August 4, 2008

Curiosity, Playing Both Key to OKC Zoo Exhibit

By Carrie Coppernoll, The Oklahoman

Aug. 4--The revamped Children's Zoo exhibit at the Oklahoma City Zoo will be much the same as the old exhibit -- same size, same location and the same animals.

However, the goal will be much different.

The $8 million exhibit, scheduled to open in fall 2009, is designed to encourage play, interaction and curiosity, said Brian Aucone, animal management director for the zoo.

"We just want (kids) to explore and experience," he said.

The major elements of the exhibit came from brainstorming by zoo staff, trustees, volunteers and visitors.

The discussion focused on childhood experiences with nature -- wandering in the woods or wading in a creek.

"Today kids don't experience nature that way," Aucone said. "It's TV and nature shows."

So designers tried to re-create those real-life experiences for children, he said.

Off the beaten path The exhibit will have plenty of places where kids can explore and play off the beaten path.

Most of the animals will be the same as at the former Children's Zoo.

The lorikeets still will be a key feature, and creatures like kangaroos, miniature donkeys and flamingos will be on exhibit. The petting zoo will feature dwarf goats, cattle and bunnies.

The new Children's Zoo will cover the same 2 1/2-acre area it did before the demolition. The area is about the size of the elephant and rhinoceros yards and building.

The old Children's Zoo was antiquated, Aucone said. Many animals lived in large wire cages and other outdated holding areas.

The new exhibit will feature more natural habitats designed to capture children's attention.

"This is much more geared toward kids," Aucone said.

The signs will be mostly pictures and the entrance has a kid-sized entry, he said.

Most of the animals are colorful and vocal.

The exhibit will include a handful of species new to the zoo, like spider monkeys and green macaws.

A new underground area will feature invertebrates, a first for the Oklahoma City Zoo, said Dwight Scott, the zoo's executive director.

Invertebrates, like tarantulas, centipedes and cockroaches, are on exhibit but not in a single featured display.


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