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Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

October 5, 2017

  • 3411 Sherman Boulevard
  • Fort Wayne, IN 46808
  • (260) 427-6800
  • Website

Long weekends are the best….especially after putting in a lot of days.  I worked 12 days straight a couple of weeks ago but since we were so short staffed at work, they were having a hard time finding time to give me a day off.  Once it reached 12, they had to just bite the bullet, so they gave me a long weekend with a Friday off.

J and I talked about several things to do over this long weekend.  Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago were all talked about but the thought of paying for hotel rooms turned us off.  J asked if there were any day trips we could take.  In reality, Detroit and Chicago can both be day trips, but we always like to spend more time there.

If you follow along, you know we like zoos.  They’re the perfect day trip with kids our age.  We can usually get a nap out of the little one and the big one, although she won’t admit it, likes seeing all the animals.

There’s only a few zoos within driving distance we haven’t been to yet.  The one we picked was the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is in Franke Park on the northwest side of Fort Wayne, IN.  The entrance is off Sherman Boulevard which runs through the center of the zoo.  There are several lots near the zoo entrance as well as some further away.  We were a little shocked when we saw people walking from these farther away lots, but we headed towards the main gate to see if we could find anything closer.  We ended up finding a spot near the back of one of the main lots which was just a short distance from the main gates. 

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which beans our Binder Park Zoo membership got us half off.  B is still free so the three of us got in for $19.

The zoo is set up like most zoos are these days.  There are different regions of the world and the animals that are from those regions have exhibits there.  There is a center pond that the zoo is kind of centered around with a walking path all the way around.  The exhibit areas break off from this main walking path and make a loop back the same place where you entered.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo got it’s start as a nature preserve in 1952  By 1962, the planning process for a full fledged zoo got underway with an opening date of July 3, 1965.  Over the next 50 years, the zoo expanded adding animals and staff.  The zoo also has the distinction of having the last Tasmanian Devil outside of Australia.  Unfortunately, it died in 2004.   The exhibit is still there…empty as a reminder.

There are exhibits right away as you walk in to the zoo.  The Lynx is the first thing you see as you make your way from the entrance plaza to the trail that leads to all of the regions.

We started our trip by going counter clockwise which just seems like the natural way to take the trip.  The first region is the African Journey.  This area replaced the original African Veldt in 2009 and it’s the part of the zoo that is on the other side of Sherman Boulevard.  There’s a tunnel that goes under the road from the main part of the zoo to Africa

The first part of the African Journey is the Safari Trail.

This part of the loop starts with an unpaved trail that takes you through a natural grassland area with the Spot Nosed Monkey, Swamp Monkey, and Red Bellied Hornbill among a few others.

The trail then leads to a lake area where the Great While Pelicans roam free just a few feet from where you’re walking.

All of the exhibits along the way had large placards that explained what the animal is, where it’s from, and it’s endangered status as well as some interesting facts about the animal.

Keep going and you eventually reach all of the mammals that reside in Africa.  This area is a pretty tight walk way through faux rocks.  It’s almost single file from exhibit to exhibit which is something we encountered a lot through this zoo.  There looked to be a lot of people there on this particular zoo so maybe that’s why it felt so cramped, but there were several times it got a little uncomfortable because it felt like we were either walking too slow behind someone or we were shoulder to shoulder with strangers as we tried to get to the next exhibit.

Of course the Lions were the big draw in this area.  There is what is essentially an indoor viewing area with glass separating you from the animals.  There’s actually quite a bit of room in this viewing area with a lot of glass space so the kids can all get up front.

The lions were sleeping near the back of the exhibit and didn’t really have any interest in seeing us.  We pointed them out to the kids then got back on the trail to get to the next big area.

At the apex of the loop is the African Village.  The big exhibit here is the giraffes.  There’s a large wooden platform that’s covered from the elements.  There’s a small stand near the back of the platform where you can buy leaves to feed the giraffes.  Everything is bought at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is done so with tokens.  One token equals one dollar and one token equals one leaf at the giraffe encounter with a bonus leaf for buying five.

The man I bought the leaves from was really worried about making sure we got big leaves which is very much appreciated.  The other employees in this area were incredibly annoying to the point they almost ruined the experience.

