The Reef Opens Friday

The Reef Opens Friday

Guests at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo can now add a trip to The Reef to their Australian Adventure itinerary.

The exhibit, which features a 17,000-gallon saltwater tank depicting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, will open on Friday, May 22

Originally constructed in 1987, the aquatic exhibit was completely renovated over the winter.  “We drained the tank, rebuilt the artificial coral, and buffed decades of tiny scratches off the 27-foot-long acrylic window,” says Zoo Director Jim Anderson.  “The result is a sparkling showcase of this diverse ecosystem.”

Contractors added finishing touches to the tank on Wednesday, and dozens of fish moved into the exhibit on Thursday.

Two separate 600-gallon tanks display moon jellyfish and a new tank of venomous lionfish.

The Reef’s exhibit gallery has been renovated to resemble an old cannery warehouse in an Australian seaside town.  Formerly carpeted and dimly lit, the gallery now features exposed brick, rustic beams, and colorful signage

The building also includes a 50,000-gallon shark tank, but zoo guests will have to wait a bit longer to see those predators.  “The logistics of moving sharks are complicated,” says Anderson. “We didn’t want to make our guests wait any longer. We’re eager to invite them into The Reef to see what we’ve done so far.”  Black-tip sharks will move into the exhibit with hundreds of small schooling fish called pilchards in July.

The Reef is part of a $7 million, three-phase renovation of the Australian Adventure, which was 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.

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 The Reef and the all-new Stingray Bay, which is currently under construction.  Stingray Bay occupies the former Nocturnal Building, and opening is planned for late July.

In 2016, Phase 3 of the Australian Adventure renovation will completely upgrade the current Outback and 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 in late 2015 as part of an Australian government program aimed at protecting this species.  Wild Tasmanian devils are under severe threat from a deadly transmissible cancer.  Their exhibit will open in 2016 as part of Phase 3.

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.

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Verreaux's eagle o

Who’s Hoo-ing at the Zoo

There are three owl species at the zoo, and each is beautiful and interesting in its own way.  Learn a little more about these feathered birds of prey, then visit them on your next zoo trip:

Eurasian Eagle Owl

eurasian eagle owlEsmerelda and Andrey are new at the zoo this season.  The pair arrived in March, sponsored by a generous donation from the German Heritage Society.  Zoo development director Amy Lazoff received the donation and noted that owlets are a possibility for the breeding pair.

Zoo guests can visit the Eurasian eagle owl exhibit in Central Zoo, near the red pandas, and be sure observe the ground for owl pellets.

Like other birds of prey, owls regurgitate pellets made of bones, claws, teeth, fur, and other indigestible items.  Owls feed on small mammals, such as mice and voles.

Owl pellets tend to be large and are often used for study in animal education programs.


Verreaux’s Eagle Owl

Verreaux's eagle oThis beautiful bird species can be found in the zoo’s African Journey.  Roosevelt, the male, came to Fort Wayne in 2010.  A female named Mio joined him just in time for the 2015 zoo season, arriving in March.

Zoo keeper Ty Laemmle enjoys introducing guests to the Verreaux’s eagle owls.  “They have bright pink eyelids and also are famous for eating hedgehogs,” states Laemmle.  The owls avoid hedgehog-related injuries by peeling the sharp spines off before ingesting their prey.

At the zoo, the Verreaux’s eagle owls eat large mice, chicks, and small rats.

Verreaux’s eagle owls are often called “milky eagle owls” because of their coloring.  Look for Mio near the front of the exhibit and Roosevelt near the back, as this is the birds’ preferred seating arrangement.

Common Barn Owl

common barn owlThere’s a third species of owl that many guests overlook at the zoo.  Our common barn owl, Lindbergh, isn’t always active during the day.  A “night owl” by all accounts, Lindbergh is typically active after dark but may perk up during feeding time at 5PM, making Wild Wendesdays a great time to visit.

Guests can visit Lindbergh in the Indiana Family Farm.  Zoo keeper Heather Schuh states that guests have the opportunity to observe Lindbergh’s weighing if they happen to be in the right place at the right time, “She gets weighed once every other month which involves us catching her to put her in a crate and then onto a scale. If the guests happen to be here on that day, they will see her very active.”

