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Category — Night Hunters

Eight Ways a Trip to the Zoo Can Stimulate Your Child’s Interest in Art

Co-written with Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters Interpreter

Sometimes we think of art and science as living at opposite ends of a spectrum. Maybe you imagine that your zoology-loving child will say, “Art is sooo boooring,” when actually, art has the power to enrich lives at any age. According to PBS, for example, exposing kids to art can positively impact their motor skills, decision making, language skills, and more. Here’s how your Zoo visit can bring art to life for your child.

  1. Notice color, and help your child do the same. A great place to start is in the Wings of the World bird house where you’ll find an array of different birds in brilliant colors. Point out how colorful plumage, such as the iconic tail feathers of a peacock, can help male birds attract mates. Ask your child to point out what colors she sees and which ones she likes best. Bring crayons and paper along so that your kids can capture what they see.

    Colorful peacock! (Photo: Deb Simon)

    Colorful peacock! (Photo: Deb Simon)

  2. Study the murals in the animal exhibits in Night Hunters. They were painted by artist John Agnew, who has also painted murals for Cincinnati Museum Center, Miami Whitewater Forest, and for zoos as far away as Moscow, Russia. As a youth, he became interested in dinosaurs and reptiles, and took part in the Dayton Museum of Natural History’s Junior Curator program. His penchant for animals and talent for a realistic style of painting combined into a successful career. Agnew helped found Masterworks for Nature, a group of 15 prominent Cincinnati area artists, who raise money for conservation through the sale of their artwork.

    Bobcat exhibit (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

    Bobcat exhibit (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

  3. Admire a reproduction of a 2013 painting by renowned wildlife artist John Ruthven entitled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. The painting depicts Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, leading a flock. Martha lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, and when she passed away in 1914, the passenger pigeon went extinct. This painting was reproduced by Artworks on the side of a building in Downtown Cincinnati to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014.

    John Ruthven with his painting, Martha - the Last Passenger Pigeon (Photo: Ron Ellis)

    John Ruthven with his painting, Martha – the Last Passenger Pigeon (Photo: Ron Ellis)

  4. Go on a scavenger hunt to find the many animal sculptures displayed throughout the Zoo. Ask your child to imagine how they were made. What can they learn about the animal’s features from studying them? Here is a short list:
    • Hippos and lions in the Africa exhibit
    • Gorillas outside Gorilla World
    • Manatees and crocodiles outside Manatee Springs
    • Galapagos tortoise near the Reptile House
    • Tiger in Cat Canyon
    • Passenger pigeon at the Passenger Pigeon Memorial

      Hippo sculpture (Photo: Shasta Bray)

      Hippo sculpture (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  5. Check out the recycled materials art in the Go Green Garden. Every year or two, the Zoo works with a school or community group to create a new piece of art for display in this space. The current piece was created by the 2014-2015 Colerain High School Ceramics/3D class. Ask your child to notice what types of recycled materials were used. What other materials could they imagine using to create their own recycled art?

    Recycled art created by Colerain High School students (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Recycled art created by Colerain High School students (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  6. Turn your own Zoo photos into art. While you’re visiting, take lots of photos. (Why wouldn’t you?) Play with photo filters or experiment with Photoshop or a similar program at home. If your child is more tactically inclined, print the photos and together you might add borders or other embellishments. They’ll end up with a cherished memento of their visit.
  7. Visit our animal artists. Some of the animals who live at the Zoo, including elephants and rhinos, moonlight as artists. Observe each of these animals closely and see if you can figure out how they’re able to paint. Want to display a one-of-a-kind masterpiece created by one of our animal artists in your own home? Purchase one online or book a behind-the-scenes experience that involves watching a penguin, goat or elephant paint a canvas just for you.

    VIPenguin Tour

    VIPenguin Tour

  8. Get a “handimal” painted especially for your child. Visit the booth near Vine Street Village where the artists will turn your child’s handprint into a colorful and creative animal image. You’ll leave with a unique keepsake and your child will witness an artist at work.

    Handimals! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Handimals! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

August 3, 2016   5 Comments

Six Ways the Zoo Can Stimulate Your Kids’ Interest in Reading

Guest blogger, Zoo Education Intern, Kristina Meek:

Let’s face it; some kids just don’t love to read. You know how important reading can be to school success and for life in general. Yet you may find yourself pleading just to get your child to read the simplest assignment, never mind perusing books for pleasure.booksIf your child loves the Zoo, it could provide a sneaky way to crack his or her resistance. Read on for six ideas to try.

