social media channels, but today is the first chance for zoo guests to see him in person.

For the remainder of the zoo season, Kiango will spend some days in the exhibit and be given some “days off” when he will rest in the giraffe barn.

Facts About the New Giraffe Calf

  • Gender: Male
  • Birthdate: June 14, 2015
  • Species: Reticulated Giraffe
  • Parents: Zahra (mother) and Ezeji (father)
  • Height at birth: 6’2”
  • Weight at birth: 160 lbs.
  • Name: Kiango (meaning “light” or “sunshine” in Swahili)
  • Conservation Status: Giraffes are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Animal babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

What’s the Deal With Animal Enrichment?

Animal enrichment is a big deal at the zoo.  We even dedicate one of our summer events, Ice Day, to enriching animals.  Zoo keepers, trainers, and vet staff spend a lot of time planning the animals’ enrichment calendars, but what exactly is animal enrichment, and why do we do it?

Enrichment means providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal. When elements of an animal’s zoo environment mimic the problem-solving opportunities they encounter in the wild, the animals exhibit natural behaviors. Enrichment can help zoo animals thrive socially, mentally, and physically.

The zoo provides a variety of enrichment for animals:

Edible Enrichment  Tengku the orangutan digs for tasty seeds inside a pumpkin (2)

Finding food in the wild can be a complex activity for an animal. For instance, orangutans find ripe fruit in the wild, then forage carefully for the seeds, which they eat.  Pumpkins are an edible enrichment item for the zoo’s orangutans because the animals must use this natural foraging behavior to extract and eat the pumpkin seeds.

A capuchin monkey with ice watermarkSensory Enrichment

Many animals have a well-developed sense of smell to find prey, locate water, and avoid predators. The zoo’s capuchin monkeys love to sniff out spices scattered in their exhibits.  On a previous Ice Day, zoo keepers froze fragrant spices into ice blocks.  Upon finding an ice block, a capuchin flung it across the island!

Gorgon's brushing komodo dragonTextural Enrichment

In a natural habitat, an animal will encounter new textures every day as it forages, hunts, and finds shelter. At the zoo, keepers brush the Komodo dragon’s rough scales with a long-handled brush (from a safe distance, of course!)


goat food enrichment puzzle feederProblem-Solving Enrichment

Zoo keepers encourage animals to use their natural intelligence by hiding food in “puzzle feeders.” The friendly goats in the Indiana Family Farm use their problem-solving skills while they work as a group to reach tasty lettuce hidden in the feeders.


sea lion 600x600Training Enrichment

Zoo guests can watch the sea lions receive training enrichment every day at the 11:30 AM and 3 PM feeding shows. By requesting behaviors and rewarding the sea lions with fish, zoo keepers provide an intense and entertaining enrichment session. The sea lions get both physical and mental exercise, and the keepers develop a trusting relationship with the sea lions.


Do you want to get involved?  Join us at an upcoming Animal Enrichment Workshop, where you’ll make some of the enrichment objects that zoo animals receive every day!

Saki monkey female|fort wayne children's zoo

A Curious Little Monkey

“Rain, bugs, birds, even the sight of us raking makes her curious,” says zoo keeper Ashley Hubbard as she talks about Nylon, the zoo’s new white-faced saki monkey.  “She’s especially alert when peacocks walk by.  Her eyes widen and she follows them along the exhibit.”

Hubbard was instrumental in welcoming Nylon to the zoo back in November and helped to acclimate Nylon to her new surroundings.  “Nylon received excellent care at her previous facility, but it was an indoor exhibit, so the outdoor environment is all new to her,” states Hubbard.  Nylon lives with Dudley, the zoo’s resident male saki monkey.

Training is also an important part of Nylon’s life at the zoo.  Behavior management coordinator Holly Walsh advises zoo keepers on positive reinforcement training, which ultimately benefits the animals.

Walsh discusses animal training in greater detail, “With positive reinforcement training, animals are taught to participate in their daily care and, in turn, receive rewards for doing so.  [Nylon] is learning to shift between areas and to hop on a scale for weight monitoring.  Nylon and Dudley are even learning to eat treats side-by-side without stealing from one another.  These are all feats that are taught in a positive, trust-enhancing way by Ashley [Hubbard].”

Hubbard’s appreciation and respect for the sakis is evident as she works near their exhibit.  “We train both Nylon and Dudley to make their care easier and give them choices.  When animals have a choice on whether or not to do a behavior, it’s less stressful for them.  We also provide enrichment to help them keep their wild senses.  We want them using their brains and muscles every day.”

Nylon and Dudley are located in Central Zoo, across from the American alligator exhibit.  White-faced saki monkeys are sexually dimorphic, meaning the females look different than the males.  In the case of white-faced sakis, only the males feature a white face, so it’s easy to figure out which monkey is Nylon and which monkey is Dudley.  Look for the pair on your next zoo visit!

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zoo keeper cleaning|fort wayne children's zoo

Yes, We Do Windows

If you’ve ever been to a sea lion show at the zoo, you know that the zoo’s sea lions are trained to display lots of cool animal behaviors.  They are not, however, trained to wash windows and vacuum the beach.  That’s why zoo keepers Sarah Cox and Chris Woodard donned wetsuits, goggles, and snorkeling gear during a recent day on the job.

The two entered the water and got right to work while guests watched.  Cox brought along a small ladder and window-washing supplies and Woodard used a long vacuum hose.

Fishbone and Grits were in the water with the zoo keepers that day.  The animals swam close Cox and Woodard and even splashed and vocalized, getting the attention of the keepers and the crowd.  Cox describes the experience, “It’s definitely a great experience being in the same medium as the sea lions.  They are great when we are in the water with them, but we always have to be aware of where they are.”  Cox also shared that she enjoys getting some personal time in with the animals.

Though they enjoy the task, cleaning sea lion beach is hard work.  Woodard explains, “We vacuum Sea Lion Beach once a week. We try to vacuum out as much debris as possible.  Sea Lion Beach is quite similar to your local pool. It needs to be cleaned frequently even though we have a very large filtration system attached to the exhibit.  Vacuuming [the beach] is a really exhausting task but it always proves to be a fun chore.”

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prairie dog|fort wayne children's zoo

What’s Up, Little Pup?

The zoo’s prairie dog exhibit has a reason for excitement:  a fluffy, cute new pup surfaced last week!  Zoo keepers first spotted the youngster on June 24, but based on the baby’s size they estimate that he or she was born some time in April.

Zoo keepers suspected that a baby had been born when the town (group of prairie dogs) suddenly became elusive and began spending most of the day underground.  Zoo keeper Helena Lacey has observed the pup above-ground and reported that the little one is taking an interest in solid food.  Lacey stated that zoo keepers have not been able to determine whether the baby is male or female.

Now that the pup has surfaced, zoo staff is hopeful that the town will spend more time above ground.  The new baby is fairly easy to discern from the adults.  He or she is extra-fluffy and still smaller than the others.  Here’s a handy “field guide” for pup identification:

prairie dog pup|fort wayne children's zoo

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Video by zoo keeper Helena Lacey:

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click here to meet more zoo babies!

A Double-Dose of Zoo Baby Cuteness

There’s a double-dose of cuteness at the ring-tailed lemur exhibit – Cushla the lemur had twins!

The babies were born June 10.  Now two weeks old, they’re spending time outside and getting acquainted with their troop in their exhibit.  The twins are still nursing and spend all their time clinging to mom, but they often peek out to get a look at zoo guests.

“They are doing well,” states zoo keeper Stephanie Raiman.  “They can be seen on exhibit most days, unless it is raining. They are starting to poke their heads out more and look around.”  Raiman recommends that guests first look for the adult lemur with the shortest tail (that’s Cushla, the mother).  Once they spot mom, it’s easy to find the babies clinging to her front.

The twins, both males, are still very small and to call them visually “identical” would be an understatement.  The tiny boys are equally and unequivocally cute as they curiously peek out at their surroundings.  Zoo guests can visit the boys in Central Zoo near the pony rides.

UPDATE 6/25/15:  Zoo keepers named the lemur babies Apollo (meaning sun or light) and Zeus (meaning sky).

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Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.


Baby giraffe|fort wayne children's zoo

It’s A Boy!

A six-foot-tall baby has arrived at the zoo:  A male baby giraffe was born on June 14!  Baby and mom are bonding behind-the-scenes in the giraffe barn.

Female giraffe Zahra delivered the baby, her first, around 5:00 PM Sunday in the giraffe barn, according to African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson.  “It was a textbook delivery,” says Eagleson. “The whole delivery took about two hours.”

The baby’s father is Ezeji.  Both Ezeji and Zahra are five years old.

Giraffes give birth standing up, and the baby falls feet-first to the ground.  Keepers had bedded Zahra’s stall with a thick layer of wood shavings to cushion the baby’s landing.  Immediately after the birth, Zahra began licking the calf to clean him.

“Within an hour of birth, the calf stood up and was walking, although he was a bit wobbly,” says Eagleson.  “He began nursing shortly afterward.”  These survival instincts are a great advantage to baby giraffes born in the wild, who can be targeted by predators.

The calf has not yet been named.  He will remain in the barn with Zahra for several weeks, while he gains strength and gets acquainted with the five other members of the zoo’s giraffe herd.  “Our other adult females, including the calf’s grandmother Zuri, are extremely interested in the calf,” says Eagleson.  “They were licking and sniffing him through the wire walls of the stall.”

The new calf is the 23rd giraffe born at the zoo since 1976.

Watch the zoo’s social media accounts for updates on the calf, including an announcement on when he will debut in the giraffe exhibit.

UPDATE 6/17/15:  Video of calf’s first vet exam (one day old).

UPDATE 6/19/15:  Zoo keepers named the new giraffe baby Kiango, which means “light” or “sunshine” in Swahili.

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.


All Grown Up

Every zoo animal has a unique story and a journey all their own.  Some animals come to the Fort Wayne Children’s zoo as adults and some are born here and move on to new adventures at other zoos.  The lemur and wildebeest babies born at the zoo in 2014 fall into a different category.  They’re growing up right here in Fort Wayne and zoo guests get to see it all!

Back in September one of the zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs, Kyna, gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  Zoo keepers named her “Madi” and guests had a chance to see mom and baby on exhibit for a few weeks before the close of the 2014 season.  Madi has grown quite a bit and is almost as big as the other three lemurs in her troop.  Zoo keeper Helena Lacey explains lemur behavior, “Madi would stay with her family in the wild, so she stays with them at the zoo.  She’s weaned now and eats the same diet as the adults.”  Lacey has also begun training Madi using operant conditioning.  Zoo keepers train animals on behaviors such as moving indoors when it gets cold out and standing on a scale for monthly weight checkups.

Lacey stated that while there is no plan to relocate Madi to another zoo, it is always a possibility, “Lemurs are a managed species, so it’s always a possibility that she may have to go to another zoo.  If she did go, mom would likely go with her.”  (Ring-tailed lemurs are managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan.)

Over in the zoo’s African Journey lives a juvenile wildebeest named Sangria.  She was born the morning of July 9, 2014 to the delight of many guests who were lucky enough to be near the savannah that day – Surprise!  (Zoo keepers weren’t expecting the baby for another week.)  Sangria is nearly a year old now and African Journey Area Manager Amber Eagleson doesn’t anticipate her leaving any time soon.

Eagleson discusses the wildebeest breeding program, “We’re trying to build and sustain our own wildebeest population.  We have a new male coming this year who’s not related to any of our females.”  Genetic diversity is important in zoos and the new male could potentially breed with all three of the zoo’s females.

Could there be another baby boom on the African Journey savannah in 2016?  Time will tell…

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Animal babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.