September 18, 2013
There’s never been a Cutest Animal Contest at the zoo, but we’re pretty sure the red pandas would be strong contenders for the title. In fact, “awwww” is the most frequently uttered word at the red panda exhibit!
Male red panda Junjie, age 5, and his mate Xiao, age 4, have distinct personalities. According to zoo keeper Sam Emberton, Junjie is the more cautious of the two. “Junjie prefers to sit and watch before approaching us,” she says. Xiao (pronounced JOW) is also shy, but she gets very interested when keepers arrive with food. “She is very food-motivated, so she is willing to approach us,” Emberton says.
The red pandas are more than just cute critters – they are vulnerable to extinction in their native Himalayan home, which includes parts of China and Nepal. That’s why we’re celebrating International Red Panda Day on Saturday, September 21 from 11 AM – 3 PM.
The red panda population has dwindled more than 40% in the last 50 years, according to some estimates. Illegal hunting, loss of habitat, and competition with domestic livestock pose serious threats to the red pandas’ survival. Only about 10,000 of these bamboo-eating animals remain in the wild.
What is the zoo doing to protect this rare species? By participating in the Red Panda Species Survival Plan, we help manage a genetically diverse zoo-based panda population. (Although Xiao has produced two litters of cubs in 2012 and 2013, none of the cubs survived.) By participating in events like International Red Panda Day, we can help spread the word about these fascinating creatures.
Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Conservation, Red Panda, Zoo News
September 11, 2013
Some of our most fascinating birds are a diverse group of feathered predators known as “birds of prey.” Owls, vultures, and hawks are part of this group.
These birds share some key features: sharp talons, a strong, hooked beak, and excellent eyesight. Some, like owls, can capture a mouse in complete darkness. Vultures can smell a dead animal from up to a mile away!
As top predators in their ecosystems, birds of prey face unique conservation challenges. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo supports the conservation efforts of the Peregrine Fund in Tanzania as they work to protect these amazing animals.
Meet the birds of prey exhibited at the zoo:
African Animals, Birds
August 28, 2013
For sheer beauty and elegance, few zoo birds rival the wattled cranes in the African Journey. You’d never guess that these seemingly peaceful birds have an aggressive streak.
“They will jab at you with their beak,” says Amber Eagleson, who manages the African Journey. “And there is some serious power in those legs – they will kick right at you.”
Wattled cranes stand four to five feet tall and are native to wetlands throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Our birds, Betty and Hannibal, are an established pair who produced their first clutch of eggs last year. Unfortunately, both eggs were crushed, probably by the cranes themselves as they moved around in their nest – not uncommon in first-time parents.
Because of the potential for injury, zoo keepers always work in pairs when entering the cranes’ marshy enclosure, which sits along the boardwalk near the African Journey’s exit. They also wear goggles for eye protection, and carry a broom to fend off the birds if they get aggressive.
Another tool used to manage the cranes is training. “The cranes are trained to station on a target,” like a colored board on a stick, Eagleson explains. “By rewarding them when they touch their beak to the target, we can move them to a different area of the exhibit.” This allows keepers to keep the cranes’ attention when crews are performing maintenance in the exhibit, for example. “It also allows us to see the birds up close and inspect their body condition,” Eagleson says. The cranes are rewarded for their participation with pinky mice.
Wattled crane populations are shrinking in Africa, due to destruction and alteration of wetlands.
Click on the photos below to view them full screen.
Betty and Hannibal reinforce their pair bond with unison calls – loud, shrill honks that are made with heads tilted back. They also perform an elaborate mating dance, jumping up and down with wings flapping while moving back and forth. “I see this nearly every day,” Eagleson says. Also, watch for nest-building activity this fall – eggs are usually laid in late August or early September in a huge grassy nest.
August 21, 2013
“We start by placing his wooden crate right next to his exhibit,” explains zoo keeper Dave Messmann. A small hole in the exhibit wall lines up perfectly with the hole in the crate, and Bo can’t resist the dark hiding spot. He slithers into the crate almost right away. “Snakes are naturally drawn to dark hiding places,” says Messmann.
With Bo safely in the crate, Messmann and zoo keeper Tim Jedele take the opportunity to completely clean and sanitize the snake’s exhibit. “Bo is a very active snake, and he knocks over the artificial plants all the time,” says Messmann.
Once the exhibit is cleaned, Messmann and Jedele weigh the snake – crate and all – on a portable scale. After subtracting the weight of the empty crate, Messmann calculates that Bo weighs at about 65 pounds – a gain of ten pounds since the snake was last weighed in April, after he arrived from the Children’s Zoo in Saginaw, Michigan.