Schuh anticipates Lindbergh’s next weighing will occur on or around June 1.

colobus monkey baby

Surprise New Baby at the Zoo

Zoo keeper Jess Brinneman found a delightful surprise when she arrived at work on April 22 (Earth Day).  Jibini the colobus monkey had just given birth!

Brinneman describes that morning, “I walked into the monkey building and found Jibini holding her new baby.  It was a big surprise.  It appeared as though she had just given birth.  I called our area manager and she notified our animal curator and vet staff.  We had been observing her for signs of pregnancy but hadn’t confirmed anything yet.”

Zoo staff suspected that Jibini could be pregnant and had been monitoring her for weight gain but hadn’t observed anything significant.  They did, however, notice a couple of diet changes that may have been pregnancy-related.  “She has been eating more kale than usual for the past two months,” states Brinneman, “and I noticed that for the first time she preferred peanuts over grapes, but we didn’t observe any clear signs of pregnancy prior to her delivery.”

The baby, a female, is Jibini’s third offspring.  Jibini’s other daughter and son, Kaasidy and Obi, were born at the zoo and live with Jibini and adult male colobus Finnigan.  Zoo keepers were aware of Jibini’s two previous pregnancies prior to delivery.

Jibini is nursing and caring for her infant, allowing zoo keepers to take a hands-off approach.  All of the colobus monkeys, including the new baby, will go out onto exhibit together soon – possibly as early as next week.

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Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

joey in kangaroo pouch

Our Hoppy Mob has a New ‘Roo

Our kangaroo mob just got a little bigger.  A new joey was born late last year and began venturing out just in time for the 2015 zoo season.

Kangaroos are marsupials with an average gestation period of only 34 days.  Babies are very small when born (about the size of a jelly bean) and still have a lot of developing to do before they can safely move about on their own.  On their first day of life they crawl across their mother’s fur and into the pouch.  This fragile moment is rarely observed and although the newest joey was born some time last year he hadn’t been observed outside of the pouch until recently.

Joeys often hop into their mothers’ pouches head-first, and may wait awhile before they somersault upright.  Because of this, guests are likely to observe the baby’s feet sticking straight up out of the pouch!

Zoo guests can visit the kangaroo mob in the New Australian Adventure.  Mom and joey are usually out on exhibit and zoo staff and volunteers are often available for question and answer sessions.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.

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stock photo ray

2015 Zoo Preview

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo opens for the 2015 season on Saturday, kicking off a summer-long 50th birthday celebration filled with new exhibits, special events, and an adorable baby Sumatran orangutan.

“With so much to celebrate, 2015 will be a milestone year for the zoo,” says Zoo Director Jim Anderson.  “We can’t wait to share it all with our guests.”

Sumatran Orangutan Baby

Asmara the baby Sumatran orangutan is sure to capture hearts when she makes her public debut this season.   Born at the zoo in November, Asmara represents a critically endangered species on the brink of extinction.  “This little orangutan will help connect people to our important conservation work,” says Anderson. “Our guests will be able to watch her grow and develop all season long.”

New Exhibits

Phase 2 of the Australian Adventure renovation opens this season.  The former aquarium exhibit is reborn as The Reef, and will open in late May.  The renovated display features new theming, new fish including venomous lionfish, and a completely renovated 17,000-gallon coral reef tank.  “We drained the tank, rebuilt the artificial coral, and buffed decades of tiny scratches off the 27-foot-long acrylic window,” says Anderson.  “The result will be a sparkling showcase of this diverse ecosystem.”

Hundreds of pilchards, a Pacific schooling fish, and black-tip sharks will move into the 50,000-gallon Shark Tank later this season.

Later this summer, Stingray Bay will bring this popular aquatic species to the zoo.  Housed in the former Nocturnal Building, Stingray Bay will feature a wide 20,000-gallon pool teeming with two-foot-wide stingrays.  A July opening is planned for Stingray Bay.

50th Birthday

The zoo turns 50 years old this summer and many special activities will mark this milestone.  A Birthday Party on July 1 will be a highlight.  The zoo is the theme of the Three Rivers Festival parade on July 11, and will feature a one-of-a-kind animal-themed float designed by zoo keepers.  Special activities, promotions, and events will celebrate the zoo’s 50-year history all season long.

