Baby giraffe, Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

Sukari was born in September 2020, joining the reticulated giraffe population at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The zoo operates within a network of animal experts, managing animal populations to ensure animal welfare and genetic diversity.

Have you ever wondered how zoos get animals? Are they bought, donated, found?

Area Curator for the African Journey and Indonesian Rain Forest at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo Amber Eagleson explained the intricacies of how zoos acquire animals and provide for their required care. The process is thorough to ensure the safety of the animals.

Eagleson explained how animal acquisitions work.

“We have a huge variety of species here,” Eagleson said. “Actually, almost every species is centrally managed by one person within our governing agency, Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This consists of hundreds of zoos that meet certain standards of animal care and welfare.”

She said that this network is extensive, and people are constantly working together. For each specific species, she used giraffes as an example, there is only one person in the country who oversees and manages all of the giraffes in zoos.

“They are the ones who will make certain recommendations every year that says this specific giraffe should go to this zoo,” Eagleson said. “We are constantly looking at their genetic history, how much room the zoo has to hold these animals and things like that.”

The person in charge of each species has a detailed history of each animal in the population. According to Eagleson, this information is essential to the survival of these animals.

Each zoo’s goal is to maximize genetic diversity, Eagleson said.

“We do want to ensure the sustainability of each species,” Eagleson said. “If we constantly had animals inbreeding, that’s obviously going to have a detrimental impact on that population. For instance, if Fort Wayne was constantly breeding the same animals, thinking long term, over the next 100 years, essentially that would mean that we would probably not really have a healthy giraffe population.”

Zoos work together to ensure genetic diversity is at its peak, but Eagleson said some of the animal management happens naturally. She explained that if a giraffe had babies and some were male, it’s challenging to have two male giraffes in the same location because they will fight once the younger giraffe gains sexual maturity. As a result, those animals will need to be rehomed.

“We are constantly thinking ahead as in we don’t want to breed animals if we don’t have homes for them a year from now or five years from now,” Eagleson said. “That gets taken into consideration too.”

As a result of these specific animal conditions, when new animals arrive at zoos, they are considered donations to help the population. Eagleson said zoos do not purchase animals anymore because they are all trying to work together toward the same goal — animal welfare.

Can people make donations of animals to the zoo? According to Eagleson, the zoo sometimes receives calls from people offering their exotic species, but Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo does not accept them.

“We get quite a few people who reach out to us,” Eagleson said. “Obviously, we don’t go forward with the majority of these exotic species because they are not pets. But every now and then, we will get someone that randomly reaches out to us that lives in the community and says they have a monkey or some other animal, but now that it’s mature, it’s hard for them to manage.“

When the zoo turns those people down, the owners sometimes call animal sanctuaries, but the zoo does not directly refer those animals anywhere. Employees just explain why they cannot take the animals.

There is a specific reason why these animals are not admitted into zoos.

“A lot of times, we don’t know the history there, and they could have a lot of disease and things like that,” Eagleson said. “Anything that comes into our collection does have to undergo a rigorous quarantine period.”

No matter the species, they are isolated for 30 days to make sure they are clear of any disease that could potentially be passed to the current animals residing at the zoo. She said that is the standard for most zoos to help protect the animals.

During this quarantine period, a series of tests are administered to help assess the animal’s health.

“There is a health exam that is performed during that time,” Eagleson said. “We also require three negative fecal tests, so it can’t have parasites or anything like that. It has to be three in a row that are one week apart.”

She said zoos are highly focused on the sustainability of animals. When zoos have acquired more land that can hold more species, they reach out to other zoos to see what species are desperately looking for holders.

The most threatened animals are labeled as the top priority.

Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo will close for the season Oct. 31. Some animals need extra care during the rest of the season and afterward due to the colder temperatures, so they might not be in their exhibits, opting for heated areas instead.

Eagleson explained what this means.

“Every species we have at the zoo has specific access temperatures, and so the only thing that may change is that some of the species that are cold intolerant, they may be off exhibit,” Eagleson said. “For example, we have some monkey species here that their access temp needs to be 40 degrees for them to be outside. So if it’s 35 degrees in the middle of October, which could happen, they just won’t be in their exhibit until it warms up that day.”

Every animal in the zoo stays there year-round, and the weather is monitored for the animals’ safety.

Once the zoo closes, employees post videos and updates on social media about the animals to help keep the public updated on how the animals are doing while they are unable to visit. It opens again in April.

“I will say though, even if the zoo is closed to the public, every animal will still be outside,” Eagleson said. “Our lions, for example, they like the snow. So if someone is walking through Franke Park, there is a good chance that they can still hear the lions roar.”

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