A Trip to a Cultural Institution Provides More Than Just Fun

A trip to a zoo, nature center or other cultural institution is often planned as a recreational or primarily social event. The reality is these visits are critical learning experiences for youth and adults alike. School-age children spend considerably more time out of school than they do at school. Between evenings, weekends and breaks, in the United States, school accounts for about 6.7 hours a day for 180 days, or roughly 25% of a child’s time spent awake each year. The opportunities youth have in their out-of-school time can make a significant difference in their future school, career and life trajectories.

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Cultural institutions are favorite places to visit for a variety of reasons: many people feel safe visiting their local and regional institutions, and they find the exhibits and experiences relevant and meaningful. The institutions are rich in learning opportunities and removed from that typical school-day feeling. They are fun, engaging and memorable. Many institutions are free to visit or offer memberships that make frequent visits affordable.

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The Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are top informal learning institutions in the community, combining opportunities to observe animals in naturalistic habitats with stories of individual animals. Many animals are part of critical, global conservation initiatives; others have been rescued from unfortunate circumstances and have inspiring stories about second chances and new beginnings. These stories are shared through signage, in-person by staff and volunteers, and by digital media available to guests. In addition, guests often have the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities that focus on science concepts while engaging with experts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers during their visit. Perhaps most importantly, visitors build their understanding of animals’ adaptations, physical appearances, behaviors and individual personalities through their observations. This information creates an awareness about the natural world and how human and non-human animals share the same spaces and interact.

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Young children, from birth to kindergarten age, are creating their understanding of the world, they’re building their vocabulary and figuring out how things work with an insatiable, natural curiosity. Exposure to places like the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are critical to developing their future skills and interests. The Belle Isle Nature Center has indoor and outdoor play areas designed specifically for young children. Both areas have natural items like tree cross sections, natural building blocks, rocks and seasonal items like acorns and pinecones for visitors to discover. Adults are essential mentors as they encourage youth to manipulate objects, provide correct vocabulary to identify items, and prompt early learners with questions so they can investigate together. These actions explore cause and effect, help draw parallels between what children know and are learning, and aid in the development of scientific thinking skills.

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As a whole, these experiences build visitors’ understanding of the natural world and systems within it. During a visit, guests have opportunities to explore their impact, both direct and indirect, on those systems and how they can make informed decisions that ultimately benefit themselves, wildlife and wild places. Guests who regularly visit informal learning institutions with children are predisposing them to be interested in STEM-related fields and equipping them with the essential skills needed to pursue those careers, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and planning and conducting investigations. So the next time you think: “we should do something fun today, like visit the Detroit Zoo,” know that you’re not only going to enjoy your visit, but, if you bring children, you just may be helping to shape their future.

– Claire Lannoye-Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Answer the Call – Gorillas are on the Line

Did you know just one simple action could help save a species?

Lessen the impact on prime gorilla habitats by recycling your old cell phone. Yes, the cell phone that is currently in your junk drawer collecting dust. It’s an easy way to make a big difference!

For a second year, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is partnering with other accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to launch a cell phone recycling program from February 1 through April 30. In addition to mobile phones, we also accept iPads, iPods, cameras, and chargers.

A rare and valuable mineral, coltan, is used in the creation of all cell phones and small electronics, and the mining of it is directly impacting the survival of gorillas.

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Eighty percent of the world’s supply of coltan is found in Central Africa, which is prime gorilla habitat. Imagine having the cell phone equivalent of gold in your backyard. There would be a lot of people showing up at your house with shovels in their hands and dollar signs in their eyes. That’s the situation for coltan and the gorillas.

Coltan is luring miners into the forests, which causes trouble for these animals. Their habitat is becoming logged and dug up so the miners can reach the coltan, and people are bringing in diseases, which the gorillas can easily contract. People are also illegally hunting gorillas – either to eat, sell or trade for more supplies. The more cell phones people buy, the more coltan needs to be mined, which leads to more gorillas becoming homeless. With their numbers dwindling in the wild as it is, let’s work together to save them.

