Jul 28
How to Train Your Tiger

​Teaching new behaviors is rewarding for keepers and animals

When guests attend any of the seasonal animal presentations or keeper chats offered at the Indianapolis Zoo, it's easy to see the trustful relationship that exists between animals and their zookeepers.

That mutual respect is established and reinforced during these daily training sessions. And whether an animal is born here at the Zoo or comes from another facility, sessions with new arrivals begin as soon as possible.

In her five years as part of the Zoo's animal care staff, Senior Keeper Jill Burbank has offered countless training sessions with animals in the Forests area. The learning process is stimulating for both the animals and the keepers. It also helps staff ensure the animals' wellness by allowing them to inspect hard-to-see areas like the underbelly or inside the mouth. Over time, animals also learn to participate in basic procedures like blood draws and weight checks.

The length of training sessions depends on each individual animal. When working with tigers, Burbank likes to keep the sessions brief.

"During a typical tiger day, I spend about 45 minutes to an hour training the tigers. Tigers are cats, so they have short attention spans. This is not one 45 minute session. Sessions are typically about 5 minutes long to make sure they stay positive and you keep the tigers' attention. I do multiple 5 minute sessions a day."

Recently, Burbank has enjoyed working with three new furry faces in the Tiger Forest.

The newest area arrivals are 2-year-old brothers Luka and Maxim. The pair of endangered Amur tigers came to Indianapolis in mid-January from the Peoria Zoo as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan program that helps maintain a healthy and diverse population of animals in human care.

Burbank said the tiger siblings arrived in Indianapolis with some past training experience, which was helpful. Both big cats knew how to respond to a target pole, stand on their hind legs and stand on a scale to allow keepers to record their weights.

Working with Zoya, the youngest member of the Tiger Forest, has also been a lot of fun for Burbank. The feisty cub was born to mom Andrea on July 10, 2014, and keepers began training her about five weeks later when she began eating meat.

"She has done fantastic," Burbank said of Zoya. "She is very eager to learn new behaviors."

The complexity of the behavior generally determines how long it takes for animals to learn, Burbank said. So far, Zoya has mastered some of the basics, like how to sit, respond to a target poll, lay down, stand on her hind legs and growl. Other, more challenging behaviors are still a work in progress.

Don't forget to check the seasonal keeper chats schedule during your next Zoo visit to see the training in action.

Jul 20
In defense of the Stella De Oro

By Mike Stockman

Sometimes, you see, gardeners can be quite snobby. We want everything to be perfect. When a plant doesn't perform well, we say it's wimpy, brand it a bad performer or poorly adapted for our soil conditions. On the other hand we sometimes scoff at very hardy, aggressive plants and tear them out of our garden — we wage war against them and label them as overly aggressive or invasive. Grumbling as we pick saplings and volunteers out of our flower beds, we long for that perfect plant to grace our gardens. We hope to someday find the perfect perennial!

If only we could find a plant that blooms all summer long, is well behaved and has a beautifully structured flower. We want something that can thrive in all zones reliably, produce dramatic blossoms and be bomb proof at the same time. If only this super plant existed and was impervious to city pollution, thrived in hot tortured environments of parking lots, resisted road salt and tolerated poor soil conditions. Surely gardeners all over the world would fall instantly in love with such a plant. Or maybe not.

I proclaim the Day lily Hemerocallis (lily) to fit the bill of the perfect perennial! It explodes into bloom year after year. It follows us around everywhere we go, like an annoying puppy under foot begging for our attention. This is the plant you jog by every morning that blooms like a golden star all along the Indy cultural trail and numerous urban green spaces all over the city! 

The Stella De Oro day lily is right at the top of the list. It is a dwarf variety, a prolific bloomer that is adapted to ALL zones in the US and is the most popular lily in the world! I was shocked to learn this wonderful hybrid was developed in 1975. It seems so recent in history that it makes me wonder what people planted in parking lots before 1975.

