There is nothing better than spending a day at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, there really isn't. But you might already know that. What I want to talk about in this post is my favorite part of the zoo, and more specifically, my favorite animal at the zoo, which just so happens to be found there. It's a part of the zoo that I find a lot of people either don't know about or just don't bother with, which is frankly just kind of weird to me. It's not hard to find – before you enter the Indonesian Rain Forest exhibit, hang a left at the orangutan statue. Here you'll find the ring-tailed lemur, the turkey vulture, the Eurasian eagle owl, and perched in a display overlooking the zoo proper, quite possibly the coolest animal on the planet, the red panda.
The biggest misconception about the red panda is the most obvious: its name. It's not a panda, or even a bear at all – it's more closely related to raccoons and skunks (although it was once classified with bears) and now is classified in its own taxonomic family. The red panda, whose natural habitat is the forests of the Himalayan foothills, is considered an endangered species, mostly because deforestation has destroyed much of the forest it calls home. This is compounded by difficulties of breeding both in the wild and in captivity – many red panda cubs don’t live past the first month. That's why this news was so exciting: Xiao, the Zoo's female red panda, gave birth to a cub on June 3. Many red pandas born in captivity don't survive, including a set of twins previously birthed here. Sadly, I’ve had to edit this post to acknowledge that this new cub did not survive, either. But the Zoo is committed to the conservation of this species and will now evaluate how to best protect it.
The Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, like many zoos throughout the world, leads the effort to protect so many of the planet's species. So should we all. Seriously, look at that face. Can you say no to that face? Visit the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo to see the red pandas and all the other animals who call our city home. For more information, please visit www.kidszoo.org
Apart from spending his college years in West Lafayette, Indiana, and Dayton, Ohio, Mike Flohr is a lifetime resident of the Summit City. Today he divides his time among his wife, Megan, his job as an elementary school teacher, and his many geek obsessions.