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.