Extinction Graveyard Exhibit from Design to Educational Value
Jill Ohlsen, Michael Johnson, John R. Williams
Mesker Park Zoo and Botanical Garden
Between 1997 and 1999, the Education Committee within the docent organization designed, constructed, and installed an extinction graveyard exhibit. The purpose of this exhibit is to educate zoo visitors of the worldwide tragedy associated with current extinctions. This exhibit contains 19 grave markers representing 16 extinct animal species and 3 extinct plant species. Each grave marker shows the common name of the species, the year of extinction, and where the animal or plant lived. The grave markers also contain an epitaph/poem describing the demise of the species. A large welcome sign introduces the exhibit and three smaller signs show (1) some of the current causes of extinction, (2) benefits of plants and animals, and (3) ways to reduce the extinction rate by helping the environment.
Although many sources are available for providing information about extinct species, the source most used for this project was a book entitled Extinct Species of the World, by Jean-Christophe Balouet, 1990. The advantage of this book is that it contains information about the habitat and downfall of numerous extinct species, as well as valuable pictures of many extinct species.
To illustrate the global nature of extinction, all continents, except Antarctica, are represented in this exhibit. Terrestrial and aquatic life (including marine and fresh water) are also represented. Displaying several mammals and birds, a reptile, an amphibian, two insects, and three plants provides a cross-section of extinct species. Information concerning the demise of the species as well as pictures of the species aided in determining which to include in the exhibit.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
Several issues were very important when designing this exhibit. Some of these issues were appearance, durability, and weight. Of these issues, durability was most important because the Education Committee wanted to build an exhibit that would last many years. It was important that this exhibit resemble a real graveyard to better emphasize that these species are “gone forever.” Thus, the grave markers range in size from 14 x 18 to 24 x 32. After several months of discussing many design ideas, it was decided that the grave markers would be constructed using the materials listed below. One major advantage of this design is that the exhibit could be constructed and installed by the Education Committee, thus reducing the cost. However, when including library research, poem writing, woodcutting, painting, and vinyl layout, this design is time consuming and labor intensive. Each grave marker took approximately 20 hours to complete.
- ¾ exterior signage board
- exterior primer (45 coats)
- exterior paint (56 coats)
- wood stakes
- exterior grade vinyl lettering
- exterior polyurethane (45 coats)
GRAVEYARD EXHIBIT CONTENT
A large welcome sign greets all visitors to the exhibit. This sign states that the names of the plants and animals on the grave markers represent some of the thousands of species that have become extinct during the past several hundred years. The sign also states that the plant and animal kingdom is undergoing a mass extinction and, at an estimated extinction rate of one species every day, within several decades more than a quarter of the species of the earth may become extinct.
The exhibit consists of 19 grave markers. Three examples follow:
Our one great sin was beauty,
with our coats of chestnut and cream stripes.
The European hunters and settlers
took our lives with little fight.
Lake Titicaca Flat-Headed Fish
Peru & Bolivia
Introducing a Great Lakes trout was a disaster,
there’s no doubt.
For after this predator from the north came in,
the flat-headed fish died out.
Your world was made more beautiful
with our flowers of blue.
But we are all gone now
because of you.
Three signs are located in front of the grave markers, which provide additional educational information.
The first sign lists some common causes of current extinctions, such as human population growth, pollution, and forest destruction. The second sign lists some benefits of plants and animals. Some examples are some animals aid in controlling the insect population, medicines are manufactured from some plant species, and plants oxygenate the air and remove toxins. The third sign lists ways you can help reduce the extinction rate, such as reduce, recycle, and reuse; don’t have wild animals as pets; and hunt legally.
The exhibit itself is an educational tool. However, educating zoo visitors about extinction is also being accomplished by (1) incorporating the exhibit into educational programs, (2) interpretation of the exhibit by docents and zoo staff at special events, (3) writing appropriate articles for various zoo publications, and (4) the zoo trolley driver referring to this exhibit while passing by.
As a result of this exhibit, the zoo is able to (1) promote environmental awareness, (2) emphasize the vast number of species in peril because endangered species are only one step from extinction, (3) highlight the numerous benefits of animals and plants to other species, including humans, and (4) call attention for the need for zoo visitors to support environmental organizations and their local zoo.
One of the primary purposes of zoos is to promote conservation. The Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden’s Extinction Graveyard Exhibit is one way this is being accomplished. By educating zoo visitors about extinction, the value of environmental awareness and conservation is being presented.
Not all zoo exhibits must contain animals in order to educate. The Extinction Graveyard Exhibit emphasizes the finality of extinction; grave markers are an icon of death in our society and the theme of this exhibit is obvious to anyone approaching it.
Improvements to this exhibit, such as landscaping, are ongoing. In addition, the Education Committee is planning an endangered species exhibit, which will be located adjacent to the extinction graveyard exhibit.
A small group of committed docents can make a tangible contribution to their zoo. Through the efforts and contributions of the docent Education Committee and with the help and support of the zoo administration and personnel, we were able to build an exhibit that is attractive, educational, and inspiring.