I am not alone in my admiration of this incredible plant; it has won multiple very prestigious horticulture awards and is sometimes referred to as the world's perfect perennial. Did I mention that it's fragrant and deer resistant?  Despite this long list of attributes and all of its glamorous awards, you might find that in certain circles, gardeners "In the Know" turn their noses up at the Stella De Oro and many of the commonly used day lilies. "Overly used and far too common" we proclaim as we continue our search for that "perfect perennial."

Jul 16
Gray and White and Pink All Over

When we think pink here at the Indianapolis Zoo, we think flamingos. And on June 26, 2015, at only 94.5 grams, a little chick pecked its way into the world — the very first Caribbean flamingo hatched from an egg laid at the Zoo!

Although we won't know if our newest chick is a boy or girl for a bit longer, it is growing quickly and keepers are excited for guests to meet it in upcoming months.

These famously bright pink birds are native to the Caribbean and Galapagos regions and get their color from eating shrimp. But don't worry, when our feathered flamboyance (yes, that's what a group of flamingos is called!) makes room for new additions you can still tell chicks apart from the rest. Born with white-gray plumage, flamingo chicks don't become fully pink until 9 months old and then reach full plumage by age 4.

Flamingo Chicks Mingle Their Way into the Flock

It's not the first time keepers have watched downy fluff covered chicks grow to fabulously feathered adolescents.

Our three chicks from 2014's summer just recently celebrated their first birthdays and throughout the past year have had a great time getting acquainted with their fellow flamingo family.

While it's important for chicks to become familiar with their flock, adults can sometimes be curious explorers so keepers made sure to pay special attention to them. As the chicks grew and became stronger, they were able to venture out into the flamingo yard by themselves to get exercise and explore. Each day, the chicks gained more and more independence and soon, they became fully integrated with their flamboyance.

Despite being a year old, the three chicks are still recognizable with a few gray feathers on their body and slightly higher squawks.

Once the chicks were integrated into the group, keepers worked on having them join in the popular Flamingo Mingle. Getting the chicks ready for the daily chat was a gradual process, but as a flock species they quickly learned to follow the adults, and could soon be seen stepping in buckets of water, instinctually stirring up food to the top of the water and dipping their beaks for tasty treats like mysis shrimp and krill.

Make sure to check out the Flamingo Mingle offered seasonally as one of our many animal keeper chats next time you're at the Zoo and you might just catch an up-close and personal glimpse of our chicks!

And special thanks to our friends at Hendricks Regional Health for presenting Zoo Babies!

Jul 14
Indianapolis Zoo Leaps into Action to Save Indiana’s Crawfish Frog

Indiana's waterways recently connected guests to the ocean here at the Indianapolis Zoo. Inside the Oceans building this spring, visitors had the chance to experience local conservation in action.

The crawfish frog is endangered in Indiana, so researchers from Indiana State University and Indiana University School of Medicine in partnership with Indiana's Department of Natural Resources carefully collected egg masses from nearby waterways. Zoo staff cared for the tadpoles as they grew, with the purpose of reinforcing, or releasing these late-stage tadpoles back into their original habitat once they grew a set of back legs.

Why Grow Frogs?

The crawfish frog lives most of its life in crayfish burrows, but comes out into southern Indiana's wetlands to breed. As this habitat gets smaller and rarer, crawfish frog tadpoles are easily spotted and picked off by predators in the tiny patches of remaining marsh. By caring for tadpoles here at the Zoo, we can protect them when they are the most vulnerable and release them when they are strong and mobile.

Together We Can Save the Crawfish Frog!

The Indianapolis Zoo and these incredible partners are all working together to save the crawfish frog—but we can't do it without your help! You can:

  • Protect and help restore Indiana wetland habitat when it is threatened.

  • Get involved with an amphibian group like the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's FrogWatch USA or the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP). Listen for the call of the crawfish frog about an hour after sunset. If you hear it, report the presence of crawfish frogs to the DNR!

  • Keep wetlands clean by eliminating pesticide use in your yard, keeping soap or other chemicals out of storm drains or even cleaning up trash from local waterways.

Jul 11
Saving Sea Ice

Celebrating Sea Ice of the Artic Brings Awareness to Environmental Impact

Summertime. We think of warm rays of sunshine and water lapping the coastline. But every year, the second Saturday in July shines a spotlight on quite the opposite — ice.