Guests can continue to enjoy old favorites like Croaky the Frog, the Lion Drinking Fountain, and Monkey Island, all of which have been at the zoo since it opened on July 3, 1965.

“The zoo was built by the community, and continues to be generously supported by our community,” says Anderson, noting that the non-profit zoo receives no tax funding.  “Our birthday gives us a chance to thank our members and friends for 50 years of support.”

Guest Amenities and Programs

“With more than 540,000 guests each season, we devote significant resources to providing excellent guest experiences,” says Anderson.  In 2015, guests will enjoy expanded seating at the renovated Tree Tops Café in the Indonesian Rain Forest, as well as new menus in the zoo’s three restaurants.

New VIP Experiences take guests behind the scenes to help zoo keepers feed the animals.  For additional fees, guests can step onto the beach to feed the penguins, toss fish to the pelicans, create treats for the giraffes, or feed the jellyfish.

The new Parkview Physicians Group Pavilions will open for business this spring.  The facilities can be rented for group picnics and outings.


By participating in cooperative management programs for more than 90 species and taxa, the zoo is helping to preserve genetic diversity in endangered and threatened animals from around the world, including Sumatran orangutans, reticulated giraffes, African penguins, black-breasted leaf turtles, and Sumatran tigers.

“Our Kids4Nature program invites every guest to participate in conservation at the zoo,” says Anderson.  Guests receive a recycled metal washer at the ticket booth, and use it to “vote” for their favorite conservation project.  “Last year, our guests helped direct more than $80,000 toward important conservation projects around the world,” says Anderson.

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broom and drill with watermark

Spring Cleaning, Zoo-Style

If you think spring cleaning your house is a chore, consider spring cleaning the entire zoo!  As we count down to Opening Day on April 25, our staff is busy all over our 40 acre property.  Here are some of the items we’ll be checking off our list:

  • Drain and power-wash Sea Lion Beach
  • Vacuum and scrub the penguin grottos
  • Cut and hang tree limbs to use as perches in exhibits
  • Sweep all walkways and guest areas
  • Plant flowers and beautify landscaping
  • Install new exhibit signage
  • Update concession stand signage (Look for new menu items this year!)
  • Paint, paint, paint
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch

…And this list is certainly NOT exhaustive!  Zoo director Jim Anderson expresses his appreciation for all the work that goes into Opening Day, “Our staff works very hard to leave no stone unturned in the weeks preceding zoo opening.  We all want to deliver a perfect experience to zoo guests.  Thousands of details add up to one impressive finished product!”

We look forward to sharing the zoo with you in 2015.


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Q: What Has Fins, Stripes, Wheels, and Engines?

A:  The Zoomobile Fleet

zoomobile jane wells
The Zoomobile program was created in 1969 to bring animals to every third grade classroom in Allen County.

Do you remember the Zoomobile coming to your school?  Our Zoomobile program has been visiting schools since 1969!

Zoo education manager Kristin Tetzlaff relates the importance of the program to the zoo’s mission, “Zoomobile programs are essential in carrying out the mission of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. By doing [education] outreach we are able to directly connect students to animals and engage them in a unique fashion.”  Tetzlaff states that this engagement encourages people to care about wild animals and the wild places they call home.

For all the students who’ve enjoyed the ride with us during the 2014-2015 school year, here’s a walk…er, we mean “drive,” down memory lane…

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Three-banded armadillo Fort Wayne Children's Zoo
Sherman the three-banded armadillo is a charismatic fellow and he’s often a favorite at Zoomobile programs.

The Zoomobile recently visited a seventh-grade class.  Student Kayla F. sent this message via Padlet: “Dear Emma,  Thank you for coming to our school and bringing the zoo mobile!  I loved being able to see the animals up close and when you let us touch them!  My favorite animal was the armadillo!”

The zoo is grateful to the Dekko Foundation and the Lincoln Financial Foundation.  Because of these organizations, many of our Zoomobile programs are free to regional schools.  Tetzlaff shares that, “Our Zoomobile programs are able to reach members of the community who may not be able to make it to the zoo.”  And the zoo’s education department takes this commitment seriously – the Zoomobile program reaches over 40,000 school children a year!

Do you want to bring the Zoomobile to your school?  You can learn more on our website.  To schedule a program or ask questions, contact the Zoo Education Department at 260-427-6808 or email us at


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.”

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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: