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Fort Wayne Children's Zoo takes conservation efforts seriously

By Kevin Kilbane

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo doesn’t just take care of more than 1,000 animals on its grounds at 3411 Sherman Blvd. in Franke Park. It also works to save species threatened around the world.

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For more about the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s conservation efforts, go to


"The work of saving endangered species has many, many, many facets,” said Cheryl Piropato, zoo director of education and communications.

The zoo’s efforts include:

  • Cooperating with other zoos and aquariums in Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs for about 50 threatened species. By managing the breeding and births of captive populations, partners in an SSP help ensure each species maintains a healthy genetic diversity.

  • Assisting researchers who study captive animals to learn more about how to help or save that species in the wild. The zoo cooperates in non-invasive research studies on various animals by contributing a hair sample, blood sample, hormone level information, photos or other data. For example, the zoo sent photos of its sea lions to a researcher studying whether sea lions can be identified in the wild by looking at their whisker patterns.

  • Funding individual research projects, such as a man studying how coffee plantations affect Javan gibbons living in the wild in Indonesia. These gibbons are one of the world’s most endangered primates. “Anyone who contributes to our conservation efforts is involved in that research halfway around the world,” Piropato said.
  • Offering its Kids4Nature program, which allows visitors to learn about three conservation projects and decide how the zoo will divide a donation total of about $40,000 among them. Visitors vote by dropping coins or dollars in the collection bin of the project they want to receive the most money. This year, the projects involve African penguins, monarch butterflies and Sumatran orangutans.

  • Involving youth, through its Z Team volunteer program, in planning and implementing a conservation project. This year, the team will plant a butterfly garden. Z team members also monitor research projects started by teams in previous years. This year’s team will monitor water quality in nearby Spy Run Creek and check on the use of bat houses installed around the zoo.
  • Training volunteers to take part in FrogWatch USA, which involves going to water bodies and listening for the calls of various frogs. The volunteers then enter their findings in a national database, which helps scientists assess the health and population of frogs. Frogs and other amphibians are more sensitive to environmental changes than other animals. “It’s a great citizens-science project,” Piropato said. “It allows much more data to be collected than one team of researchers could do.”
  • Working with and dividing an additional $40,000 in donations among numerous local, national and international conservation organizations to help preserve animals and important habitat.

  • Recycling actively and encouraging its visitors to do so, too. Totals from 2013 include composting about 200 tons of leaves, straw and other organic matter and 80 tons of animal manure. The zoo also recycled about 30 tons of cardboard; 15 tons of bottles, cans and containers; 10 tons of scrap metal; and 1½ tons of plastic bags, as well as light bulbs and electronics.