Taking the Zoo into Your Community
Chaffee Zoological Gardens
It is a privilege and pleasure to share with you today some exciting things we are doing at the Chaffee Zoological Gardens in Fresno, California. I am sure that many of you will say to yourselves, “Yes, we do that at our zoo, too.” Wonderful!!! Sharing our successes and sometimes our failures is one sure way to have our zoo education programs grow in depth and outreach. It’s been my good fortune to be a docent at the Chaffee Zoo for twelve years, and particularly exciting to be on the outreach program to visit schools, hospitals, libraries, pre-schools, convalescent homes, rehabilitation hospitals, and even one or two birthday parties in homes. In this paper, I want to really push on getting out into the community and boldly advertising our zoo programs. You and I, who are excited about our zoos, are the best salespersons to spread the word. So, let’s think about RESTORATION OF BALANCE.
Restoration of the balance of nature is an ongoing process through education that never ends, done month by month, year by year, through public and private efforts. I am sure there are dozens of examples of successful ventures in this restoration process done by many zoos around our country. Today, I want to share with you an exciting experience that occurred at the Chaffee Zoological Gardens in Fresno, California. A member of the board of directors of the Sanger Environmental Fund, of Sanger, California, held a meeting of retired military officers at the Chaffee Zoo. During the time there, Garvin Hale, board member of the Sanger Environmental Fund, had a chance to see what was going on in the zoo and to talk with our Education Curator, Susan Karby. At the conclusion of the day, Garvin Hale was determined that the Sanger Environmental Fund should contribute a large sum of money to the Chaffee Zoo. He came
back to the next meeting of the Sanger Environmental Board and made a motion that $10,000 be given to the Chaffee Zoo. The board had a problem in that its money could not be spent outside the Sanger Unified School District–a provision in the legal settlement from a lawsuit back in 1989 against a business that wanted to build a co-generation plant in Sanger. After discussion, it was decided we could give money to the Education Department of Chaffee Zoo and bring many of the educational programs to the Sanger schools, library, and city parks and recreation department. After further discussion pro and con, a motion was made and seconded to make a grant of $5000 to the zoo to bring in these programs. It was my privilege as chairman of the board to work out the details with Susan Karby at the Chaffee Zoo, and this program started in March of this year. The grant money is available until used up.
So, a new education outreach program came into being: “ZOO 2-U.” The zoo education staff sat down together and came up with a three-hour program format for each school to work with. Program choices included “Out On A Limb?” and “Going to Toucan’s House” as choices for grades K-3. This provides two puppet performances per class or group. Our Chaffee Zoo Players will present two lively performances. Rainforest destruction is the concern of a little frog that loses his bromeliad home to bulldozers, leaving him out on a limb. Going to Toucan’s House gives students an entertaining way to learn about foods eaten by frugivores, herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores. Also for grades K-3 is
“Ready, Set–Zoo!” These sessions are thirty minutes in length and use biofacts (skulls, skins, bones, etc.) to explore the differences between birds, mammals, and reptiles, and what their diets consist of in the wild. Children learn how zookeepers take care of these animals and what they are fed at the zoo.
“Rainforests–Alive!” is the title for a forty-five minute presentation for grades 2 to 6. Here the students learn about layers of the rainforest, discovering the vast variety of insects, plants, and animals that make up its diversity. They learn about products found in their own homes that originated in the rainforest through product samples and tasting cups. “Zoo Talks,” for grades 2 through 12, include dynamic presentations by the zoo naturalist on selected topics, i.e., animal adaptations, rainforest ecosystems, rainforest canopy, or zoos and what zoos do.
We are fortunate to have on staff a marine biologist, a high school science teacher, and a woman who has had extensive experience with the California Fish and Game, and animal and bird counting, and has a background in zoology. All of these women can speak on various animal and environment subjects. Several of our docents have extensive backgrounds in animal life of many kinds. You will receive a list of some of the subject areas we presently are working with. If teachers request a special area, we accommodate them whenever possible. Live animals are often used as part of these presentations that are set aside for this purpose. Also, we have a large inventory of animal bones and skins. Whenever possible, we use a “hands-on” format with the bones and skins. The more interaction with children, the
What I have described is one small nonprofit organization with a mission of environmental education that made it possible for the zoo education programs to be widely disseminated in one city’s school district. Every city of any size (Sanger is about 18,000) has organizations that can be challenged with the idea of bringing environmental programs to its children and adults. How? Your docent organization can develop a Community Outreach Committee and actively go after civic and private groups and “information them” about what your zoo has to offer. I have borrowed the phrase “information them” from an elderly Russian man who lived next door to my family years ago. Whenever he wanted my sons to do something for him he would “information them.” I like the phrase!! Start with a group in your community where you have a contact already. Your docent group has members who know many people in the community, some of whom belong to groups with money–money they can spend on environmental education. And the most
natural place to begin this education is with our children, who must carry on the restoration of the balance of nature when we can no longer do so. Not that we should not also provide our programs for adults as well. I, personally, am convinced that the future is already here and our efforts must be shared with young and old. However, the younger minds can still be molded to care deeply about all life–human, animal, and plant. We can excite them about their role as leaders of the future and the importance each one of them can play in the restoration process. I counted seventy-two childcare centers in the telephone directory for Fresno, California, and under Associations I found sixty-five listings. Now, not all of these are good possibilities, but with a little effort we can find ourselves getting speaking engagements. A neat way to carry information with you is to create a kit with brochures of all the offerings your zoo has for people and have these out at speaking engagements. As I said, there are numerous other listings in the
phone book to help locate possible speaking engagements. I find that I cannot contain all of our zoo information in my head, and use printed materials a great deal. Also, printed materials give people something to carry away–something with your zoo’s name and phone number on it.
