Rae Leah Sidwell
Henry Doorly Zoo
Campouts have been held for 16 years at Henry Doorly Zoo. They began with a single troop of Girl Scouts experiencing an overnight adventure at the Zoo. The troop was lead by Linda Kunze, who was one of the Zoo’s Education Staff members. Linda had cajoled Noni Isaac into helping with the overnight. The overnight was held in the old aquarium. The evening started off with Linda and Noni cooking hot dogs in an electric skillet on the floor of the aquarium. Several activities centered on biofacts were presented with the girls as active participants. A night walk through the Zoo was a main feature. Lights out found the girls spread throughout the aquarium in their sleeping bags while Linda and Noni elected to sleep on the picnic tables on the adjacent deck. The reason for the outside elevation was the spotting of several rats in the vicinity.
In 1985, the Henry Doorly Zoo Education Department was expected to pay for itself, salaries included. The idea of campouts seemed to be a feasible way to raise money while reaching kids through a fun educational experience. That first year two campouts were held. In 1999 we had about 135 campouts reaching 6,645 campers and 1,917 chaperones. Campouts are held during the months of March through November.
Our campout guidelines follow the American Camping Association guidelines although we are not members. Our camp director is Steve Daughtrey, a member of the Education Staff. He keeps all campout leaders informed of the guidelines through written or verbal communications.
The campout leaders are docents, teachers, college students, or other adults interested in working with youth. They are considered seasonal, part-time personnel of the zoo. Applications are submitted, reviewed and personal interviews conducted. Those selected are then screened with background checks, and are subject to drug testing.
We also have docents who volunteer to help with campouts from 6:00 P.M. until about 11:00 P.M. These helpers are not paid but receive six educational credit hours. The docents help set up the program, which consists of two educational games and a craft. They also lead a portion of the group on the “Night Hike,” and help set out the juice for snack time. We also have Zoo Aides that assist the leaders. Zoo Aides are young volunteers from the age of 1421, active in our Zoo Aide Program, which is a branch of the Explorer Boy Scout Pack sponsored by the Zoo. The Zoo Aides may help with any of the activities, but cannot lead a “Night Hike.”
Leaders submit a written note a month in advance informing Steve Daughtrey of the dates they will not be available. Steve then makes up the schedule, assigning leaders according to the number of campers registered for each campout. Buildings are assigned according to the designated capacity. We have one leader for a group up to 45, two leaders for a group up to 65, and three leaders for groups up to 120.
At present we use our educational auditorium in the lower floor of the Lied Jungle building, the Birthday House and the Aquarium. The auditorium can facilitate up to 100 people, the Birthday House can facilitate up to 60 people, and the Aquarium can facilitate up to 65 people. These numbers include the campers plus one adult chaperone per every four campers. Some groups come with one chaperone for every camper by their choice. All of these facilities have access to restrooms, drinking fountains, electricity, and air conditioning. The campers and chaperones sleep on the floor unless they provide their own cots or air mattresses. No shower facilities are provided.
The themes are designated yearly by the Education Department. The campout leaders meet with Steve Daughtrey and discuss their input into the coming year’s activities and program. In past years we have had two or three themes the group could choose from upon registration. This year we have one theme, “Oceans.”
A Zoo version of Jeopardy, focusing on the theme chosen, has been a favorite game for many years. We change the questions yearly according to the theme. We have questions from easy to hard to accommodate the varying age levels we have.
We adapted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” to “Who Wants to Be a Marine Biologist?” We have some fun trivia questions, some educational questions, and then some questions that only the adults may know due to the dated material. This gives the kids a chance to answer some of the questions and to use their lifelines involving the adults. It has been a great success.
We use teams rather than individuals answering the questions. The team chooses a team spokesperson who must confer with the group and give the group’s answer in response to the question asked. This prevents 25 kids from shouting out individual answers and reinforces group cooperation. In Jeopardy, we do not subtract points for missed answers. If the missed answer was not true or false the next team has a chance to steal the question. In “Who Wants to Be a Marine Biologist?” we again use teams. We rotate the questions amongst the teams and if an answer is wrong, the team does not advance toward the goal.