It’s tough to measure the length of a large snake, but Messmann decides to give it a try when Bo is released back into the exhibit. After a little coaxing, Bo leaves his hiding place and enters the just-cleaned exhibit, conveniently sliding along the window where Messmann has placed a tape measure. “The tail tip is out!” Jedele calls, and Messmann checks the placement of Bo’s nose against the tape: Fifteen feet, six inches – a gain of about nine inches since Bo arrived.
Bo gets busy checking out (and messing up) most of the work that Jedele and Messmann did that morning in his exhibit. But it’s Bo’s busy lifestyle that has made him a real crowd-pleaser. “He likes to climb up the glass and look right at you,” Messmann says. “It kind of takes people by surprise.”
Messmann is pleased with Bo’s weight gain and growth. “He is an awesome snake,” Messmann says. “It’s great to see zoo guests enjoying and learning about him.”
Click the photos below to view them full screen.
August 14, 2013
Indah and Bugara, our Sumatran tiger siblings, turn two years old this week!
“These tigers are very popular,” says Indonesian Rain Forest Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar of the two cats, who arrived this winter from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas.
Though they are twins, the tigers have different birthdays. Indah, the female, was born on August 15 and Bugara, the male, was born several hours later on August 16. We’re planning a small celebration on August 16!
“Indah is especially interested in people,” says Dunbar. “If you visit first thing in the morning, she’ll follow kids from window to window.” Bugara is the more laid-back of the two cats. “He is not as focused as his sister,” Dunbar says. “His attention span is pretty short!”
Bugara is the larger of the two cats, weighing 254 pounds. Indah weighs 204 pounds. Aside from the size difference, it’s easy to tell the two cats apart because the tip of Bugara’s left ear is missing. On Indah, look for the three black stripes above each eye that look like oversized “eyelashes.”
Because their mother did not properly care for them, Indah and Bugara were hand-reared by Cameron Park Zoo staff, which is partly why they are so interested in people. Hand-reared cats are typically not good candidates for breeding, so Bugara has been neutered. This allows us to exhibit the cats together even after they reach breeding age.
Sumatran tigers are critically endangered on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which is their only wild home. Their native forests are being destroyed to build unsustainable palm oil plantations.
YOU CAN HELP! Because palm oil is in thousands of everyday products, it’s hard to avoid, but you can support companies that buy only sustainably-grown palm oil. Download a free app to help you make eco-friendly shopping choices that help tigers, orangutans, and other rain forest animals.
Learn more about Sumatran tigers.
Watch a video of Indah and Bugara’s first day in Tiger Forest this spring.
Click on each photo to enlarge.
August 7, 2013
With the spotlight on Tara, our new orangutan, we’re sharing some orangutan insights this week!
1. Orangutans are lazy
It’s true – even wild orangutans sleep late and take lots of naps. Because they are so intelligent, they know exactly which trees are fruiting. They’ll go directly to the food source, eat, then rest. No need to wander the forest all day searching for a meal!
2. Orangutans make their beds
In the wild, orangutans arrange leaves and branches to make a comfy nest. Check out this video of Tengku, our male orangutan, making a nest out of blankets and shredded paper.
3. Orangutans are tree-dwellers
Wild orangutans rarely descend to the ground, and the same is true at the zoo. The artificial trees and vines in Orangutan Valley allow our orangutans to move just as they would in the forest. Tengku shows how it’s done in the video below.
4. Orangutans use umbrellas
In the rain forest, orangutans hold big leaves above their heads when it rains. At the zoo, our orangutans put blankets, hats, and paper bags on their heads.
5. Orangutans aren’t monkeys
Along with gorillas, chimpanzees, and gibbons, orangutans belong to the group of primates called apes. Apes have bigger brains and are generally larger than monkeys. The easiest way to tell them apart: monkeys have tails, apes don’t.
6. Orangutans need our help
Found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans are in trouble. Sumatran orangutan populations have declined up to 80% since the 1950s, mainly because their habitat is being destroyed. You can help by shopping responsibly for products that contain palm oil, which is grown in Sumatra and is found in many everyday products. Get a free mobile app to help with your shopping choices.
Learn more about orangutans
Click on the photos below to enlarge.
August 2, 2013
Tara, the Sumatran orangutan who arrived at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo this spring, is ready to meet the public. She will be in the orangutan exhibit now through Sunday.
“Tara is amazing,” says zoo keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans. “She has adapted very well to her new home.”
Tara has not yet been mixed with Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, or Melati, a 28-year-old female, so she will be alone in the exhibit through the weekend. “We want Tara to become completely comfortable in the exhibit before being mixed with the other orangutans,” Selzer said. So far, the three orangutans have had limited contact with each other through mesh panels behind the scenes.
“Our next step is to allow Tara to meet Melati face to face,” Selzer says. That encounter will probably happen in the next few weeks behind the scenes, meaning that there could be days when no orangutans are in the exhibit. After Tara and Melati get to know each other, Tengku will join them.
