Winter, in all of its frozen glory, is upon us. Since most of our animals live outside, we get a lot of questions about where our animals live during the off-season. It’s different for every animal, but the basic answer is the same: they all stay at the Zoo!
This might surprise people, since Indiana winters are known to be harsh and filled with snow. But don’t worry; our animals don’t have to stay out in the snow all season. At least, not all of them. That’s right, some of our animals do stay outside during the winter, because they love the snow! Animals like our Canadian lynx and our Red Pandas are used to living in cold climates, and they have many adaptions that help them survive in the cold. For instance, “Red Pandas have fur covering every part of their body- even the bottom of their paws- to help keep them warm,” says Helena Lacey, Zookeeper. So when our keepers get to the Zoo after it snows, they find those animals right at home in their usual exhibits, enjoying the winter wonderland.
The animals that can’t be outside in the cold- like many of the animals that live in the African Journey-have indoor spaces that keep them safe and warm during the winter months. The giraffes have a huge barn that can be seen behind their exhibit where they go into at night and when it’s cold, and our alligators have a building to the left of their exhibit that keeps them toasty warm all year long.
Every animal is different, and each species has a different temperature threshold that they are able to tolerate. For instance, our giraffes can’t be outside if it’s less than 55 degrees outside, but our ostrich Penny can withstand temperatures as low as 0 degree Fahrenheit! Others animals, like our African penguins, surprise people- they actually hate the cold! “Most people assume penguins love the snow, but this particular species comes from southern Africa, and they can’t tolerate the cold Indiana winters,” Mitchell Overmyer (Zookeeper- Aquatics) tells us. So on cold days like today when the temperature is below 32 degrees, they stay inside.
Our animals stay here all year round, but so do our people. There’s another fact that usually surprises our guests: there are workers at the Zoo 365 days a year, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas! People can be shocked to hear this, but even though our gates aren’t open for the public, someone has to come take care of the animals each day. The Zoo is definitely a lot quieter in the off-season without all the guests around, but even in the dead of winter, the Zoo is always alive with activity!
Here at The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo we have a pair of Wrinkled Hornbills (Aceros corrugatus), Bayu (Bye-you) and Ayu (Aye-you). Bayu, which means “the wind” in Indonesian, is our 16 year old male and Ayu, meaning “beautiful,” is our 13 year old female. You can tell them apart based on their size and coloration; males are larger and have bright yellow and red heads and beaks while the females are smaller and darker in color.
If you visited our Zoo this summer, it might have looked like there was only one bird in the Wrinkled Hornbill exhibit. But fear not; our female, Ayu, had a very busy summer sealing herself into her nest box. During nesting season, the female will seal herself inside of the nest box using wood shavings, sticky food, and feces. We made sure that the pair was provided with all the things that they need to be successful, such as adding foods like figs and boiled sweet potatoes to their diets to help them seal up the opening. Ayu worked on and off sealing the nest box for a couple of days before sealing herself in fully. She does not leave the nest box until the nesting process is over, but she leaves a very small opening so that Bayu can feed her.
The last time that Ayu was seen outside of the nest box was July 16th. Once inside and sealed, females can lay between one to three eggs and will incubate them for about 28 days until they hatch. They then remain inside the nest box with the chicks until they are strong enough to emerge. This could take another 60 to 80 days! That means females stay inside their nest box for a total of around 90 days and throughout all this time the male is focused on feeding everyone in the nest box and protecting them from predators.
On August 24th, a keeper heard a small vocalization that could have been a chick. At that point, Ayu had been in the nest box for 39 days. It was confirmed in the following days that there was a chick that had hatched! We helped determine that a chick had hatched based on what foods Bayu was picking to feed Ayu. Chicks are usually fed higher protein items when they are young and when Bayu immediately started feeding Ayu mealworms and crickets we were pretty confident that we had a hornbill chick.