One way I have found exiting to make presentations about animals is to know three, four, or five “Gee Whizzes” or “A-has” about the animals that are being presented, so what I am saying is not only academic but also informative and fun. Interaction with your group is also an excellent way to find out what the individuals know. This had been a big part of the Zoo Mobile programs at Chaffee Zoo, where we take a bird, a mammal, and a reptile or tarantula on each presentation. The children help identify three characteristics about each group of animals. Sometimes they surprise me. One day, we had listed feathers, beak, and wings for birds. I then asked, “OK, all birds have wings. Can you tell me a bird that cannot fly?” A hand went up and a girl said, “A dead bird.”
In a first grade class, I was presenting the tarantula, I asked the children, “How many of you have skeletons?” All hands went up. “Where is your skeleton?” I asked. Answers included, “I left mine at home. I gave mine to my cousin.” One girl pointed to her body and said, “It’s in here.” Sometimes, questions will be asked that you may not know the answer to. This presents an excellent opportunity to admit you do not know the answer, but will find the answer and write a note to the individual asking the question. A third-grade girl asked me one day, “Why do snakes have forked tongues?” I did not have an answer for this, but took the girl’s name, wrote her a note with the answer, and congratulated her for such a fine question.
High schools have annual Career Days and invite many organizations to come for the day and make presentations to small groups of students. Sometimes each organization sets up a table in the cafeteria or gymnasium and students rotate around the area to visit each of the tables, ask questions, and pick up literature to carry away. This provides an excellent opportunity for zoo people to spread the word about what is happening at the zoo, have live animals with us to excite the students, have skins and biofacts for students to touch, and have handouts of zoo information. I have attended three of these Career Days and actually taken the job descriptions for the various positions at our zoo. This year, in March, I attended a career day and my set-up was in one room, so I didn’t have the noise of other people in a gymnasium.
Students interested in zoo employment possibilities came to this room. The teacher took attendance and I talked for forty-five minutes about different zoo positions, responsibilities, and salaries. I was also asked to bring some live animals and talk a bit about these, so I took a Blue Streaked Lory and a tarantula. Of course, the live animals held the students’ attention–perhaps better than my speech on zoo positions! There were some good questions at the end of each class period. Here is a neat opportunity to plant zoo ideas in questioning minds as young people are thinking about future careers. These career days usually consume from four to six hours and go over the lunch hour, so a free lunch is part of your day. This provides you a chance to meet other people who are environmentally interested in zoos, animals, air and water pollution, etc. New contacts are made for your zoo.
Another exciting way to get your zoo known in the community is to have school days at the zoo. Develop a schedule with a school so an entire class comes to the zoo for a day or week and carries on the normal day’s teaching schedule in zoo classrooms. Special presentations about animals and conservation can be worked in with the normal schedule with zoo staff presenting special topics and using biofacts and live animals to interact with the children. Teachers have a chance to see the various programs your zoo has to offer, thus enhancing your upcoming summer programs or other special emphasis. A real neat spin-off of this is gaining some new docents during the year. The schools can arrange bus schedules to bring the class in the morning and pick them up at the close of your program or the teaching day. School days can be initiated by visits to selected schoolteacher meetings and sharing with the staff what the possibilities
are. As you open these opportunities, you must be flexible and accommodate the class needs and school schedules.
Flexibility is a must, as you well know in dealing with people.
A new program has just been developed at Chaffee Zoo that involves our zoo staff and one of the nearby colleges. In this case, the program begins in the community, and then comes to the Chaffee Zoo. Jody Bertolucci, zoo staff education member, has been conducting teacher education courses at Fresno Pacific University in environmental education, and her classes have been consistently popular and well attended. Fresno Pacific University wants to provide an on-campus experience for grade school students, to give them a feel of what college is all about. So, a three-week program has been designed to bring in students from some of the outlying schools–schools outside of the Fresno City geographical area. (Fresno’s population is presently approximately 460,900.) The first week of this on-campus experience will be spent learning computer technology with the college staff providing the instruction. The second week is one of science and math. The college had no staff prepared to do this kind of instruction and called on
Jody to design a program for the children. I will come back to this second week with a detailed description in a moment. The second Friday, we would have the students back on the university campus working on a web page. The third week was one of fine arts, including literature, art, and music with the college staff in charge again. Now, let me unwrap the second week for you.