Arctic Sea Ice Day was created by Polar Bears International as a way to highlight sea ice losses and how individual actions can make an immense impact.

"Most of us think that the Arctic sea ice is some faraway environment with which we have little connection. Yet, our daily activities — in Indiana and elsewhere across the country — impact the welfare of that habitat," said Steve Amstrup, 2012 Indianapolis Prize winner and Chief Scientist of Polar Bears International.

Arctic sea ice, which forms as ocean water freezes, grows and melts, is as important to the Arctic ecosystem as the soil is in a forest.

Known as Earth's refrigerator, sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun's radiation back into space. But when there is less ice, the open water absorbs heat, contributing to a rise in temperatures around the world.

Records show evidence that sea ice has continued to decline in the past 100 years, reducing more than 11 percent each decade since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists even describe this as a new era of sea ice, with less multi-year ice (ice that remains year-round) and rather an increase in thinner, seasonal ice across parts of the Arctic.

A Polar Patriot and Animals in Indianapolis

Amstrup's work has earned him worldwide recognition, and he is regarded as the most important and influential scientist working on polar bear conservation. From leading the researchers who prepared reports that would become the basis for listing polar bears as a threatened species to examining whether greenhouse gas mitigation could improve the animals' future outlook, Amstrup's dedication to the cause over the course of more than three decades earned him the Indianapolis Prize in 2012.

And while Amstrup's passion focuses on the famed white bears, his research is key for the future of many species, from the smallest organisms at the base of the food chain to seals, walrus and more that rely on sea ice to find food and live on.

While this Arctic landscape may change the fate of many animals, there are still happy stories to tell.

One of the Pacific walrus thriving at the Indianapolis Zoo is Pakak, aptly named for "one who gets into everything." Pakak's incredible journey began when he was stranded off the coast of Alaska when he was only 4-6 weeks old and would not have survived on his own. Rescuers from the Alaska SeaLife Center were able to step in and care for him until the Zoo was chosen as his new home.

Dedicated individuals are working to rescue and rehabilitate animals, conservation heroes and scientists continue to research habitat and behavior, and families are joining in the effort from their home to create a bright future for not only the incredible animals of the Arctic but all the amazing creatures we share this planet with.

And that's pretty cool.

Saving Sea Ice Starts With Us

"It used to be that when we had a conservation challenge we could build a fence around an area or hire guards to fight off poachers. Having done so we could go home and sleep comfortably. But we cannot build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures," Amstrup said. "Fighting sea ice loss, and the temperature rise that is causing it, requires all of us to change how we live, how we transport ourselves and ultimately where we get our energy."

According to Amstrup, preserving sea ice now can head off even worse problems in the future. And you can help make that difference for that future.

Did you know you can take action to save sea ice by "cooling" your grocery cart through local, sustainable items? Strive to buy locally grown items to reduce food miles and organically grown foods to reduce emissions caused by fertilizers. Even eating less meat plays a role due to the methane that is produced by livestock and the amount of water, land and feed needed. Additionally, supporting farmers' markets in your area and purchasing only what you and your family will eat helps to reduce waste and creates a healthier overall environment.

"Sea ice loss is driven by the warming of the world, brought about by burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other poor land uses, as well as the unsustainable choices we all make at the market," Amstrup said "Those 'life choices' affect every species about which we care. … When people realize that we are all in this — with the rest of life on earth — the reasons for changing how we move about, live and eat will be easier to see and more compelling."

Steve Amstrup photo courtesy of Polar Bears International. Pakak photo courtesy of Carla Knapp.

Jun 22
Plant Your Garden to Help Pollinators

​By Mike Stockman

It seems there is a lot of talk about pollinator gardening these days. Now more than ever people are interested in wildflower gardening and saving bees and butterflies.

This is an important effort, because the populations of several pollinator species are in decline. Lucky for bees, they have the attention of the President of the United States, who has spearheaded efforts resulting in federal mandates for states to develop a plan to save bees and other important pollinators.