We also have a simple craft the campers can make and take home. We allow about 15 minutes to do the craft. Chaperones may be asked to help the younger campers. All the reservations are made through our Education Department. Reservations for schools open in December and for other groups the first working day in January. At the time of booking a campout we need the name of the organization; a contact person including address, phone number and cell phone number if available; date; and estimated number of campers and chaperones. We require a $100 deposit to be mailed in as soon as possible after making the reservation. As of this year we require the group to finalize the number of people attending and require prepayment. If total numbers of participants vary at the actual camp date, refunds or billing adjustments are handled through the Education Department. A minimum of 25 participants is required to book a campout. We do make exceptions for some groups at the discretion of the Education Department, although they must pay for the minimum 25 participants.
We charge $15 per individual for school groups including chaperones above the required one chaperone per every four campers. Other groups are charged $17 per individual including chaperones above the required one chaperone per every four campers.
We also offer a reduced price of $3.50 per campout participant if a group of 25 or more wishes to attend the Zoo Imax in conjunction with the campout. They have a choice of a 5:00 P.M. or 10:00 A.M. showing.
The campout participants may remain on the grounds as long as they wish at the conclusion of the campout at 9:00 A.M.
The camp director notifies the group ten days to two weeks prior to the campout for final verification of number of participants, broken down into campers and chaperones. Any special needs or arrangements are addressed at this time and written on the reservation sheet for reference by the camp director and leader of that specific campout.
It is 6:00 P.M. and the campout leaders have all assembled in the Education Office foyer. An Education Staff member is present to give last-minute updates and answer questions. Each leader checks his or her gray file box for the information regarding his/her camp out. They check the cart set up for their group, checking to make sure supplies and equipment are on hand for the number of campers they are scheduled to have, noting the name of the group and the contact person. They assemble the helpers assigned to them along with the required supplies and equipment and go to their assigned building. They check the facility to make sure it is set up to accommodate their group. They set up the craft and games. Radio checks are conducted to make sure that all radios are working and on the same channel. Every zoo person present has a radio that allows each to be in contact with the other campout workers. One person has the main zoo radio that allows communication with security.
We meet the campers at the South Employees Gate at 6:50 P.M. Cars are parked inside the zoo fenced area, campers unload their equipment, camp leaders direct campers into the individual groups according to the buildings assigned and check with the contact person to make sure that their group is all there. The campers carry their personal belongings about a quarter of a mile up giraffe hill to one of the assigned buildings. The groups furnish their own evening snack and breakfast food while the zoo furnishes juice. If there are large groups with several heavy coolers, each main group is allowed one vehicle to be driven up the hill with the food, deliver the food, and then returning to the parking area. Campers must carry their personal belongs from the parking area to the building.
Upon arrival in the building, the campers place their belongings along the walls of the area, leaving the center area and around the tables open for activities. Introduction of the zoo workers is accomplished, and a welcome to the zoo is presented. A brief discussion of safety rules and a synopsis of the evening’s events is given.
The group is broken into teams to play the games. If it is a large group and we have enough helpers, we break them into three groups and rotate them through each of the games and craft. This allows each camper more opportunity to participate more readily.
About 9:00 P.M. we begin the “Night Hike.” Bathrooms are closed and locked on the zoo grounds at night so a necessary bathroom break is scheduled prior to the hike. We give them time to gather flashlights and jackets if needed, discuss flashlight etiquette, remind them to stay in their group, as there are other groups on the grounds at the same time, and give the ever-necessary reminder to stay behind the group leader and not climb on the rocks. We are on the grounds for approximately one and one half hours. We cover a major portion of our 110-acre zoo grounds, talking about the animals in general and answering questions. We do go into our giraffe complex, gorilla building, and orangutan building. We see nocturnal animals and learn to respect the animals that are sleeping. We look for non-zoo animals
such as Brown Bats and an occasional raccoon, opossum, and owls. We search the upper branches of specific trees for a roosting peacock. We have a beautiful “Garden of the Senses” the kids can walk through and use their flashlights to explore the garden, multiple statues, and water features.
We return to the assigned building at about 10:30 P.M. We set out the juice and campers can assemble their own snacks. We set up the video equipment and if they brought a movie set it up to play. (We do have movies available if they forgot to bring one.) We cannot show Disney films owned by the zoo due to copyright regulations since we charge for the campouts. If the group brings their own Disney film they may watch it.
