We are excited to announce that the Cincinnati Zoo has received a grant of $149,814 over two years from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) 2015 Museums for America program in the Learning Experiences category. The grant will support the reinterpretation of our Wings of the World exhibit to connect families to nature through birds and inspire them to become better bird neighbors.
Children spend half as much time outdoors today as they did only 20 years ago. Instead they spend nearly eight hours a day watching TV, playing video games and engaging with other electronic media. And it’s not just kids – families, too, spend less time together in nature.This diminished exposure to the outdoors can result in feeling isolated from nature rather than connected to it and thus, less concerned about its well-being and unmotivated to take responsibility for it.
Why is it important to connect to nature? The costs of “nature-deficit disorder,” coined by child advocacy expert Richard Louv, are serious and many, from increases in obesity and mental health ailments to a lack of environmental stewardship. Participating in “wild nature activities” as a child is directly linked to developing concern for the environment as an adult. In addition to positive experiences in nature, going outdoors with someone who plays a significant role in a child’s life, such as a parent or grandparent, is a significant factor in shaping environmentally aware adults.
In addition, concerns about the safety of sending our children out to play in nature—strangers, traffic, broken bones, snake bites, mosquito-spread viruses—also play into the problem. For those whose fears of safety keep them from exploring the woods or even a local park, zoos can bridge the gap and provide a safe outdoor environment for nature exploration.
Birds are all around us. We share our forests, parks, cities and backyards with them. Thus, they provide a familiar and universal entry point for establishing connections with nature. “In an age when we experience so much of our world through glass – screens, windows, windshields – birds are a vital connection to the wild. They reach across any barrier, flitting, surprising, and dazzling, always there to refresh my sense of wonder” – Thor Hanson, author of Feathers, The Evolution of a Natural Miracle.
In 2014, the Zoo commemorated the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon with a renovation of our Passenger Pigeon Memorial. In this historic structure, the last known living passenger pigeon, named Martha, passed away on September 1, 1914. It was the first documented extinction of a species at the hand of man due to commercial-scale harvest and habitat loss. The passenger pigeon’s extinction spurred the modern conservation movement that saved other imperiled species from the same fate, including the bald eagle and wild turkey.
Today, birds still face threats to their survival, with climate change at the top of the list. A recent study by the National Audubon Society classifies more than 300 North American bird species as severely threatened by climate change. Reinterpreting our Wings of the World exhibit is a natural next step for our Zoo to carry on the legacy of the passenger pigeon and encourage our visitors to be better bird neighbors.
In 2013, the Zoo completed an IMLS-funded reinterpretation of our Jungle Trails primate exhibit, and in May 2014, that exhibit won the American Alliance of Museums’ 2014 Excellence in Exhibition Award for Special Distinction, Exemplary Model of Creating Experience for Social Engagement. The reinterpretation of the Wings of the World exhibit will build on that success and apply what we learned about engaging families through that project.
Over the next two years, we plan to update the messaging and create a family-friendly learning environment that engages intergenerational groups in shared experiences focused on forging relationships between guests and their new feathered friends. As we research, plan, develop, design, implement and evaluate the project, we will call for your participation as guests and followers to ensure that your needs and voices are integrated. We hope that you will follow us along on this blog series and contribute as opportunities arise.
In the meantime, look up to the sky, the treetops, the building ledges, the electrical wires, and all around you, and take note of the variety of birds with which we share our space. You might even consider participating in National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count this month. This early winter bird census relies on volunteers from all over the country. Learn more about how you can help as a citizen scientist and register for the event here.
This project is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.