I was lucky enough to attend Indiana's first meeting on this topic this spring. A group of perhaps a hundred concerned Hoosiers brainstormed together to find answers and develop strategies to help save bees. I felt very lucky to be in such a diverse group of people working to solve the problem. This group included farmers, biotechnology representatives, environmentalists and many others who were looking for answers that can help save pollinators.

Balancing human food production and saving pollinators is a big and complicated problem. We can feel comforted that people all over the nation are working on solutions and trying to strike a balance. Each one of us can roll up our sleeves and join in the effort to provide solutions ourselves!  As home gardeners, we have a role to play and can make a big difference.

Here is one small action step for interested gardeners: push your garden to focus more on early spring blooms. After going through winter and suffering from a little cabin fever, we are desperate for flowers to signal that warmer times are just around the corner, so adding early blooms to our garden is simply pleasing to everyone! This is also the time for wild queen bumble bees to emerge from their winter slumber. Only the queen emerges because the rest of the population — all of them — die off at the end of each season.  Only queens survive the winter. They emerge hungry and with the burden of restarting their entire bumble bee colony over each year.

This happens in March and April, so increasing the amount of early spring blooms and foraging opportunities for queen bumble bees is an easy step we can all take to help pollinators in a very big way!

When evaluating my own garden, I found many opportunities to plant early spring blooming plants. After researching bumble bee forage plant lists and incorporating a lot of observation, here are a few of my favorites:

• Vinca Minor, commonly known as Myrtle, Creeping Myrtle, or Periwinkle, might seem like a surprisingly formal plant to be on the list, but wild bees are urban foragers. They work long hours and they forage at the bank parking lot, the grocery store and in landscapes all over the city! This is a common commercial ground cover and it a great one for bees. It provides a low growth, sun loving plant that you can use as a base layer or foreground plant. It blooms really early and bees love it!
• Some bulbs, like Cammasia and grape hyacinth, are bee favorites.
• Also try willow (salix) and catmint.

Also, please check out our friends at the Xerces Society. They have an abundance of information, pictures and fun programs to help with bee conservation.

Jun 19
Elephant Conservation Awareness Brought to the Big Apple

Today marked a historic moment for our nation and the future of African elephants. Today New York City's famous Times Square set the stage for the nation's second ivory crush.

Hundreds of elephant champions gathered to honor elephants and to raise awareness for this iconic species' plight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alongside many other conservation organizations, including the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, hosted its event on the morning of June 19, destroying one ton of confiscated ivory.

A staggering 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa by poachers who sell the elephant tusks on the black market — a crisis inspiring the creation of the 96 Elephants campaign through Wildlife Conservation Society. According to the 96 Elephants website, since 1989, 13 nations have crushed and burned a total of 136 metric tons of confiscated ivory, equivalent to more than 300,000 pounds.

That represents more than 13,600 elephants.

"A lot needs to be done before we have the capacity to adequately protect elephants in their natural habitat," said Dr. Charles Foley, director of the Tarangire Elephant Project. "That's why raising public awareness about poaching and the ivory trade is so important."

Dr. Foley said people are astonished when they realize the perils elephants face in the wild and the immense number killed for their ivory each year.

"That's the message that we need to get across loud and clear. Why? Because the more that members of the public know about the poaching situation, the easier it is to shift public opinion away from buying ivory," he said.

These events send a clear message to traffickers around the world: Illegal ivory trade won't be tolerated. With the United States ranked second only to China as the largest ivory market worldwide, efforts close to home carry an immense impact for this vulnerable species.

Conservation, Communities and Classrooms

But it doesn't end with a single city.

Central Indiana students are living proof of that. Guided by dedicated and creative teachers who took the pledge to stand up for Africa's elephants, classrooms are engaging with conservation efforts, learning and truly "raising change" to "make change" in the wild for this incredible species.

More than 96 educators took the challenge put forth by the Indianapolis Zoo to pledge to teach students about this crisis. They went beyond lesson planning. They took action.

Whether it was raising money through fundraisers or creating amazing artwork, students from kindergarten to college played a part.

Some of their projects included kindergarteners at Indianapolis Public School 96 made button pins to raise money; second graders from Saints Francis and Clare Catholic School studied elephants and held a successful fundraiser; first grade classes from St. Thomas Aquinas and Ashland Community College both produced memorable works of art; and the high school AP environment students from Hamilton South Eastern created projects and are fundraising.