Based on our timeline, we hoped that Ayu and the chick would break out of the nest box before the end of the season. Wrinkled Hornbills are native to Indonesia, and are very sensitive to the cold Indiana temperatures. As the temperatures started dropping, we began to worry about Bayu. Since he had to stay outside to feed Ayu, he was especially susceptible to the weather. After conferring with vet staff and keepers, it was finally decided to move the nest box (with the chick and mom still sealed tightly inside) indoors for the winter. It was quite the process, but our team was able to safely relocate the heavy box inside so that the hornbills could be warm for the winter and emerge from the nest box when they were ready.
The 90 day mark came and went and still the chick and its mother did not emerge. Finally, on the 123rd day of the female’s nesting process, our animal care team decided to break the seal and see if the birds would break out. Once that seal was broken, Ayu and the chick emerged within minutes! At this point, the chick was 84 days old. After the neonatal physical a few days later, it was determined that the chick was a female, and was given the name Nuri, which means “colorful bird.”
Though it was a long and tedious process to produce a single chick, it was well worth it. In fact, our chick Nuri was one of only two Wrinkled Hornbill chicks to successfully hatch this year in any zoo! This represents a huge achievement for their species, whose population is suffering in the wild. Because of our animal care team’s hard work, we are excited that we have made steps toward saving this endangered bird.
Written by: Tiffany Jones and Brianna Crane: Zoo Keepers, Indonesian Rain Forest
Snot otter. Lasagna lizard. Devil dog. Hellbender. Whichever common name is used to describe North America’s largest salamander, unpleasant images come to mind.
Most people have never heard of hellbenders- until I started working at the Zoo, I hadn’t either. This is probably because despite once being widespread across the Midwest, habitat loss and decreased water quality have driven the salamanders’ population down significantly. Less than a few hundred are left in the wild, and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has partnered with Purdue University and Help the Hellbender to help save them.
While some people might not think that saving giant salamanders is an important cause, the hellbenders are an indicator species, which means they help indicate the state of their ecosystem. Hellbenders actually absorb oxygen directly out of the water through its skin and into its lungs. Because they are sensitive to pollution and sediment in the water, they are biological indicators of water quality.
For the past four years, our staff has helped to “head-start” approximately 60 hellbenders. Because they face so many challenges and have a low chance of survival if they are left to hatch in the river on their own, we raise them from a young age until they are big enough to return to the river. By doing this, we hope to reduce the chances of them being eaten by their many natural predators.
Once the hellbenders are big enough (usually around 4 years old), we take them to the river and release them! Although this may sound easy, there’s a catch: there is currently only a single river in Indiana that is suitable for hellbenders to survive. That means only one river in the entire state is clean enough for them to thrive in. And that river happens to be four hours away from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Despite this, on November 1st three Zoo employees bundled up and made the long drive south to help release hellbenders into the Blue River.
This day was years in the making, and was extra special as it marked the very first release ever done with eggs found in the Blue River. Even though it was 45 degrees and pouring down rain, everyone was so excited to be a part of such a monumental step toward saving the hellbenders that we didn’t mind (that much). It was a motley group of people that arrived at the muddy riverbank to help with the release; some zoo keepers, several Purdue students, our veterinarian Dr. Kami Fox, Dave Messmann, our resident hellbender expert, and myself, the Social Media Coordinator (it was clear immediately that I was out of my element as we trudged through the mud down to the river and proceeded to wade into the thigh-deep cold river and I attempted to not drop the camera into the fast-moving current).
This was a “soft release,” which means that we placed the hellbenders into large underwater mesh cages to give them some time to acclimate to the flow of the river and the water before being fully released in a few days. Nick Burgmeier, one of the Purdue hellbender experts and our fearless leader for the day, had the pleasure of being fully submerged in the river to place the salamanders in their new home. Everyone managed to get water into their waders, except Dave Messmann, who decided to forgo waders and just wear his clothes into the river, and we were all freezing and completely covered in mud. But nobody was there for the glamour! We all did it for the common goal of helping the hellbenders. Dave, who has helped spearhead this entire project, said that his favorite things about being involved with the hellbenders include the releases, which will “hopefully help this species in the wild, learning their behavior and water quality in an aquarium setting, and working as a team to help keep the hellbenders healthy.”
