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New Family Fun at Jungle Trails

Have you been to Jungle Trails lately?  If not, make plans to visit this exhibit on your next Zoo trip! We have recently installed some new family-oriented interactive elements that are sure to add more fun, laughter and learning to your day. Find out what it would be like if your family lived in the forest as you take on group challenges that our non-human primate relatives face every day.

Begin by working together like others primates do to explore their surroundings. As a family, seek out hidden plant and animal sculptures throughout the trail.

Look! I found the rock gecko.

Look! I found the rock gecko.

Next, try your hand at swinging like a gibbon. A double set of “gibbon bars” at different heights invite children and adults to swing from one end to the other. Who can swing the fastest in your family? Can you get your whole troop across without touching the ground? Listen closely and you may be able to hear the gibbons cheering you on along the way!

Swing like gibbon! Woop woop, you can do it!

Swing like gibbon! Woop woop, you can do it!

Orangutans create a mental map to remember where to find ripening fruit. If you were an orangutan, could you remember where to find the right fruit? At the outdoor orangutan exhibit, find out which of your family members has the best memory by playing a fruit matching memory game.

I found a match!

I found a match!

Now, get ready to balance like a lemur. Can you walk across a rope without falling off? Use the hanging ropes to help you balance.  Have a race – kids versus grown-ups! Who can make it across first? Can your whole group make it across without falling off?

Balancing like a lemur isn't as easy as it sounds!

Balancing like a lemur isn’t as easy as it sounds!

We primates have opposable thumbs that help us hold and use things with our hands. If you didn’t have opposable thumbs, how would you tie your shoes? Find out just how hard it is to tie your shoes (or Velcro them for young ones) without using your thumbs at this next interactive. We have three different-sized shoes for all ages to try at the same time and see who can do it first.

Thumbs Up for Thumbs

Thumbs Up for Thumbs

Bonobos communicate with each other by drumming a group rhythm on the buttress roots of trees. Create your own troop rhythm on the large hollow buttress root near the outdoor bonobo exhibit. Take turns banging out a rhythm and mimicking what you hear.

Bang out a rhythm here.

Bang out a rhythm here.

Now it’s time to put all the brains of your troop together to solve the “Big Brains at Work” maze outside the Africa building.  Primates are very smart and working together is essential for survival. Work together with your troop to push a stone through the maze with sticks.

It takes teamwork to solve this puzzle.

It takes teamwork to solve this puzzle.

We’ve even created new interactive signage using iPads at the indoor orangutan, gibbon and bonobo exhibits. Learn the names and personalities of the animals. Watch videos of our keepers hard at work to keep the animals happy and healthy. Learn what you can do to help save these endangered primates. Build your own Super Primate through an interactive game. The choice is up to you!

Learning about bonobos on the iPad.

Learning about bonobos on the iPad.

By the time you reach the end of the trail, your family of primates will know what it’s like to be a primate living in the forest. So come  swing, balance and discover with your troop at Jungle Trails today!


The Jungle Trails project was made possible with funding from a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to re-interpret the exhibit with a focus on family learning through a two-year process of research, development and design, and prototyping and evaluation.

July 22, 2013   1 Comment

Back from Belize

It’s been two weeks since I returned from co-leading an Earth Expeditions trip to Belize and I’m just now finding a moment to post a recap. It’s amazing how much work can pile up when you’re out of the office for two weeks!

Overall, the field expedition was fantastic! The heat and humidity were high. Even the locals said so. I carried a bandana with me everywhere we went so I could wipe the sweat off of my face every five minutes. The bugs, on the other hand, weren’t half as bad as I expected. I still came home looking like I had chicken pox on my legs from all the mosquito and doctor fly bites I did get, but it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered it being the last time I was there.

I could write a book about everything we experienced and discovered, but I’ll just describe a couple of my personal highlights for now.

