How To Use Your Senses To Interpret
Detroit Zoological Institute, Detroit, MI
In the beginning there was a new docent and her mentor. While in the docent office she was familiarizing me with the paperwork and where things are; I asked what Outreaches were and how to sign up for them. After going through the Outreach folder we found one for Upshaw Institute for the Blind. It was a weekend Festival they do every year. Let’s do this one. This should be a challenge. What would we bring? Biofacts? Which ones? How do we explain them? Let me put on a blindfold and go through the Biofact room with you. So, in we go. What an experience! We later tried it on the main zoo grounds. What a scarier experience. To make a long story short; the Outreach was a success and then the teachers and staff asked why they could not bring students to the zoo? It would be good training for them to work on their skills. One of the staff at Upshaw has a zoo membership and her husband is fully blind. With a lot of coaching, researching and walkthroughs we came up with an outline (see handed out notes). What a success. I got just as excited as the students and we even made it to the Arctic Ring of Life tunnel to see if they could notice the seals and bears swimming around them. They could and I was moved to tears but that is another story.
What was so different about this tour than others? I had to use all of my descriptive skills to paint a picture in my visitor’s mind of what was around them. That basically is the How I Learned to Use all of my senses to interpret exhibits throughout the park. Let’s talk about why I picked the National Amphibian Conservation Center (NACC) as the test and example of how to do this.
Discuss NACC Concepts
In 2002, the American Zoological Association awarded the Detroit Zoological Institute with an Exhibit Award for the NACC. What an honor. We beat out the Mega-charismatic Vertebrates! This exhibit also uses a number of different types of displays. In 1997, DZI intensified its commitment to amphibian conservation with the inception of the National Amphibian Conservation Center (NACC), the first facility in the world designed, constructed, and interpreted specifically for amphibians. Set in a 2-acre resurrected Michigan wetland, this 12,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to saving amphibians and shaping public attitude toward these threatened and valuable animals. Nearly half the facility is off-exhibit, comprising holding and breeding rooms, offices, and research space.
Five staff members take care of the day-to-day needs of the animals and to support breeding and research programs. Opened to the public in June of 2000, the facility currently houses around 65 species of amphibians and upwards of 1300 individuals.
The goals of the NACC are:
1. To educate. The NACC presents millions of visitors and students with live animals and exhibits to inspire a sense of appreciation and public stewardship for amphibians and their habitats. Through interpretive graphics in and around the building and distance-learning programs, the NACC strives to shape public attitudes and provide creative ways for citizens to understand and take responsibility for these animals and the environment.
2. To save. The NACC provides an ex-situ site for the maintenance and breeding of rare and endangered amphibians to complement in-situ conservation programs. The center provides physical space for maintaining genetic reservoirs of endangered species in the event that wild populations become extinct, and to hold wild animals and their offspring until a time when they can be reintroduced into their native habitats or transferred to other zoo conservation programs. Discussions are currently underway with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically to provide an off-exhibit addition to the building for current and future work with USFWS endangered or threatened species.
3. To study. The NACC serves as a resource for academic, governmental, and other conservation-oriented amphibian biologists from around the world by providing a controlled environment for amphibian observation and non-invasive research on all aspects of biology, from basic husbandry requirements to reproductive behavior and embryology/development. An endowed fund to support Visiting Scholars is also being established to support top researchers from around the world for three-month terms to complement the continuous research programs of permanent staff. In addition, Froglog, the international publication of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force, is now published under the auspices of DZI.
4. To pioneer. The NACC brings together cutting-edge techniques of education, exhibition, conservation, and research, providing a model for future conservation facilities around the country and the world.
Families of Amphibians – What is an Amphibian? Amphibian comes from the Greek words meaning, “living a double life”. These animals go from eggs being laid into water, to animals that live in moist ground, with some even living in the dessert. This is called metamorphism.
There are three orders within the class Amphibia; Frogs and toads (Anura); Salamanders and newts Caudata);
and Caecilians (Gymnophiona).
Habitat Study – Lets’ Explore the Amphibian World.
Using models of different amphibians and my fellow Detroit Zoo Docents, we will have some participants blindfold themselves and have someone else guide they to a mock up of habitat with plastic amphibians to describe and find. This activity lasts about 20 minutes.
Discussion and Sharing – Discuss about how the activity went and how your zoo has handled visitors with physical or challenge.
Conclusion I have found that other senses have been heightened and by discussing this with the visitors, I experience the zoo and its inhabitations in a very different way.