These are the conservationists of the future working to ensure elephants will continue to roam our planet.

May 27
Meet Mike Bosway, the Zoo's Chairman of the Board

The Indianapolis Zoo Board of Trustees recently appointed Mike Bosway, president and CEO of City Securities Corporation, for a two year term as the Zoo's new Chairman of the Board. We sat down with Mike to hear his vision for the future of the Zoo, what inspires him and much more.

What personal experiences connected you with the Zoo and made you want to be a part of the board?

I was referred to Mike Crowther, and shortly thereafter he invited me to lunch in his office. If you know Mike at all, you know that he is incredibly capable and passionate about the mission of the zoo. Although I would not traditionally consider myself a conservationist, Mike's enthusiasm about the mission was infectious. As we were concluding, he asked me to get involved and I accepted. Two other items that connected me to the Indianapolis Zoo are the enjoyable experiences my wife and I had with our kids long ago when visiting the zoo, and the fact that the zoo is completely privately funded. To have a zoo of this caliber with no public funding support says a lot about Indianapolis and its residents.

What do you think our biggest challenge is in motivating people to make a difference in saving species?

Education and awareness.

What do you feel the impact of the Indianapolis Prize is and the significance of taking our lemur champion Pat Wright to the New York Stock Exchange? What was it like to be there?

Let me answer the second question first. Despite tremendous technological changes that have affected the NYSE over the past ten years, it was still exhilarating to be in the bastion of capitalism. Knowing that billions of dollars of securities were being traded as we were there was almost overwhelming. It was a phenomenal experience. The impact of the prize cannot be overstated. It has taken some time from its infancy to blossom into the world's leading "prize" for conservation. In my mind, the speed of its evolution has matched that of Facebook -a tremendous accomplishment in a relatively short period of time. The opportunity to take Pat Wright to the NYSE to ring the opening bell (many thanks to Eli Lilly) provided the Prize with unprecedented media coverage. And this was priceless. The buzz on the floor of the exchange when the lemurs showed up was simply awesome.

What are you main goals coming into this new role as Chairman of the Board?

Not to mess up what my predecessors have built with Mike and his team, and to make sure the zoo continues to be well governed.

After you serve your time as Chairman of the Board what would you like to have the Zoo known for?

The zoo has been known for growing, looking forward and delivering a tremendous customer experience while staying true to its mission. I don't see any reason to change that mantra.

...and what would you like to see happen during that time?

I don't really feel the need to think in these terms, i.e., "putting my stamp" on the zoo is not in my DNA. This is a tremendous organization, with a great leader and staff, and an unbelievable network of volunteers and donors. I only hope that I can fill the huge shoes of my predecessors in a satisfactory manner.

Who inspires you and why?

This is always a difficult question to answer. If you knew me, you would expect me to answer with people like Warren Buffet and Ronald Reagan - and those are two people that I do highly admire. However, two others come to mind at the moment. My father, who is currently fighting pancreatic cancer, and was a career military officer (army infantry). He spent time in Korea, Vietnam and Iran (when they were an ally) away from his family, fighting for the freedom we enjoy today. Yet, he never complained about his chosen profession. In fact, he relished "standing on that wall to make sure we all slept well at night".  His integrity, work ethic, love of country and family is second to none. I hope one day to be just like him. Inspiration number two comes from the Vice Chairman of my company's, City Securities Corporation, board of directors, Danny Danielson. Danny is 95 and still a contributing member of our board. It is impossible to list all of the accolades Danny has received in the space reserved for this article. Suffice it to say that Danny has led a very successful and active life in business, politics, family, church and community. He has impacted more lives than we'll ever know. Danny's integrity, energy and generosity never cease to amaze me and all that know him.

Both of these men have been great mentors to me as well as loving husbands, fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. If my gravestone one day says that I was just like either or both of these men, I will have lived a full and successful life.

What's your favorite animal and why?

