Learn What’s New at the Zoo!

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is no longer in hibernation.

The zoo will open April 24, with face coverings encouraged and social distancing in effect for the time being, says Bonnie Kemp, director of communication.

“We try very hard to be the place that families can enjoy being together and have a lot of fun, while learning about wildlife and wild places at our zoo.”

The non-profit organization on 40 acres exists to connect kids and animals, to strengthen families, and to inspire people to care about and be involved with animal conservation.

Last year’s zoo opening was delayed by two months because of the pandemic and crowd capacity was limited all summer. This year, activities are planned, camp registration is underway, there are newborn animals to view and the zoo is laying plans for expansion.

“Kids of all ages enjoy the zoo, but because we’re a children’s zoo, we’ve made a lot of accommodations for little feet,” says Kemp.

To better accommodate children, exhibits are closer together, paths are narrower, and there are many opportunities to touch or feed animals at interactive stations and to take rides in every area of the zoo, which includes the Central Zoo, African Journey, Australian Adventure and Indonesian Rain Forest.

“We know kids learn more and remember more when they’re actively involved and it gives them information and inspiration as to why it’s important to care for animals and all living things in the natural world,” Kemp says.

Education Curator Andria Schmitz works with interpreters throughout the zoo who talk with children about the animals and answer their questions. All interpreters wear a large yellow “Ask Me” button for easy identification. Their goal is to help create a fun and inspiring family atmosphere by interacting with guests, says Schmitz.

A graduate of Purdue University, with a degree in environmental science, Schmitz started working as an interpreter in 2016. Her passion is to connect people with nature and to teach them about conservation through props and activities.

“We want our guests to walk away feeling they know a lot more about the animals than what they see at the zoo,” says Schmitz. “We want them to know about how the animals live in the wild and why it’s important to take care of the environment and the world we live in. The diversity in the animal kingdom helps us to connect with the diversity in our own lives.”

Since the zoo was last open, giraffes, monkeys and kangaroos have given birth and more births are anticipated. As the animals expand their families, the zoo is also planning some expansions.

“COVID-19 delayed our planning and we’re still a couple years off, but we’re looking to update and enlarge some animal exhibit areas at the zoo,” says Kemp. “We’re always looking at ways to better care for our animals.”

The animals are in good hands every day, even when the zoo is closed in winter or for special reasons like the pandemic, says Kemp.

Several special activities are coming up soon.

The Zoofari fundraiser will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. June 10. Guests 21 and older will sample food, beer and wine from more than 50 regional establishments as they stroll the zoo and enjoy music from local bands. Advanced tickets are required; the zoo is closed to the public on June 10.

Registration has opened for Kids for Nature eight-week summer camp for ages 4 to 12. The camp will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays June 7 through July 23. Campers will explore the zoo, visit friendly animals, meet zookeepers and get behind-the-scenes peeks at what goes on at the zoo, such as preparing food to feed the animals. All programs require advanced registration and openings are limited, so register early online at kidszoo.org.

Several camp staff members are graduates of the Teens for Nature Leadership Program, which every year enrolls about 300 teens, in grades 6 to 12. The program helps students to develop leadership and teamwork skills while exploring the zoo. Those interested can apply every January for the upcoming season.

Kids for Nature Play day is June 2. The all-day event encourages kids to spend time outside and teaches families how easy it can be to explore nature in their own backyards. Outdoor play is essential to healthy childhood development, says Kemp, and can lead to better academic performance and improved behavior and social/emotional well-being.

Find the Zoo Keeper chat schedule and learn more about upcoming special events at kidszoo.org.

For more information, tickets and registration, go to kidszoo.org. ❚