Lights out is at the end of the movie or at the discretion of the group sponsor! We do not become involved in any disciplinary action, but refer the problem to a group sponsor. We will ask the kids not to run or push each other, but anything else we defer to their chaperone. We ask that a chaperone remain awake while any of the kids are still awake. This assures that the chaperones are more apt to enforce quiet after lights out!
When we have the movie set up, the staff breaks for some quiet time away from the kids. If we are leaving the building, we leave a radio with the chaperones and instruct them how to reach us. We gather in the docent room in the Education Department. Snacks are provided by the Education Department or we bring our own. At this time the docents assisting the leader leave and the leader or leaders remain overnight. Zoo Aides are required to remain overnight unless prior arrangements have been approved with their parents.
We require that the leader sleep in the same building with the campers, but can select an area away from the campers. Doors must be left open and the group sponsor must be informed where the leader is sleeping.
Wake-up call is between 6 and 6:30 A.M., depending on the size of the group and the building they are using. They get dressed, roll sleeping bags, eat breakfast, assist in the clean up and at 7:00 A.M. drivers walk down as a group to the parking area, retrieve the vehicles, go out of the fenced area and come to the main gate of the Zoo. We meet them there with the kids and all their belongings, load the cars, and have the drivers park in the main visitor parking area. We all gather at “Doorly’s Pride,” a bronze stature of a lion pride just inside the zoo gates. We go over hiking rules again, emphasizing increased traffic in the morning due to the keeper activity.
We again hike the majority of the zoo grounds, this time in the daylight, concentrating on the animals that were asleep the night before. We try to manage to make it to the sea lion pavilion by 8:00 A.M. to observe the sea lion feeding. Through the kindness of our Keepers in the Cat Complex, they have arranged their morning routine so that we can go inside the complex and observe those animals. If we are lucky we may catch them with one of the corridor entrances open to the back cages and if we are very quiet we can watch them from the corridor as they tend to those animals. This allows the kids to see that there are many different areas for the animals than what they see on display. We walk through the viewing area of our nursery to check if there are any babies or animals on display. We arrive at the
Aquarium at approximately 9:00 A.M. We bid our good-byes and they can explore the zoo on their own as their time permits.
It’s then back to the Education Building, to check that everything was cleaned up and relay, verbally and written, any pertinent information to the Education Staff. Then it is home for a nap or a busy day’s schedule.
I love the campouts because you have an entire evening to interact with the kids rather than an hour or two with classes and tours. There is downtime for the kids to seek you out with their individual questions and statements. I learn a lot from the kids. It is such a wonder to see the zoo for the first time through a child’s eyes that has never been to the zoo before. We get a lot of kids from out of state Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. Zoos in general are not available to them in those areas and this is a new experience to many of them. Add the nocturnal portion and it is a special experience that the majority of zoo visitors do not have the privilege of doing. As one of our docents stated, “It is personal satisfaction credits.” In my book campouts really add up those credits.
Just recently one of my groups happened to be by the giraffe complex as they let the giraffes out for the day. The giraffes were eager to be out in the fresh air and stretch their legs. They poked their heads out the door and behold, there were people up on the hill where they shouldn’t be that early in the morning. The first giraffe stopped and hesitantly looked around, the next one just brazenly walked out into the middle of the runway, the next two were the yearlings and they came as a duo watching us all the way, but still moving forward until the one in the walkway became hesitant and tried to turn around to return to the safety of the building. I quietly told my group we needed to move on so that the giraffes would feel comfortable coming out. The excitement in the kids and adults comments was worth the night spent away from home on a very small cot.
I had the privilege to be a co-leader for our first outdoor campout this year in June. It was a group of families. It was great to see family units play together. We had 31 participants, consisting of 11 families. The kids ranged from four years to eight years of age with one lone teenager. We had one single dad with two kids and a unit consisting of mom and grandmother with the kids. Each family brought its own tent and pitched them in the primate valley beside the gorilla complex. We did use a van to transport the tents, equipment, supplies, and personal belongings from the parking area to the campsite. The Zoo provided the food for snacks and breakfast inclusive in the registration fee. We made a birdhouse for the craft and did not play games. We took a “Night Hike” and had planned to do some stargazing, but we had cloud cover. The general consensus voiced by staff and participants was the campout was a great success.