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Last year, the collective goal of the program was to gather 10,000 mobile phones and engage 10,000 children and community members to help save gorillas. Together, the participating organizations exceeded this goal, collecting more than 12,000 phones and engaging nearly 260,000 people. The DZS alone collected 490 phones, ranking seventh among the 21 participating zoos and aquariums.

This year, we would like to collect even more phones and reach even more people, and you can help us. Fewer than 20 percent of old cell phones are recycled. Consider bringing your old phones and electronics to the Detroit Zoo during the next three months. Donation bins will be set up at the Main Entrance; you can also deliver them to the guest relations associates manning the ticket booths. We’re also looking for local schools to join us in this venture and make a direct impact on saving the species. If your school or classroom is interested in helping us protect gorillas, you can email Carla Van Kampen, curator of education, at cvankampen@dzs.org and Aaron Jesue, zookeeper, at ajesue@dzs.org. Also, mark your calendar for our World Gorilla Day celebration at the Detroit Zoo, which will be held on Thursday, September 24.

Picture1– Aaron Jesue is a zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Build Empathy for Local Wildlife with Remote Cameras

An important aspect of humane education is building students’ empathy for other animals, including wildlife. One method of building empathy for wildlife is providing experiences that allow people to observe the animals firsthand. At the Detroit Zoo, guests have many opportunities to watch exotic wildlife in expansive, naturalistic habitats. However, people’s opportunities to observe local wildlife can be more limited. Deer, raccoons and other animals may share our local environment, but some of them are nocturnal and tend to be inactive when most people are active. Other animals are fearful of humans and try to avoid contact.

To address this challenge, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) educators are adopting a technology commonly used by conservation researchers: remote cameras. Remote cameras allow researchers to record images and videos of wildlife without the need to be physically present to press a button. While researchers use these images to monitor wildlife populations, humane educators can also use them to give students a look at the local wildlife who may be hard to spot. These experiences can help students empathize with their animal neighbors.

City Critters is just one of the programs where DZS educators are using remote cameras. In this program, DZS educators train preservice teachers to lead humane education lessons to elementary school students. The 45-minute lessons include an activity in which the students analyze images from a network of remote cameras in Detroit parks, operated by the University of Michigan’s Applied Wildlife Ecology (AWE) Lab. By analyzing these images, the students learn about the raccoons, opossums, squirrels, geese and other wildlife who share their local environment. Remote cameras are also incorporated into The Humane Education Horticulture Program. In this program, DZS educators have helped students at Oakland County Children’s Village install remote cameras in a nearby forest and wetland so they can identify the wildlife in the area. Over the past month, the cameras have recorded images of many animals, including rabbits and deer.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERAAn image of a white-tailed deer recorded near Oakland County Children’s Village

By observing images and videos of local wildlife, students learn more about these animals’ experiences. For example, they may learn that rabbits are most active in the early morning, or that deer often raise their heads when they are feeding. Over time, students may also come to see themselves as members of a more-than-human community. For instance, the students at Children’s Village are now noting other signs of wildlife on their campus, including tracks, scat and vocalizations.

You can use remote cameras to build empathy for local wildlife, too! One option is to participate in Michigan ZoomIN, a public science project in which people can help researchers at the AWE Lab analyze images from their remote camera network. For more information about the project, click here: zooniverse.org/projects/michiganzoomin/michigan-zoomin. Another option is to purchase a remote camera and install it in your backyard. You can find a wide range of cameras for sale online or at your local sporting goods store. If you install a remote camera in your backyard, be sure not to bait it with food or other attractants. Baiting cameras is not necessary, and it can harm the animals.

– Stephen Vrla and Claire Lannoye-Hall are curators of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Environmental E-Cycling Extravaganza

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The Detroit Zoological Society celebrated America Recycles Day on November 15 by hosting a community e-cycling (electronics recycling) drive at the Detroit Zoo. We received a whopping 36,000 pounds (18 tons) of old tube televisions, outdated computer equipment and a variety of broken household electronics – the weight equivalent to seven rhinos!  All of the material was recycled responsibly, alleviating our community members’ basements and avoiding the landfill.