The Belize Zoo, where this jaguar was photographed, was amazing. The zoo only displays animals native to Belize and its primary purpose is to connect Belizeans to the wildlife around them and inspire them to be proud and protect their natural heritage. The coolest thing EVER was to be at the zoo at night and hear the black howler monkeys roaring all around you. It is the creepiest sound and so loud that you’d expect a dinosaur to come crashing through the trees any minute.

After spending a few hot and humid days in the tropical forest and savannah, floating down the Caves Branch River in an innertube was heaven. It was so refreshing and provided a completely different perspective of the surrounding environment. I felt like I was in the middle of a National Geographic episode. The river flows in and out of these giant cave systems. At one point, we all turned out our head lamps. It was so dark that you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. Coming out of the cave, we were like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis – transformed.

BATS! I just love bats. I’m not sure why, but they fascinate me.

As a group of educators, we were excited to get to spend some time visiting schools and interacting with the students.  Dozens of kids came to the school to meet us in spite of the fact that it was their summer break. We learned a bit about the school system in Belize and engaged the kids in arts and crafts, soccer, and conversation.

And, finally, here I am on the beach on Carrie Bow Caye where a Smithsonian research station is based. We got a brief tour of the station and then had some time to explore the tiny island. I had fun watching all the little crabs duck in and out of their burrows and scamper sideways across the sand.

September 2, 2010   1 Comment

Facts are fun, but feelings mean so much more

Think about the last time you visited the Zoo. What did you get out of it?

Can you recall 39 new fun facts about animals that will help you win the Jeopardy round? Probably not, unless you’re that Ken Jennings guy. Whatever happened to him anyway?

Can you remember how you felt as the cheetah’s spots blurred before your eyes while it raced by? Or when the giraffe’s slimy tongue licked your hand before grasping the cracker you offered? Or when the corn snake tickled your skin with its tongue and slithered through your fingers? I’ll bet you do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important and it can win you $2.5 million, in Ken’s case. It’s just that feelings mean so much more. They have the power to change the world, and change is something our world needs right now.

Here at the Zoo, we are passionate about wildlife and committed to conserving the natural world. We and our animal ambassadors are here to ignite that same passion in you. So we’re breaking the mold of the traditional Zoo visit where you just walk around and look at animals to engage you on a deeper level.

Me, personally? My role as Interpretive Media Manager in the Education Department is a mixed bag of things related to creating opportunities for you to have those personal experiences that connect you to wildlife. You might not actually see me out on grounds that often. I don’t fly hawks in the bird show or give the elephants their baths. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes personality.

I spend a lot of time doing research, writing, brainstorming, planning, development, training, evaluation. Sound boring to you? For me, it’s not!

I’m always learning something new and exciting. Just the other day, for example, I learned about how important elephant dung is to other animals for food and shelter. Even frogs have been found in piles of elephant poo! Did you know that, Ken Jennings?

And, I’m always working on new, creative projects. The next big one coming up is the renovation of the Cat House. It’s  in the planning stages right now so I’m doing visitor surveys to find out how much time people spend in the Cat House, what they think of the current exhibit, and what they think could make the Cat House experience more exciting and meaningful to them.

When I need a break, I go for a stroll through the Zoo. Sometimes I go down to Manatee Springs. When it’s not too crowded, I can sit and relax in front of the tank as the girls, CC Baby and Turner, glide through the water. Other times I visit Maddie, the one-year-old bonobo, and her family. As a mother of a one-year-old myself, I marvel at the similarities I see in the two youngsters as they grow.

Most often, however, I find myself watching the people. A trio of children encourages and cheers on Mom as she summons up the courage to touch a rainbow boa. A father and son hold out their arms as they try to keep their balance while standing on one leg in front of the flamingo exhibit. A young girl, wide-eyed with pigtails, squeals with delight as a goat scarfs up the kibble she holds out in her hand.

Sorry, Ken, but that’s what it’s really all about.

July 2, 2010   6 Comments