I'm not sure I have one other than Henry, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

May 13
Mini Water Gardens Add a Touch of Tranquility

Water gardens can bring beauty, peace and tranquility to any outdoor area. But if you don't have the space or aren't ready to commit to installing a pond in your yard, containers are a perfect solution.

Nearly any water-tight container or outdoor plant pot can become a beautiful water garden for your backyard or patio. If that perfect-looking pot has a drainage hole in it, you can make it watertight by taping over the hole on the bottom of the pot, filling the hole on the inside with waterproof silicone or epoxy, and letting that dry. If the pot is made of clay or some other porous material, you can apply a couple coats of liquid water seal 24 hours before you plant it. Then it will be ready to fill.

You can find many plants that are fine in water that is 6 inches deep or less at your local nursery or hardware store. Corkscrew rush, canna, taro, umbrella palm and sweet flag are often sold as regular garden plants but are very at home in the water. For more variety check out the water plant section at a garden center or online for water lilies, lotuses (both of these can be purchased in dwarf sizes for smaller pots), water hyacinth, parrot's feather and such.

With a larger container, you can put your plants into it in separate small plastic pots, just as you might do in a pool or pond. This is an especially good idea if the plants spread pretty wildly or aren't hardy enough to survive outside in the winter. Most of the time, though, you can use some of our always-available Indiana clay soil that won't float in your container and plant everything in that! Top off your soil with pea gravel and place in a spot that receives mostly sun to bright indirect light.

It's also a good idea to assemble you container water garden at the spot you want it to be for the summer because your completed garden will be quite heavy and challenging to relocate. But with a little love and attention, you'll have beautiful blooms all season long.

Nina Evans
Horticulturist, Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens

Apr 17
Recipe for a Backyard Butterfly Habitat

If you've been to the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens to see Butterfly Kaleidoscope presented by Citizens Energy Group, you might be wondering how you can attract this wonderful winged insects to your backyard. If you have the right ingredients, you can make your yard into a home for lots of beautiful butterflies!

1. Sun — Butterflies need the sun to keep warm, so you'll want plenty of it for your butterfly garden. If you want to take an extra step, try adding a few flat stones placed where they will soak up the sun to provide a heated resting place.

2. Cover — Make sure there is some protection from the wind and weather in your backyard habitat. Trees, shrubs and grasses along with a wall or trellis can provide protection from wind and rain, as well as places to land, bask in the sun and rest.

3. Water — Just like you, butterflies need water to drink! It needs to be very shallow so they can stand in or next to it. A water-filled, flat container with some rocks they can land on will do, or a bare spot in your garden you keep constantly muddy. A bucket of wet sand will also work.

4. Food — This is where the plants in your butterfly habitat are vitally important. You will want to have plants that feed both the adult butterflies and their more finicky caterpillar children to have a true habitat.

Nectar from flowers = adult food. Plant a wide selection of brightly colored flowers with bloom times spread all through the spring, summer and early fall so there's always tempting treats for your butterflies. Having lots of flowers clustered together makes for easy flitting from one to another.

Host (or larval) plants = caterpillar food. The adult butterfly will only lay her eggs on plants she knows her babies can eat. Native plants are especially important for our native caterpillars! Here are some plants that will attract some of your favorite butterflies to your yard:

• Eastern black swallowtail: Dill, fennel, parsley
• Tiger swallowtail: Black cherry, willow, birch, basswood (linden)
• Spicebush swallowtail: Spicebush, sassafras
• Painted lady: Hollyhock, mallow, daisy
• Viceroy: Willow, poplar, cottonwood
• Sulphurs: Clover, peas, alfalfa, asters
• Buckeye: Snapdragon, sedums, plantain
• Red Admiral: Nettles, black oak, wild cherry
• Great spangled and other fritillaries: Violets
• Monarch: Milkweeds    

Mix all these together very well so the butterflies will have no problem finding everything they need.

And, equally important, say no to pesticides! Both the caterpillars and adults feeding on chemically treated plants will cause your carefully planned habitat garden to be unhealthy for butterflies and other pollinator insects.

Once you have your garden growing, you're sure to have a host of butterflies providing beauty in motion throughout your yard.

By Nina Evans
Horticulturist, Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens

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