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Recycling electronics is vital to our environment since not only does it divert waste from Michigan’s landfills (according to the EPA, electronics accounts for 20-50 million tons of global waste), but it also reduces hazardous waste from seeping into the soil and groundwater.  This is significant when you consider that the average old tube TV or computer monitor contains approximately 5 pounds of lead!

Recycled electronics are also filled with valuable minerals such as silicon, tin, copper, lead and gold; all of these minerals are required for future electronics. By recovering these minerals through recycling, we can reduce our reliance on mining raw materials from the earth.  Mining creates a host of problems including deforestation, destruction of habitats and creation of pollution.  Currently, only 12.5 percent of e-waste gets recycled, according to the EPA.  Rather than focusing on mining jungles for raw materials for new electronics, perhaps we should start focusing on a more sustainable place – the urban jungle.

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With the holiday season upon us and the latest and greatest electronic gadgets on many folks’ wish list, please consider the following actions:

  • Resist upgrading. Challenge yourself to use your current device longer (cell phone, tablet, etc.)
  • Purchase refurbished or older models. Support the recycling market and save yourself money
  • Recycle your unwanted electronics. Rather than keeping them in a drawer or your basement, recycle and return the needed minerals to use for future electronics

Many electronic manufacturers (Apple, Samsung, etc.) will take back their products for recycling.  For local recycling, SOCRRA, located at 995 Coolidge in Troy, takes electronics if you are a SOCRRA resident or business (member cities are Berkley, Beverly Hills, Birmingham, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Troy).  Research your local recycling facilities and decrease your e-waste impact.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Notes from the Field: Protecting Amphibian Biodiversity in Peru

You heard recently from one of our education experts about how the Detroit Zoological Society is working with Peruvian schools to conserve the rainforest through outreach and education. Conservation of the biodiversity in the Peruvian rainforest has been a priority of the Detroit Zoological Society for over a decade, and we have many programs in the rainforest that help to achieve this goal. One of our programs focuses specifically on amphibians, and that is where I have the great fortune to visit this incredible location.

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There are over 600 species of frogs in Peru, with more species discovered every day. With this high number of species, Peru is called a “biodiversity hotspot.” These “hotspots” are very important to monitor for changes, because while there are many species they are all very dependent on one another. Small changes can cause drastic effects. Amphibians are some of the most sensitive animals, because their skin absorbs everything in the environment. If amphibians begins to get sick or have difficulty surviving, that is an excellent clue that something is wrong in the environment. All over the world, amphibians are currently having difficulty with changes we are seeing in the environment- because we are seeing global changes, it is extra important to study the animals in areas like the Amazon, where amphibians are in higher concentration, to try and understand patterns in these changes.

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The convict tree frog (Boana calcarata) is a frog found in the Napo River region. This sound recording and image were made by the National Amphibian Conservation Center during a survey.

In order to keep an eye on the amphibians in the Peruvian Amazon, staff from the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center conducts surveys for frogs twice a year. This means we physically go out and look for frogs. Because we know we cannot possibly see all the frogs, also record the songs of frogs at night. Hearing the songs can help us guess numbers of animals singing and help us to hear the songs of species that are difficult to find on visual surveying. In addition to surveys, we monitor weather data in the Napo River valley. We have our own weather station that collects year-round information about the valley region. We also use small data loggers to collect immediate, specific “microclimate” changes where we visualize species breeding (for example: on a specific plant or under leaf litter). The weather data helps us understand both immediate changes in behavior of frogs, as well as changes in populations over time.

Weather stationDr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves downloads six months’ data from the weather station.

While data collection and surveying are important, fostering appreciation of animals in the local community is the primary goal of the visits to Peru. Our hope is that educating the community and creating excitement in future generations will help to preserve these animals for the future. The “Club de Protectores de Anfibios,” or Amphibian Protectors Club, is a club comprised of high school students that are local to the Napo River valley region. The club was founded in order to help impart enthusiasm for amphibians and the environment.