By the end of the day, 40 hellbenders were released back into the river that they came from, which was a huge accomplishment! Everyone got to release one, and after seeing them up close even I had to admit these “devil dogs” are pretty cute. Each hellbender released was equipped with a radio transmitter, so that we can collect future data on the hellbenders’ whereabouts and survival success. Next year, the hellbenders we have been raising will likely be ready for release, and we will be able to repeat the process with the salamanders we have been working with for over three years.
There are a couple of subspecies of hellbenders (we have Easterns), but all of them are suffering. Even though the hellbenders aren’t something you can see on exhibit at our Zoo, it’s an important project. Employees like Dave have dedicated countless hours to ensure that our hellbenders are cared for properly so that one day we can rebuild a strong population in the wild.
Not everyone can go wade in a river and help release them like we did, but you can do something. Check out helpthehellbender.org to learn more about this amazing project and find out how you can help the hellbenders too!
Written by Sarah Dove
If you were at the Zoo last Saturday, you probably saw lots of animals with pumpkins in their exhibits. While this is adorable in itself, there is a purpose for the pumpkins besides just providing cute photos! Pumpkins were actually given as a form of enrichment, which are activities or challenges we give our animals to encourage behaviors they would naturally exhibit in the wild. Animals all over the Zoo were given pumpkins filled with treats or other Halloween-themed enrichment, all aimed to encourage their natural behaviors and allow keepers to educate guests about the enrichment process.
This year, Britni Plummer (Zoo Keeper, Aquatics) helped to provide enrichment for many of our animals. Every animal receives something different, depending on their individual needs. For instance, the dingoes were given ghosts and pumpkins to encourage their hunting instincts, and our red pandas received bamboo-stuffed pumpkins to encourage foraging. “For penguins, keepers made hanging bats out of cardboard and paper towels. This was to encourage their natural curiosity and chasing behaviors. They were a little skeptical at first, but they love to peck at and chase things that swing and move. With our sea lions, we wanted to encourage a natural foraging behavior so we hid frozen fish inside of small pumpkins. The sea lions had to push the pumpkins around or toss them in the air in order to get the fish out.” While sea lions don’t encounter pumpkins in the wild, this gave them a challenge and forced them to think creatively to get to their fish!
While we offer enrichment throughout the entire year, it’s always fun to do themed enrichment around the holidays for both the animals and the keepers (a little zookeeper enrichment, if you will). After all, who doesn’t love pumpkins?
Check out our animals receiving their pumpkin enrichment this year:
When you visit the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and cast your vote at the Kids4Nature Kiosk or round up your total at the Wild Things Gift Shop, you’re helping to protect local habitat with ACRES Land Trust. Most recently, your support helped conserve and study Quog Lake, a local, wild and rare quaking bog that is part of an incredible wetland complex in LaGrange County.
Over the past few years, through the Kids4Nature and “round up” programs, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo visitors have contributed $13,500 toward the preservation and study of this 807-acre LaGrange County wetland complex, protected in part by ACRES Land Trust. State-endangered Marsh Wrens and Massasauga rattlesnakes call this secluded wildlife habitat home. Recent bird surveys document 75 bird species in the area; notable species include Veery, Northern Water thrush and a bouquet of warbler species including a Cerulean Warbler.
Your contributions at the Zoo have supported two exciting ACRES preserves within the complex:
- Marsh Wren Nature Preserve, a 50-acre high-quality wetland preserve. Zoo funding created and launched ACRES’ preserve management plan to remove invasive non-native plants and restore critical natural habitat.
- Quog Lake, a 126-acre wetland preserve that protects one of a few remaining quaking bogs in the state. A quaking bog – the origin of Quog Lake’s name – describes a floating mat of sphagnum moss along the shore of the lake.
Zoo funding helped ACRES purchase this land for permanent protection and conduct a plant inventory. Plant life at the preserve includes carnivorous pitcher plants and sundew in great abundance.
