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Employees, animals ready for break

October 8, 2018

First-time Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo visitor Sabrina Girdham reached into the 20,000-gallon saltwater tank to touch a stingray Sunday.

Elsewhere, families watched kangaroos from the gravel path in the Australian Adventure, packed the train for a ride on the Z.O.&O. Railroad and streamed uphill for the Indonesian Rain Forest.

Behind the scenes, workers busied themselves with painting projects that will be on display Friday, the start of Wild Zoo Halloween. That was a hard-to-believe reality given the mild weather and lack of autumnal colors on the trees, Director Jim Anderson said.

“It’s not fall yet,” Anderson said. “Everyone’s here in T-shirts and shorts.”

Sunday marked the 169th : and last : day of the 2018 season. With about 560,000 guests, the zoo fell short of another record-breaking year, Anderson said, noting rain dampened turnout. Last year marked the first time regular season attendance surpassed 600,000.

Anderson expects Wild Zoo Halloween : held on three three-day weekends : will bring an additional 20,000 to the grounds this month.

Zoo employees welcome the offseason.

“We love sharing our animals with our guests,” Anderson said, “but it is also nice to take a step back and catch up on some work.”

Construction will continue on projects that took shape throughout the summer: renovations to Monkey Island and the new exhibit for the North American river otters. Both areas are expected to be ready for next season, Anderson said, pointing out future waterfalls and viewing areas.

Improvements are also slated for pathways, parking and the Zoo Education Center in addition to the regular work : maintenance, educational programs and animal care, Anderson said.

Some animals enjoy the change of pace, especially the kangaroos because they can lie on the gravel pathways usually reserved for people, zookeeper Marian Powers said.

Employee Annie Hargens, a junior at Homestead High School, wants to continue working at the zoo next season. She especially enjoyed working in the giraffe area, she said, but as someone aspiring to study marine biology, Stingray Bay was “a close second.”

The last day of the season made a good impression on Girdham, who traveled from Michigan.

“This is probably my favorite (zoo) so far,” she said.

asloboda@jg.net

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