After a short season in 2020 due to the pandemic, last year was a record-breaking year for attendance, membership and fundraising at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Now the zoo is gearing up for another busy season when it opens April 30.
“People just wanted to get outside and enjoy being with friends and family, and the zoo is the perfect place to do that,” says Communications Director Bonnie Kemp.
The zoo saw 670,000 guests last year through October, about 20,000 more than in any previous year.
Kemp expects another good season, as the zoo works to make its exhibits even more exciting. Most construction and exhibit changes take place offseason, when the zoo is closed. An exception this year will be construction in one of the oldest areas of the zoo, near a ridge that was home to the South American Saki Monkey and Red Rumped Agouti. Those animals have been relocated to a larger space across from the River Otters, where they’ll have more room to show off their unique behaviors, Kemp says. Their relocation will make room for a new Red Panda Ridge exhibit that’s expected to be complete in mid-2023.
The Saki Monkey is small, with a large bushy tail and a naked face surrounded by a hood of dark fur. In the wild, this species lives in the trees of the rainforest, mainly in northern and central South America. The Agouti also is a native of South American rainforests. It’s a member of the rodent family and somewhat resembles a large guinea pig.
The zoo is home to one Red Panda, named Anne, but zoo leaders hope to have more pandas by the time the exhibit opens. The small mammal is native to the East Himalayas and Southwest China. It has dense reddish-brown fur with a black belly and legs, white-lined ears, a mostly white muzzle and a ringed tail. To those unfamiliar with the species, the Red Panda more closely resembles a raccoon than the better known black and white Giant Panda.
Another change at the zoo in 2022 involves private events. For the first time, reservations can be made for young children to celebrate birthday parties in the Jungle Lab room of the Indonesian Rain Forest section of the zoo.
Upcoming zoo events include a Mother’s Day brunch from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 7-8, to be held outside in the covered picnic pavilion in the zoo’s African section. Guests can visit the zoo before or after brunch.
A zoo fundraiser, Zoofari: Bites, Brews, and Beasts, will take place June 16 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Guests 21 and older can sample food and beverages from more than 50 regional businesses, while enjoying live music and the zoo animals. Proceeds support daily operations, educational programs and care for the more than 1,400 animals.
Corks for Conservation will take place July 21 at 6 p.m. This is a strolling wine-tasting event where guests learn about work being done around the world to save wildlife and habitats.
The local zoo is making a difference every day by breeding critically endangered species, embracing green practices and supporting global conservation projects, Kemps says.
Part of every admission ticket and membership to the zoo goes to about 30 conservation projects in Indiana and around the world. Last year, more than $350,000 was raised, an increase of more than $60,000 over the previous best year.
Conservation begins at home, Kemp says.
“It’s important for children not only to see and learn about the zoo animals, but also to make a wider connection with their role of being good stewards of the earth and to know why it’s important to take care of the environment and the world we live in,” Kemp says.
Interpreters and volunteers are located throughout the zoo to help children learn about the animals and answer questions. All interpreters wear a large yellow “Ask Me” button for easy identification and volunteers wear red shirts.
Keeper Chats are scheduled every day of the week for people to learn more about what it takes to care for the zoo animals. A new schedule will be available on the website when the zoo opens April 30. Zookeepers from all areas of the zoo give 20-minute talks on a particular animal and answer questions.
Registration is closed for Spring Break Camps in April, but has begun for Kids for Nature, an eight-week summer camp in June and July for ages 4 to 12.
Learn more about zoo visits and camps at kidszoo.org. ❚