Did you know that Zookeepers and staff partner with ACRES, too? This spring, a team of eleven bird-brained zookeepers volunteered to count birds for ACRES’ inaugural Bird Blitz event. ACRES’ Bird Blitz welcomed 76 total bird blitzers, who visited 35 ACRES properties, counting 89 species of birds. Their work helped ACRES understand and communicate the value of protecting habitat. These results will be recorded on ebird.org, an online citizen science birding database developed and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.
Thank you for helping protect habitat for local animals when you visit the Zoo. Happy trails!
Quog Lake nature preserve’s floating sphagnum moss mat is thin in areas and contains holes throughout, making a trail for visitors to view the bog impossible. The preserve is closed to the public, but will be open for ACRES members 6 am, Saturday, November 11 for a guided waterfowl viewing event. For more event information, visit: acreslandtrust.org/participate/events.
Submitted by Lettie Haver, Outreach Manager for the ACRES Land Trust.
When most people think of training animals, they think of alligators, lions, or other exotic animals that would be difficult to handle. However, our keeper Maggie Sipe is here to tell you that is not always the case! Even ducks- a seemingly simple animal- take patience and dedication to “quack” the code to successful training! Here’s Maggie’s report on how our three call ducks (adorably named after “The Big Bang Theory” characters) responded to their training, and how they are doing now:
Three call duck clutch mates, named Sheldon, Howard, and Leonard, arrived at the zoo in April of 2014. They were wary of keepers and unsure of their new environment. A need for training was established and positive relationship building began immediately.
Before training could begin, it was necessary to get the ducks more comfortable with the keepers and to get them to accept food from keepers. For months, all keepers who worked in the area would spend as much time as they could with the ducks to desensitize them to the keepers’ presence. Pretty soon, they readily accepted food from the keepers’ hands and would anticipate the arrival of keepers by exiting the pool to approach them. Now that reinforcement could be delivered, the call duck training program began.
Training all three ducks at once proved to be a challenge, so individual training was pursued instead. Target training- getting the ducks to respond only to their specific target (corresponding to a color) was the first behavior goal for the ducks. The trainers believed it would be the most useful tool as a base for training.
Sheldon was the most dominant and food motivated individual at the time so training began with him. Sheldon was presented with the yellow target stick first. Through his natural curiosity, he pecked at it and caught on quickly that pecking the yellow stick led to a reward. Next he had to be taught that ignoring the red and blue targets led to a reward. The trainer presented the red or blue target then bridged and reinforced before Sheldon had a chance to peck it. Howard proved the second-most eager to participate, so he was trained next. Sheldon remained indifferent to a second participant, as long as he received target training in the same session. The process was repeated with Howard using the red target stick. Having already trained color discrimination with Sheldon, the trainer applied previously learned lessons. When Howard was introduced to the other targets, the trainer immediately reinforced for no reaction to yellow or blue. This made the process much smoother for this individual.
Leonard was the least dominant individual and often displaced from food by his clutch mates. To build Leonard’s confidence, the other two individuals were targeted out of the pool and heavily reinforced on the ground so that Leonard could train in the pool. Leonard was presented with the blue stick and quickly caught on that pecking it lead to a reward. By the time Leonard was ready to learn color discrimination, the other two no longer had to be separated out of the pool. It then became apparent that no training had to be done for this step as Leonard already avoided the other two targets.
Target training became such a strong and well established behavior that every time the trainer would enter the duck enclosure, the ducks would excitedly crowd around the trainer and run around displacing each other for opportunities to train, even fighting occasionally. This was the basis for the decision to train a station behavior next because stationing would be incompatible with running around and fighting. The criteria for the finished behavior would involve each duck calmly standing with both feet on their station mat. The station mats were color specific which matched to each individual’s target color. This mat could be moved throughout a session, and the duck would follow.
While the stations were successful in keeping the ducks in a relative location, they would not stay on station for any length of time. A change in approach for station training was adapted from our sea lion training team and solved the issue. The sea lions at our facility are only reinforced once they have returned to station after completing a desired behavior and are calm for the acceptance of reinforcement. When applied to the ducks, they would be targeted to a different area, but reinforcement was only given once they were back calmly waiting on their station.