The program is designed for grades 3 through 5 in one learning experience, and grades 6 through 8 in another adventure. Let’s look at the 3 to 5 group first. The students will participate in the exploration of the world’s major biomes. The concentration of the week will focus on the grasslands of the world, specifically the African savanna, the American prairie, and the Central Valley of California. The students will study the interaction of plants, animals, and land formations through a study of the earth, life, and physical science. Comparisons and contrasts between each ecosystem will be addressed through inquiry and hands-on participation. In teams, the students will work to combine problem solving, technology, research, and hands-on exploration of the zoo’s extensive grassland animal collection, and to create web pages that reflect their understanding of the grassland biome.
Here are the activities and topics included in this program for grades 3 through 5. Biomes will be introduced by graphing the average monthly rainfall and temperatures for different cities located in the savanna, prairie, tundra, and North American desert, and then graphing Fresno to compare and decide which biome Fresno is closest to. They discover Fresno is close to a prairie. They then explore the following questions: What is a grassland? Where are grasslands located on the earth? What are the parts of a grass? What is a grass and how tall can it grow? African savannas are explored by looking at how all the herbivores get along on the grasslands (seasonality–of the grasses, how animals’ preference for specific grasses helps reduce competition, and migration). They play a variety of different predator/prey games to learn about the different adaptations. Then they construct an African savanna food web. North American prairies are introduced by using Sioux Indian pictographs. Students decipher the story being
told through the pictographs to find out about the people, plants, animals, landforms, and seasons. They then explore the role fire plays in the grasslands. Using the song “Home on the Range,” the students try to put together a prairie food web. Then they look at the San Joaquin Valley grasslands, and special animal guests (red tail hawk, great horned owl) visit the students. These birds are part of our raptor collection. Once the zoo’s bird show starts in the spring, the students keep track of all the birds in the show. After seeing the bird show, the students use a variety of books, CD-ROMs, and the Internet to figure out which birds come from grassland areas.
Now let me lay out the program for grades 6 through 8. These students will approach proportional reasoning as a unifying theme that encompasses many mathematical subjects (ratios, proportions, percents, scale, etc.) Working as a team, the students will learn about the physical, behavioral, and physiological adaptations that allow animals to survive. Applying their understanding of these adaptations, students will compare their own anatomical proportions to the proportions of the zoo’s animals and animals’ biofacts. In addition, the incorporation of zoo nutrition and analytical reasoning will be used to simulate the keeping and feeding of the zoo’s collection. The design of a web page
reflecting the understanding of biological principles, mathematical reasoning, and computer technology will conclude the week.
Activities to engage the students’ energy and imagination begin by comparing how humans use their hands with the other primates of the zoo. In the classroom, they pass items back and forth using different finger combinations–they come to understand that the thumb is very useful to us! Then we meet a keeper in the zoo who throws a variety of items into the chimp, siamang, and lemur exhibits to see if these animals use their thumbs (and the hands in general) and how these adaptations help the animals to survive. “All In A Day’s Keep” looks at the duties of the zoo’s carnivore keeper, and the students have to figure out her schedule for the day, and then determine the percentage of her day spent working with the different groups of animals (cats, tigers, lion, leopard, dogs, wolves, fennec fox, bears, pennipeds) and they graph this on the computer. “Seal-A-Meal” looks at the keeper’s weekly log entries, and they have to figure out how much fish to feed the sea lions, and then, using the amount of fish fed, determine the amount of supplements the animals need (vitamin E, thiamin, salt). Then they make the actual salt tablets and weigh them for accuracy and give them to the keepers. In “Foot-to-Height Ratio,” students measure the circumference of their foot and divide by their height to see how many times around their foot is equal to their height. (They usually predict something like 5 to 10 times around their foot equals their height but it’s actually around 2.8 times). Then they predict what the ratio will be for the elephants! They get to go behind the scenes of the elephants’ enclosure and Jody measures the circumference of Tusko’s foot, and we teach them how to figure the height of the elephant by using trigonometry. The students use ten to fifteen animal skulls and measure the angle of vision of each animal. They figure out which ones are predators and which are prey by using these angles. They calculate the depth perception of each animal (the overlap of each eye’s field of vision) and the students discover predators have a greater overlap or greater depth perception, and we talk about the reasons for this. Burleigh Lockwood, another of our staff, puts out her homologous structures (all the arm bones of a variety of animals). The children measure different bones and try to determine which animas are runners, diggers, or chasers. They learn that by looking at the ratio between the length of the carpals and metacarpals and the entire arm length, they can figure this out.
As I indicated earlier in this presentation, new possibilities for outreach into the community developed during the writing of this paper. In conclusion, let me say that each of us must be a bold, strong advocate for our zoo. With money increasingly hard to come by, people must hear about the wonderful things zoos do, and the programs of education we have to offer. While the media can do some of the publicity, the most powerful public relations comes from you and me. We are the prime agents to RESTORE THE BALANCE. So let’s ZOO it!!