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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Bahati, a 21/2-year-old male African lion, is among the new additions at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo.

  • The zoo’s new Tasmanian devils were checking out their surroundings Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 1:00 am

Zoo introduces new arrivals as opening day nears

Lion, devils making selves at home

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Fort Wayne Children's Zoo opening day Saturday

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with last admission at 5 p.m.; zoo will be open until 7 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day; closing day is Oct. 8 

Where: 3411 Sherman Blvd.

Admission: $14 for adults, $10 for ages 2 to 18, $12 for seniors; zoo members are free; information at www.kidszoo.org or 427-6800

Lying on his side on a grassy ridge in the morning sun, Bahati cut a commanding presence Tuesday as the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo showed area media its annual preview of new summertime attractions.

Left profile, check. Right profile, check.

And now, a full-on Y-AWWW-NNN from the new 21/2-year-old male African lion who will join Ina, the zoo's 10-year-old resident lioness, in upcoming weeks.

Born at the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin in July 2014, Bahati won't be on exhibit with Ina on Saturday, when the zoo opens for its 52nd season. He and the lioness are still getting acclimated to each other after his arrival at the zoo last fall.

The two have been living in side-by-side enclosures where they're able to see and smell each other.  Zoo officials said they'll wait until the two spend a lot of time next to each other – seeing, smelling and sleeping close to each other – before they mix them in the same indoor and outdoor enclosures.

“We're at the very last step, where we take that plunge and open up that door,” said Amber Eagleson, curator of the African Safari exhibit.

The lion is just one of the new attractions at the zoo. Animal caretakers said they are particularly proud of two new male Tasmanian devils – Australian marsupials that recently arrived as ambassadors for their species – and a male sitatunga, an African antelope.

The latter, with a stunning, chocolate-colored coat and “very impressive horns,” joins two fawn-colored females in a recently enlarged enclosure, Eagleson said.

The zoo was one of only about a half dozen in the United States to be resupplied with the Tasmanian devils, which have suffered in recent years from contagious, and fatal, facial tumors, said Shelley Scherer, curator.

An active devil named Milton and his brother, Mischief, spent their first full day out of their enclosure Tuesday, climbing rocks and stumps and taking dips in their concrete pond.

The zoo had a dozen devils between 1987 and 2004, Scherer said, but the species has been endangered since 2008, when perhaps 80 percent were wiped out by disease

The zoo's new devils are 4 years old, bred as part of a captive “insurance population,” she said, and on loan from the Australian government.

“It's a very unique animal to see in the United States,” Scherer said, and no, the zoo hasn't been procuring wombats and wallabies to feed the Aussie scavengers.

“They're having to get used to rabbits and rats and other meats,” Scherer said.

As far as feeding humans goes, that's the new job of Sean Paschall, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who is overseeing a menu highlighting fresh, healthful and locally sourced food for the more than 500,000 expected visitors.

Paschall comes to the zoo from a similar position at the Louisville Zoo.

Last April, the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo lost is longtime male African lion, Bill, to cancer. Bill was a staff and fan favorite, Eagleson said, but Bahati, whose name means lucky in Swahili, promises to be just as endearing.

“I think Bahati is very personable. He's very curious, and we've seen him spend so much time up against the viewing window that we think he will interact well,” Eagleson said.

Bahati is basically just a teenager, but his mane already is taking on a dark shagginess characteristic of his gender and species.

“His mane is coming in, and it'll be fully developed by age 5,” Eagleson said. “So we'll have an opportunity to see him grow and develop and become a mature male lion in a few years.”

rsalter@jg.net