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Getting better, not necessarily bigger, is the goal for children's zoo

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Visiting the zoo

WHAT: The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has more than 1,000 animals, five rides and other attractions.
WHEN: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through Oct. 11. Last admission at 5 p.m.; exhibits, rides and buildings close at 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: 3411 Sherman Blvd. in Franke Park
COST: $14, adults; $10.50, ages 60 and older; $9, ages 2-18; and free, ages 1 and younger and zoo members.
INFORMATION: 427-6800 or http://kidszoo.org
50th anniversary
The zoo opened July 3, 1965, and it will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a birthday party July 1. Special anniversary activities will take place all season.

Thursday, June 4, 2015 - 12:01 am

For the past 20 years, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has concentrated on getting better, not bigger. That will remain the focus in the coming years.

“We don’t really think bigger is better, from a guest perspective,” Zoo Director Jim Anderson said.

Right now, visitors rarely have to walk more than a few yards to see the next exhibit, and many families like that, Anderson said.

Adding a completely new area to the zoo also costs a lot of money, first to build the area and then for the annual expenses to operate and maintain it, Anderson said.

The zoo, which is supported totally by donations plus membership and ticket revenue, also has to operate within the constraints of donations and earned revenue, he added.

In recent years, the zoo has invested about $20 million to renovate its Central Zoo, African Journey and Australian Adventure areas, Anderson said. The zoo still has a long list of other work that needs to be done, as well as improvements that staff would like to make. Those projects range from dredging Mother Goose Pond to possibly adding an animal exhibit under the Sky Safari ride in the African Journey area, Anderson said.

“Five years from now, people should expect the zoo to get better and better,” he said.

The improvements won’t be just in what people see when they visit, Anderson said.

The zoo’s education programs will continue to evolve to meet the needs of area schools and members of the community, he said.

The zoo also will keep building on its conservation initiatives, which include efforts both inside and outside the zoo, Anderson said.

The zoo not only practices energy conservation and encourages guests to recycle aluminum cans and plastic beverage bottles. It also recycles thousands of tons of cardboard, steel cans, office paper and plastic each year, and it hauls more than 200 tons a year of straw, wood shavings and animal waste to the city of Fort Wayne’s biosolids facility for composting, it says on the zoo website, www.kidszoo.org.

The Kids4Nature program lets young zoo visitors use metal washers to “vote” each season for which one of three animal conservation projects they want to receive the largest donation from the zoo.

Last year, the zoo donated a total of about $80,000 to local, national and international conservation groups and projects.

In the future, Anderson hopes the zoo can get involved in more hands-on conservation work. This year, for example, zoo staff has begun raising hellbender salamanders for release in southern Indiana, where the amphibian’s population has declined dramatically in the wild.

Projects such as the hellbenders help conserve a species, let zoo staff do hands-on conservation work and provide an opportunity to share conservation efforts with zoo guests, he said.

It’s all part of the zoo’s mission: “Connecting kids and animals, strengthening families, inspiring people to care.”