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 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:



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!

Click on the photos to enlarge:

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.”

Click on the photos to enlarge:


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

Click on the photos to enlarge:

Video by zoo keeper Helena Lacey:

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