In Peru, there are many misconceptions surrounding frogs. There is a general belief that frogs are bad luck and should be kept away from homes. When the Detroit Zoo staff visited the Amphibian Protectors Club in June of 2019, the club members taught us how the Amphibian Protectors Club is changing the community. The club members performed a play in which they explained another local belief is that a woman will become pregnant if she spends time around frogs. Told from the perspective of high school students, this was a chilling superstition. Through the play, the students explained that by participating in the club they have learned not only that this is a myth, but also frogs are important for human health and humans need to protect frogs. The club members have taught their friends and families frogs are important and have begun to see more frogs in their villages since this change in attitude.

Night HikeAn Amphibian Protector’s Club member observes a frog up close on a night hike.

The students from the club went on an overnight excursion with the National Amphibian Conservation Center staff, where we visited one of our regular field research sites. We took a late night hike in order to see frogs calling and breeding at this special location. At this site, we saw species of frogs the students do not commonly see in their villages. After a good night rest, the club rose early in the morning to hike to the nearby canopy walkway- a breathtaking experience where the club members were able to look down on the rainforest from the treetops. While these students live in the rainforest, many of them have not seen their tropical home from this perspective. They were inspired by this view, observing the unique habitat of rare and diverse species. One club member called it “the view of the animals,” and asked very advanced questions about some of the plants and insects he observed.

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This was an incredibly rewarding trip. The students showed us that their appreciation for the amphibians is making a difference. While I will not see them in person for a few months, the students will continue to speak with me over a WhatsApp chat (they named our group “Whatsappos,” because “sapo” means toad in Spanish). While I am away, the club meets monthly to survey in their home towns and the students will send me photos and descriptions of frogs the see. Over the app, we talk about the species and have a question and answer session. Their excitement is inspiring and infectious, and I am confident their enthusiasm will be what helps save species.

– Dr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves is the director of the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center.

 

 

DreamNight – A Night to Remember

The Detroit Zoological Society hosted more than 500 guests for DreamNight, a private nighttime event for families that include a child with special needs or chronic illnesses. The goal of this event was to provide an opportunity for families to spend time, all together, in a stress-free environment. This was the first event of its kind held at the Detroit Zoo, and we were delighted with the reception of the event as well as the outcome.

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DreamNight brought families to the Zoo from around Michigan and parts of Canada. Excited and happy faces emerged as guests walked through the front gates. Without the crowds, many were able to make observations of the animals and experience the Zoo, without being overwhelmed. Penguins were a huge favorite with kids and adults alike. Some children needed the quieter buildings to enjoy the animals who live in the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, National Amphibian Conservation Center or Arctic Ring of Life.

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We saw looks of pure joy as children, for the first time, watched penguins swimming. Parents showed relief on their faces as they observed their children watching the animals or exploring the hands-on opportunities. Entire families explored activities together  ̶̶  talking and playing through their shared experiences. We were also grateful for an excited group of staff and volunteers, ready and willing to support each family as they explored the Zoo.

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Throughout the event, families enjoyed dinner, courtesy of Service Systems Associates (SSA), our catering partner, who donated a vast majority of the food and labor for the evening. Stations with hands-on activities were spread throughout the Zoo, which invited guests to explore butterfly wings with handheld microscopes or play with sand in front of the camel habitat or weigh out food for an otter’s diet. Face painting, donated by Kaman’s Art Studio, was also available for all who attended. Our Zooper Hero mascots celebrated with us, and were loved by the families in attendance. Many children danced along to the music from a live band and watched a sensory-friendly version of the 4-D movie in the theater.