We were really the only ones that were buying leaves so of course, the giraffe was following us.   A lot of other kids kept trying to get in front of us to pet the giraffe which the employee standing along the rail was trying to stop.  She kept yelling at everyone, including us…our kids weren’t trying to pet it…..we’ve done this dozens of times as zoos all over the Midwest.  Once she got done yelling about us being too close, she started getting snippy with me about tearing the leaves in half to give the kids.  We clearly had different ideas of how long this should take.  My kids get such a kick out of feeding the giraffes so, yeah, I was breaking the leaves in half to prolong it a little bit.  Her idea was to get us out of there as fast as possible.  Again, we do this at Binder Park all the time and I’ve never had an employee try to push us along and get us out of there.  I left this area with a really bad taste it my mouth.  I understand they have to look out for the animals but it seems like there’s a balance that could struck here.

Anyway, we moved on and finished the path back towards the entrance of the African Village.  Along the way are a lot of the Savannah animals.  Zebras, Ostrich, wildebeests.  Those kinds of things.

We hit the trail and headed to the next stop which would be the Indonesian Rain Forest.  Before we got there L noticed something really neat.  A pony ride.

The Pony Trail has little ponies for the little kids all the way up to full horse size ponies for the big kids.  L asked if she could go and it looked cool so we bought more tokens and let her do it.  J noticed some really little kids also riding so she got tokens for B to ride too.  The kids get two laps around the oval track.  J is big enough that she was on the big horse and could ride by herself.  B couldn’t be trusted so J walked with him holding on to the back of his pants to keep him centered.  Both kids had huge smiles on their faces as the ponies made their loop around the track.

The entrance to the Indonesian Rain Forest is right next to the pony trail.  After grabbing some popcorn and a Gatorade we made our way to the next loop.

The Indonesian Rain Forest opened in 1992.  The first big exhibit area is Dr. Diversity’s Rain Forest Research Station.

This is a big dome has an indoor educational area that also includes small exhibits for reptiles and other smaller animals found in the rain forest.

There’s also a walk through aviary with very, very narrow paths again.  It was hard to even try to stop and look for the birds flying through because if you did, you held up a long, single file line behind you.  It’s a really cool looking area, but really hard to enjoy on busy days.


Right outside of the Jungle Dome Aviary is one of many concession areas.  There is one similar to this in all of the regions.  It’s a pretty simple concession area with sandwiches, pizza, drinks, and the typical snacks.  There’s seating nearby in a shaded area so it’s a nice stop to get out of the son on warm days.

We didn’t stop for food, but we didn’t get too far past the dome before we had to stop again.  Just past this concession area is the Earl B. Wells Endangered Species Carousel, named after a former zoo superintendent.  I didn’t really want to go, but L really did.  It was only two tokens so I didn’t argue.  J had B in a carrier on her back trying to get him to sleep so we didn’t take him.

The carousel is similar to carousels at other zoos around.  The hand carved animals are lined up in rows of three on the platform.  It’s been a part of the zoo since 1994 when the Indonesian Rain Forest opened.  We didn’t have to wait long to get on and the ride seemed to go on for quite a while…..L had a smile on her face the whole time and she kept asking me to keep my hand off her….she’s a big girl.  She can ride by herself.

The turnaround point for this region of the zoo is the Sumatran Tigers. There’s a large viewing area that is shaped like a hut to look out over the enclosure.  Like the lions, the tigers weren’t really interested in seeing us on this day.

There’s a little bit of a walk from the Indonesian Rain Forest to the Australian Adventure through the Central Zoo.  Not to worry.  There are plenty of cool things to see on the journey.

The most impressive thing is the California Sea Lion tank.  This large tank has below the surface viewing areas along several spots.  The sea lions were super active and the kids were getting really excited.  The sea lions would swim up to the glass then turn around and “wave” as they swam away.

Just up the trail from the Sea Lions are my favorite part of any zoo. The penguins!  The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has Black-Footed Penguins in an open air exhibit.  There was a pretty good mix of penguins in the water and hanging out on land while we stopped to check them out.

The Australian Adventure opened in 1987 but underwent an extensive renovation in 2014.

A big part of the renovation was a new plaza which has a concession stand and seating area and a couple of big buildings.  The Reef is a large building on the plaza which houses sea life found in the waters surrounding Australia.

