Ryan Phares, 5, writes a special message to Kemala the tiger for her birthday.
Bashful tiger, Kemala, celebrates her fifth birthday in front of many excited children and other zoo guests.
Zoe Reed, 5, and younger sister Addison, 3, show their support by coloring a picture.
Kemala the tiger jumps on the mount to find a cow bone for her birthday treat.
Isabella Hultquist, 4, plays a match game at one of the stations for Kemala's birthday celebration.
Kemala lies in her favorite shady spot in her exhibit with her new birthday treat.
A large blood-covered cow bone was strategically placed on a wooden stand as a group of children entered, anxiously awaiting the appearance of orange and black stripes and for the clock to strike 11 a.m. After the quick 1, 2, 3 countdown, the children sang “Happy Birthday” in unison to Kemala, 5, a Sumatran tiger at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo. She quickly clenched her birthday treat with her sharp teeth and dashed up the rock path to her favorite shaded area in her exhibit while eager faces pressed against the window hoping to catch a glimpse of the reclusive animal.
After living in the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo for two years, Kemala was the lucky animal chosen to celebrate its birthday with a special party on Thursday. Six stations were set up for the children to enjoy throughout their visit. The zoo’s Education and Communications Director Cheryl Piropato said celebrating a birthday is a way to connect the children to animals.
“Every kid knows what a birthday is and that a birthday is a big deal,” Piropato said. “They can relate to an animal turning 5 because many of them are turning 5 or are 5. Having an event like this is a way for us to connect people and animals, which is what our mission is.”
After singing “Happy Birthday,” children surrounded a parchment paper birthday card covering an entire table to choose their favorite crayon color to decorate it with a special message. Guests were also able to play a matching game, learn where tigers live and what they eat and how they can save tigers.
“We can bring people here with the premise of having fun and celebrating a birthday," Piropato said. “At the same time we can educate them all about tigers.”
Butch Walthmath, a zoo volunteer for seven years, said he enjoys the birthday parties thrown for the animals.
“These birthday parties are always so much fun,” Walthmath said. “The crowds are bigger and you see all the little kids.”
Kemala remained in her shaded spot in her exhibit, gnawing on her new favorite treat on her special day while the guests were able to see her when they looked closely.
The zoo was voted the No.1 Indiana attraction for 2012 by voters in a contest sponsored by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.