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We had an amazing time meeting these wonderful families and getting to know them. The Detroit Zoological Society strives every day to ensure that our entire community is welcomed within our organization. We have recently been certified through the The KultureCity® Sensory Inclusive™ program, which helps us to think strategically about how we can prepare guests before they arrive and provide a positive experience while they are here. Staff and volunteers have participated in training to be aware of our guests needs and learn strategies for supporting them during their visits. Sensory-friendly bags, which contain headphones, fidget items and a feeling thermometer, are available to be checked out to use throughout the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. We look forward to hosting future events like DreamNight and ensuring that all families can experience the Detroit Zoo.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Becoming an Eco-Friendly Consumer – How to Spend Your Green on What’s Truly Green

In recent years, businesses have caught on to the fact that “green” sells. In fact, it has been found that products that are sustainable sell better than those that are not. It’s no surprise that the number of eco-friendly products on the market has increased dramatically. However, some companies are guilty of “greenwashing,” a marketing tactic used to make a company appear environmentally friendly when in reality their practices are far from it. With all these new, green products in the marketplace, it can be difficult to know which ones are truly good for the environment. Here are a few tips on how to become an eco-friendly consumer yourself:

  1. Check the Contents

The easiest way to tell if a product is eco-friendly is to check its contents. Here is a list of eco-friendly materials to search for:

  • Recycled or Upcycled: Many companies are turning trash into treasure by using recycled materials or upcycling old materials to make their merchandise. From shoes to backpacks, toys to yoga mats, many of the products we use every day are made from recycled materials. Even fine art is created through upcycling, like the one-of-a-kind sculptures found in the Snares to Wares: Capacity for Change exhibition at the Detroit Zoo. The Snares to Wares initiative upcycles illegal, inhumane snare traps from national parks in Uganda and turns them into sculptures of the animals that could have been trapped in the snares. The sculptures are then sold, providing much-needed income for the Ugandan artists. This is a great example of how repurposing materials can benefit not only the environment but also the lives of animals and humans.

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  • Organic: The non-organic agriculture industry uses pesticides and fertilizers that have negative impacts on the health of the environment, wildlife and humans. Organic products are those produced without these harmful substances. Though we typically associate the term “organic” with fruits and vegetables, it can apply to plant-based materials found in fabric and beauty products.
  • Natural Over Synthetic: While some items can’t be organic, choosing ones made from natural materials instead of synthetic that take thousands of years to decompose is the better choice. Clothing and other textiles can be made using materials such as hemp, soy silk/cashmere, cotton and linen. Bamboo is another great material because the plant doesn’t need fertilizer or pesticides, is biodegradable and requires little water. Eating utensils, toothbrushes, “paper” towels, flooring, furniture and even bed sheets can be made from bamboo.
  • Locally Sourced: The amount of travel it takes for most of our products to reach the shelves results in a tremendous amount of harmful emissions along the way. By choosing to purchase items that are locally sourced or made from locally sourced materials, you can significantly reduce the environmental cost of shipping.
  1. Read the Labels

There are many products that claim to be made from all-natural ingredients and advertise themselves as eco-friendly, but one of the only ways to really tell is to read the product’s label for yourself. Go through the ingredients and make sure that if they’re claiming to be natural that only natural components are listed or at least are the very first ingredients. Also, look for labels that certify that the product is eco-friendly such as the USDA Organic Certified label or the EPA Safer Choice label that signifies the product’s ingredients and manufacturing process have met stringent government standards for our health and the environment.

  1. Find the Right Company

Making sure the company you are purchasing from follows environmentally safe practices is just as important as their products being made from eco-friendly materials. Just like individual products can be green-certified, so can entire corporations. One of the most prominent certifications is the B Corps certification; Certified B Corporations are businesses that “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” A searchable list of Certified B Corps is found on their website, making it simple to find eco-friendly shopping opportunities. Another helpful resource is the World Fair Trade Organization; WFTO members are verified fair trade enterprises. Their products adhere to the 10 Principles of Fair Trade, Principle 10 being “Respect for the Environment” which stresses the importance of a circular economy (upcycling) and organic agriculture. The WFTO website also features a search engine to help you find fair trade products and businesses.

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The right, eco-friendly business may be closer than you think –in 2019, the Trading Post, a retail concession featuring all sustainable merchandise, opened at the Detroit Zoo. The store, itself made from a re-purposed shipping container, features eco-friendly and fair trade products from all around the world. Stop by the Trading Post on your next visit to the Detroit Zoo to purchase eco-friendly souvenirs!