The large exhibit here is a 20,000 gallon aquarium that is home to various species of sharks.  There are smaller tanks with jellyfish and other sea creatures not associated with the reefs near the Island.

Speaking of reefs, there is a large model coral reef and I’m sure I heard “That’s Dory!” at least a couple of dozen times in the ten minutes we were in the room.  For some reason, this seemed to be more popular than the sharks that were floating around right in front of our faces.

Stingray Bay is another big part of the plaza in the Australian Adventure.

This building is a walk through exhibit with a large water tank filled with stingrays taking up most of the space.  The railing is a little over waist high and you are encouraged to put your hands in the water to see if the stingays will come to you.

The rays would come pretty close to the wall, but most of them stayed near the bottom because they didn’t want to be touched.  A couple did come up higher and swam right under L’s hand which, again, brought a big grin to her face.  Just a few years ago at John Ball Zoo she freaked out when I tried to get her to pet the sting rays.  Now there’s no fear.

The big trail part of the region is, obviously, The Outback.

The big exhibit within The Outback is the Kangaroo Walkabout.

The Kangaroos have free reign in this enclosed walkthrough exhibit but humans have to stay on a roped off path.  The Kangaroos were all in the same part of the grassy field that make up this area just chillin in the sun.  In an interesting choice for location, you can see in the picture below the Dingo exhibit behind the kangaroos…..and that dingo just sat there….watching them.

The Australia Adventure is the part of the zoo where the Tasmanian Devil exhibit is set up….but there are no Tasmania Devils on exhibit.  Australia outlawed the exportation of Tasmanian Devils due to a population decline caused disease.  The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was one of the last zoo’s in the world to have a Tasmanian Devil outside of Australia.  Now that the population control in Tasmania has created an “insurance program” the Fort Wayne Zoo is one of four US zoos who were selected to receive the animals once exportation begins again.

The final stop of our zoo trip was the Indiana Family Farm.

This area is a great way to set up the zoo’s petting farm.  This area opened in 2001 replacing the Contact Area and Goat Yard.  The farm takes you through a barn area where there are pigs, chickens, ducks, hawks, sheep, rabbits, and cows.  We were told as we walked in to the barn that we could pet anything we could reach.  Some of the animals were laying down away from the waist high wall and didn’t want to be touched.

Through the barn is the goat pen.  This is the spot B had been looking forward to.  We told him the day before we were going to go to a zoo and he had been doing his broken record impression repeating “Goats!” over and over.  The walk-in pen is quite large and there’s a small booth near the middle of it.  You can grab a brush and brush the goats hair or you can buy food from outside the pen and feed them.  L grabbed a brush while B just ran from goat to goat saying “Hi, Goat!” and trying to grab their tails.  Every time I would move him away a goat would start chewing on my shirt. We spent 10-15 minutes there before heading towards the exit.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is another wonderful zoo within driving distance of Kalamazoo.  There were a couple of drawbacks…ie. narrow paths, the whole giraffe fiasco…but by and large, it’s a great place.  The exhibits are all big enough for animals to move freely but small enough that you can get up close and personal with them if the choose to do so.  It took us a little under three hours to walk through and see everything which made for a perfect day trip on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Primis permalink
    October 6, 2017 11:44 am

    Ft. Wayne Zoo is a good one. It gets overshadowed some because it’s close enough to Toledo’s zoo, but it’s a good one on its own. We usually visit it once a year. Parking is a pain because of the location, but if you drive around the closer lots a little you’ll almost always find a spot open up. The walk through Africa can be brutal on the hottest days, so you have to plan ahead for that one. And yeah, I was really bummed about the Tasmanian devils last time. At least we got to see some of them in Toledo.

    • SW Michigan Dining permalink*
      October 9, 2017 8:50 am

      yeah, I was actually surprised. We had never heard anything about the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. I was just looking through our reciprocal list and saw there was a zoo there so we decided to go. There were a few minor issues but it’s actually a pretty great zoo.

  2. April 27, 2018 1:49 pm

    I have never been to this zoo. I’m going to have to check it out. I love that their petting zoo is set up as an Indiana Farm.

    • SW Michigan Dining permalink*
      April 30, 2018 6:14 pm

      I had never heard anything about this zoo before we went. We just went on a whim and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

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