The call ducks are vastly more comfortable in keepers’ presence after completing their training. The ducks are no longer fearful of enrichment items presented by the keepers and readily investigate new things. Keepers are able to observe their behaviors more easily and are able to determine the effectiveness of the enrichment towards eliciting natural behaviors. The ducks readily come out of their pool at night and shift into their indoor holding without the need of aversives. Monthly weights are recorded with no stress to the ducks at all.
The lives of these three individual ducks have improved greatly since the initiation of their training program. Giving the animals the choice to participate in their care has proved beneficial in improving the welfare for these individuals. Training these three small ducks has proved that every animal, no matter how big or how small, deserves a chance to have the choice and control in their environment.
On the morning of Sunday, August 6th, our giraffe keepers walked into the barn to find a big surprise. Zahra, our expectant mother giraffe, was in labor!
When keepers arrived for their morning shift at 7 AM, Zahra had already gone into active labor, and after a few more hours of pushing, we welcomed a beautiful new female giraffe calf into our zoo family at 9:28 AM! Giraffes give birth standing up, so the baby had a long way to the ground. As the largest living land animal, it’s no surprise that giraffes give birth to large babies- and though our new calf is on the smaller side by giraffe standards, she still weighed 172 pounds and was over 6’1″ tall at birth- that’s one big newborn! She’s growing quickly too- at a week and a half old, keepers estimate her to be 6’3″ now, and is gaining weight right on pace.
Just thirty minutes after birth, the new calf learned to stand, and was aptly given the name Kita, which means “to stand firm” in Swahili. Calves must learn to stand quickly so that they can immediately begin nursing, which is what Kita did shortly after standing.
The next day, it was time for Kita’s neonatal exam. At first, she vocalized at the vet staff and ran away! They were finally able to hold her so that the vet could perform a thorough exam, take some blood samples, and make sure she was healthy. “I think she was a little mad at us for a day or two,” said giraffe keeper Aimee after the exam, “but she is now back to readily giving kisses!” None of the tests revealed any concerns, and Kita is a very healthy little girl.
As for the rest of our giraffes- they are simply fascinated with the newest addition to their family. The younger girls, Mystic, Luna, and Faye, rush over to check on Kita as soon as they come inside the barn after being out in their exhibit all day, and her dad and grandparents love interacting with her. She can touch and smell the other giraffes next to her, but does not share a space with them quite yet. As they all get used to each other, she will be introduced to the other giraffes in a shared space, starting with her Grandma Zuri. She already has formed a strong bond with Grandma, who likes to stick close by and watch over Zahra and the new baby.
Though Mom lets her little one have fun, she is also extremely protective of her. Kita is Zahra’s second calf with Ezeji, and keepers say that she seems more prepared this time around. Zahra is very wary of new visitors in the giraffe barn, and Kita takes her cues on what to do from Mom.
Now over a week old, Kita’s personality is beginning to shine through. She is very curious, and is beginning to show a feisty streak! Keepers say she has started to demonstrate a “sassy personality, and is very similar to how her mother was at that age.” Aimee also reports that though she still naps a lot, like most babies, she often “fights sleepiness because there is so much cool stuff going on in the giraffe barn! Right now, her favorite game is running circles around Mom.” As Kita grows and begins to interact more with the other giraffes, her personality will continue to develop, though her keepers say that she is already more feisty than her brother Kiango was!
Kita also loves her keepers already- she interacts with them regularly and likes to watch them work. They discovered that she enjoys their auto waterers, and loves to splash the water up in the air!
In addition to adding more fun and cuteness to our giraffe herd, this new baby also serves as an ambassador for the declining giraffe populations in the wild. Giraffes are considered to be a “vulnerable” species due to habitat loss and human population growth and illegal hunting. Once widespread across southern and eastern Africa, new population surveys estimate an overall 36 to 40 percent decline in the giraffe population. Our partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation helps to support giraffe research and implement plans to save them. You can help by visiting our giraffe platform and by supporting the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
Despite being the size of a full-grown human, Kita acts just like any other baby would, and spends her days napping, playing with mom, and exploring her new world. Although it will be a few weeks before Kita is able to be introduced to the public, we can’t wait for you all to meet her!