Tara, age 18, has a habit of climbing up to the skylights in the orangutan exhibit, so zoo guests will have to look carefully to see the petite red ape this weekend.
Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in April from the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. She can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands, and feet.
The zoo hopes that Tara and Tengku will someday produce offspring, but it is too early to predict when that might happen.
Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species and are managed in zoos by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population. These rare apes are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where their future is threatened by persistent habitat destruction as forests are converted to palm oil plantations, timber concessions, and mining operations. Zoos could prove to be the last stronghold for this species, which some experts predict could become functionally extinct in the wild within 10 to 20 years.Conservation, Orangutans, Zoo News
July 31, 2013
Which zoo animals can leap across their exhibit, grab a cricket, and eat it, all in a few seconds? The zoo’s pair of northern tree shrews!
“They rarely sit still,” says Zoo Keeper Dave Messmann of these Southeast Asian forest-dwellers. “They are always moving.”
These tiny acrobatic critters look like miniature squirrels but are closely related to monkeys and apes. “Kids say that they look like Scrat, the character from the Ice Age movies,” Messmann says.
Belange, our one-year-old female and Tup, a five-year-old male, are still getting to know each other, so they take turns in the exhibit in Dr. Diversity’s Rain Forest Research Station in the Indonesian Rain Forest. Messmann lures them on and off exhibit with tasty crickets. “They really live their lives at top speed,” Messmann says, noting that tree shrews are sexually mature at 60 days and may live only about eight years. Aside from crickets, they dine on chopped fruits, veggies, insects, and a pelleted diet.
On a recent visit, Messmann gave Belange a shed snake skin as an enrichment activity. The tree shrew darted about and rubbed her chest on the shed skin, probably to scent mark the new item. At one point, Belange poked her head through the shed skin and wore it like a scarf for a few minutes, until her constant motion caused it to fall off.
Click the photos below to enlarge.
July 24, 2013
If you’re a penguin, your feathers are super-important: they keep you warm in chilly waters, they keep your skin dry, and provide you with a snappy tuxedo-like outfit.
But once a year, it all falls apart – literally. During a one-to two-week period each year, all of a penguin’s feathers fall out. This process is called molting, and it causes dramatic changes in the zoo’s African black-footed penguin flock.
“Each of our 17 penguins molts on a different schedule,” says zoo keeper Kasey DeLucenay. “There is almost always someone in the process.”
Molting begins with each penguin increasing its weight by about 50% in just a few weeks. “A bird that weighs five pounds might gain more than two pounds,” DeLucenay says. The weight gain helps a penguin get through the molt – a time when it can’t swim and hunt for fish – without eating.
During the molt, the penguins look scruffy, with patches of fluffy feathers popping up in random spots. “The molt seems to start at the tail and work its way up the body,” DeLucenay says.
Eventually, the old plumage is replaced by a sleek new set of feather. In juveniles, the brown feathers are replaced by the black-and-white plumage of the adults. As a finishing touch, the penguins preen each feather by rubbing it with waterproofing oil, which is taken from a gland at the base of the tail.
Click the photos below to enlarge.
July 17, 2013
Bill the lion needs no introduction. His laid-back attitude and stunning physique make him a crowd favorite. Thanks to his penchant for resting on the exhibit window, he’s in thousands of family photos. Could he be any more of a superstar?
“I think Bill just enjoys being awesome,” says zoo keeper Jennifer McDermott.
Bill was only two years old with a scruffy little mane when he debuted at the African Journey’s grand opening in 2009. As he prepares to celebrate his 7th birthday on July 22, he has matured into a beautiful 435-pound adult male lion.
But amid all the hype, Bill has a few bad habits. According to McDermott, “Bill is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen.”
Because lions eat only one thing – meat – this can be a problem. The zoo buys a frozen prepared meat diet (similar to a tube of ground beef) by the ton. When a new batch of meat arrives, keepers know that Bill will snub his finicky nose at it, at least for the first few days.
“He makes what I call a ‘yuck’ face, like a little kid,” says McDermott. “He’ll scrunch up his eyes, stick out his tongue, and walk away from his food.” In lion-speak, this apparently means “I don’t wanna eat this, and you can’t make me!”
McDermott doesn’t worry about Bill’s diva-like attitude regarding his dinner. “He eventually eats it,” she says.
Unlike Bill, Ina the lioness is very interested in her food. When McDermott calls the cats to dinner at the end of the day, Ina makes a beeline for the meat placed in their night quarters. Bill, on the other hand, takes his sweet time. “We just wait him out,” says McDermott. When he does decide to come inside, “He walks very slowly,” she says.
Bad habits aside, McDermott is in awe of Bill. “I love looking into his eyes,” she says. “He’s just beautiful.”
Click the photos below to enlarge.