  1. Prepare for your Zoo visit by browsing the Animals section of our website. Each animal has a short description and list of pertinent facts. Together, you and your child can browse and decide which exhibits to prioritize when you get to the Zoo. Even pre-K children can take part by identifying the first letter in each animal’s name.
  2. Encourage your child to read the signs at Zoo exhibits out loud. When a child is excited about an animal, nudge him or her to learn a few facts about it by reading the sign. The Zoo’s signs tend to be easy to read for upper elementary students, but also use words that are likely new to the child. Reading a short bit of text won’t feel like a chore and can enhance the child’s enjoyment of observing the animal. Some of the signs even rhyme!

    Balance like a Lemur sign

    Jungle Trails is a great exhibit to explore as a family. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  3. Talk about word origin. Starting around seventh grade, kids learn to identify roots of words, which can help improve their overall vocabulary. For example, the word nocturnal (active at night) comes from the Latin root “noct” or “nox,” which also appears in the word equinox (the time when day and night are equal in length). Or, the scientific name for an Indian Rhinoceros is Rhinoceros unicornis. “Unicornis” comes from “one” and “horn,” because this species sports only one horn instead of the two that other rhinos have.
  4. Make an endangered species sign. In certain exhibits, such as Manatee Springs and Night Hunters, the Zoo offers interactive sign-making stations. Visitors can choose a species and assemble a message from suggested text and then send their creation to a friend. Kids express their creativity and support a cause while reading and learning.

    Visitors create their own sign in Night Hunters (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Visitors create their own sign in Night Hunters (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  5. Ask your child to read to an animal. Studies have found that reading to dogs builds children’s confidence. Animals never judge, laugh, or correct pronunciation. If you have a dog, you can try this technique at home. But why not bring a book or e-reader to the Zoo and have your child read to an animal? The penguins in the Children’s Zoo tend to hang out and look at visitors as if they’re listening to what you’re saying. Try other calm, quiet animals like a camel or a manatee! Stuffed animals can also do the trick, so visit the Zoo Shop on your way out.

    Read to me, the fennec fox. I'm all ears!

    Read to me, the fennec fox. I’m all ears!

  6. Keep the spirit of your Zoo visit alive. What sparked your child’s interest most? Maybe it was a specific animal or plant, or perhaps it was an idea for a future career in animal care. Search for books, websites, or apps that relate to that interest. Ask your child regularly about what he’s been reading. You’ll help him comprehend and retain what he’s read.

What are you waiting for? Start cultivating those reading skills today and plan your next outing to the Cincinnati Zoo!

March 11, 2016   No Comments

Pushing the Envelope on Frozen Semen Fertility with Gek the Pallas’ Cat

Back in the early 1990s, an eager young post-doctoral fellow was hired to study cat reproduction at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. One of his first projects involved a small-sized, little-known Central Asian felid called the Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul).

Pallas' cat (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Pallas’ cat on exhibit in Night Hunters (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

At the time, there was a grand total of one male Pallas’ cat in all U.S. zoos – a wild-born Mongolian cat named Gek. The post-doc dutifully collected and evaluated Gek’s semen every two months for almost two years and, for the first time, documented the extreme reproductive seasonality typical of this species. Concurrently, he froze Gek’s semen for long-term storage.

Fast forward 22 years later. That post-doc, Dr. Bill Swanson, is now CREW’s Director of Animal Research, and in early 2015, found himself in desperate need of frozen Pallas’ cat semen. Fortuitously, he previously had acquired Gek’s samples from the National Zoo. Frozen semen from Gek and two other males was used for laparoscopic oviductal artificial insemination (LO-AI) of four Pallas’ cats at three U.S. zoos (Cincinnati, Columbus, Pueblo). Two of those cats appeared to conceive; however, only the Columbus Zoo female subsequently gave birth. Her single kitten was fully developed, but, unfortunately, stillborn.

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Notably, the father of that kitten was … (drum roll, please) …Gek! The pregnancies and birth were the first ever with frozen semen in Pallas’ cats but also established a new longevity record for frozen semen fertility in any wildlife species. Additional LO-AIs using Gek’s frozen samples are planned for 2016 – hopefully followed by the birth of healthy kittens this time around. Long-live Gek!

(Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services)

February 12, 2016   3 Comments