This summer, some families will follow elephants in Kenya or watch monkeys swing through the jungles of Costa Rica. But the Tennessee Aquarium wants you to realize some of the most interesting animals can be found much closer.
Every day from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., a menagerie of feathered, scaled and furry friends parade through the Aquarium's newest exhibit, Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari, located in the lower lobby of the River Journey building. Organizers hope the display will act as a springboard for kids (and parents) to learn more about the animals in their own backyards.
"The experience opens the door for a new level of understanding of these species that can only happen in face-to-face interaction," says Thom Benson, communications manager for the Aquarium.
With more than 60 animals in rotation, visitors can expect to meet three animals in a 30-minute time frame. An avian stage show takes place twice an hour, showcasing anything from a Eurasian owl - one of the largest owl species in the world - to an African gray parrot who answers math problems. There are also opportunities to touch some of the animals, including a legless lizard, called a scheltopusik, an African pygmy hedgehog or a sable rabbit.
With a dynamic exhibit, the Aquarium seeks to attract new members who will come again and again, says Benson. Intermingled with the exotics are many native species, such as the Eastern screech owl or the cornsnake, whose job is to open people's mind to the role of non-poisonous snakes in our environment.
The expectation is that families will begin to notice the animals they share a yard with and even take steps to invite more wildlife into their lives. Many people have a bird feeder or bath, but things such as a wood pile or water garden can attract lesser appreciated species such as turtles, frogs or salamanders.
"Reptiles and amphibians are an integral part of an ecosystem in balance," says Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests. "Whether it's a snake eating rodents, a box turtle eating slugs or frogs and lizards eating bugs, they're doing a big job day in and day out without lawn chemicals that are toxic to people and pets."
Visit the Aquarium's website (www.TNaqua.org) to learn how to convert your lawn into a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.
Coordinated in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, the exhibit brings to life NWF's iconic raccoon mascot, Ranger Rick, for the first time in a museum setting. To do so, the Aquarium enlisted the services of Natural Encounters Incorporated, a premiere animal training and presentation company.
The exhibit highlights the Aquarium and NWF's mission to teach people to care not only for animals in their backyard, but also those half a world away. For example, the current Aquarium IMAX film, "Born to Be Wild" highlights how over consumption of palm oil is endangering the habitat of orangutans in Indonesia.
"We hope to call to people's attention that there are things they can do to reduce their impact on all animals, even if they live in a different part of the world," says Benson.