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Queens Zoo exhibit brings conservation message to life

The Queens Zoo has recently introduced new hands-on, interactive, play-and-learn exhibits for children collectively called the "Conservation Quest, centered on teaching valuable lessons on protecting our natural world.

The whole idea behind the exhibits is to teach children conservation and to care for their environment through what Tom Hurtubise, the zoo's education curator, explained is "kinesthetic learning," done by children carrying out action.

"Don't let the cat eat you," a sign warns in the exhibit "Migration Challenge," where a playground is set up to simulate the experience of a migrating bird. To start, children must "flap [their] wings to get up" or in this case climb a ladder.

Along the way, there are monkey bars that represent the Gulf of Mexico and a slide on which to "test your new wings." There are signs telling parents how to interact with their children and be part of the learning experience.

Many educators believe that moving around helps the child pay attention to the subject matter, especially if their best method of learning is physical. Learners can vary between audio, visual, tactile (feeling) and kinesthetic (moving).

The "Conservation Quest" exhibit "Saving Animals" features a mixture of detective work and climbing. Children are given secret decoders and enter the graveyard of extinct animals to discover which are extinct and which are still endangered and how they got to be that way.

They will find that the bald eagle is not extinct, but a mixture of hunting and DDT came close to doing just that. A rock climbing wall in the graveyard poses a question at the top. "Who can save these animals from extinction?" Flipping the panel on which the question is written reveals a mirror underneath it.

"When we get visitors to the zoo, in addition to providing a recreation and activity and giving them a nice outdoor experience as a family, we have an opportunity to convey information to people we think may be sympathetic to wildlife conservation," Queens Zoo Curator Scott Silver said.

One important quest concerns ways we can save Queens' environment. Children will discover in "Backyard Invaders" that the Asian Longhorned Beetle was introduced to Queens six years ago through the influx of green wood pallets from China.

These beetles are not a native species and are upsetting the order of things. Without any natural predators, they are running rampant. They eat broad leafed trees, their favorite being maple, destroying them in the process. Unfortunately, the only way to stop the invasive species from spreading is to put the whole tree through a wood chipper.

Through this exhibit children will learn what an invasive species is, why it is not good for the environment and how they can identify these beetles.

Another interactive experience initiative at the Queens Zoo is the narration of sea lion feeding time. Resident sea lions Butch, Phoenix and Howie are always fed publicly weekdays at 11:15 a.m. and weekends at 11:15 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Now, however, the feeding and physical examination will be accompanied by a presentation by zookeepers on the training processes and fun facts of sea lions. Male sea lions can weigh up to 700 pounds and be more than twice the size of a female.

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