'Explore the Wild'
This interactive one-of-a-kind outdoor science park which the National Science Foundation has called a "national model" brings the immersive qualities of the zoo experience in line with inquiry-based learning found in the science center setting. "Explore the Wild" and another upcoming exhibit, "Catch the Wind" (opening Sept. 2) meld these two approaches, creating an important new model for outdoor science education.
Major capital support was provided by the County of Durham and the National Science Foundation. Major operating and experience enhancement support was provided by the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.
"This pioneering science experience is an historic undertaking for the museum that puts our philosophy of inquiry-based learning into the great outdoors," said Barry Van Deman, museum president and CEO. "'Explore the Wild' promises visitors of all ages an exciting rendezvous with animals in a natural setting. It's a learning method that will inspire children, families, teachers and lifelong learners to better comprehend both the subtle and dramatic character of our natural world. We are very grateful to the National Science Foundation, the citizens of Durham County and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation for helping us bring this new approach to science discovery to the public."
"Explore the Wild" features five major outdoor learning components:
Embark on an exploration through the twists and turns of an impressive 750-foot boardwalk. Steer an infrared camera to detect the surprising differences of the countless microclimates found in the surrounding landscape and learn how these variances determine the life forms that survive in the wetland. Examine preserved tracks of a goose, a turtle, an opossum and others.
Look over the preserved natural beauty of a quarry that features black bears, red wolves and lemurs. Waterfalls and streams provide the ambient sound of water. Zoom cameras bring visitors close up to these amazing animals, their behavior and habitat.
Black Bear Yard
The black bear (Ursus americanus) is an integral and prominent part of North Carolina's cultural, historic and natural heritage ---the only bear species found in the state.
Today, black bears occupy only approximately 1,900 square miles of their historic range of over 48,000 square miles. There are only about 4,000 in the wild in North Carolina where more than 100,000 once roamed.
"Explore the Wild's" bear yard will be home for up to five American black bears -- a mammal population that has graced the museum for many years.
The Black Bear Yard features a towering, cascading waterfall, deadfall trees for climbing, and rock formations with unobstructed views of the black bears at play in a beautiful natural setting like that found in the wild.
Visitors can interact with the bears using zoom cameras.
Interactive kiosks explain their habitat, habits, breeding and nutritional needs and showcase bear biologists -- their careers, tools and skills. Visitors can also listen to bear sounds and match them to the situation (mother and cub or two males fighting over territory).
A star museum attraction, Virginia, an orphaned bear cub the museum adopted in May 2005, will reappear for visitors to enjoy at "Explore the Wild" and will be living in the bear yard with her adult and juvenile companions.
"We are very excited about this habitat," said Sherry Samuels, the museum animal director. "The bears will have the opportunity to exhibit their natural behaviors, from wading in a stream to digging through rocks or dirt and climbing trees. It's hard to find an environment like this in zoos and other captive settings."
Red Wolf Habitat
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the most endangered animals in the world, a shy species that once roamed throughout the Southeastern United States as a top predator. By 1970, the entire population of red wolves was believed to be less than 17 in the wild.
The Museum of Life and Science is a member of a national network that houses red wolves as part of the Species Survival Plan, supervised by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
The red wolf habitat in "Explore the Wild" features a completely redesigned outdoor enclosure for three brothers born this year at the North Carolina Zoological Park.
The exhibit features a stream with a waterfall and wolf dens with cameras so visitors can catch close-up glimpses of the animals.
A rock quarry wall is a naturalistic backdrop for the exhibit, not only for its aesthetic appeal, but also to provide the wolves with vertical challenges.
The Museum of Life and Science's first red wolf arrived in November 1992, followed by a litter of pups in May 1993. A second litter of pups was born here in April 2002.
As of August 2005, approximately 100 red wolves roam wild; another 167 individuals live at 38 captive breeding facilities such as zoos and museums across the country, including the Museum of Life and Science.
Nine lemurs -- three of each of the following species: collared brown (Eulemur fulvus collaris), ring-tailed (Lemur catta) and red ruffed (Varecia variegata rubra) -- roam an interactive playground featuring roots, large branches and tall trees.
During cold months, these unusual mammals will be housed in a unique indoor enclosure featuring a large viewing window.
The Lemur Playground and House will feature a computer kiosk that identifies the lemurs' habits, habitats and social behaviors and introduces lemur biologists.
A zoom camera provides close-up views of these highly active, playful animals brought to the museum on loan from the Duke University Primate Center, the primates will enjoy a public face at the museum.
Lemurs are prosimians, or primitive primates. They are social animals with long limbs, flexible toes, fingers and long noses and are found only on Madagascar and the Comoros Islands.
There are more than 60 species/sub species of lemurs, and this number is constantly changing as new species are being discovered.
All species are on the endangered list.
Habitat loss is the main threat to lemurs today, as people clear their native forests for farm land. Lemurs play an important role in the ecology of Madagascar and the Comoro Islands because they disperse seeds from the fruit they eat. These seeds can then grow into new plants, which is important because the forests of Madagascar are being destroyed at a high rate.
Wetlands are areas where the frequent and prolonged presence of water at or near the soil surface drives the natural system that forms the kind of soils that develop, the plants that grow and the fish and wildlife communities that use the habitat.
Swamps, marshes and bogs are well-recognized wetlands. Field biologists recognize the importance of wetlands -- they filter out harmful pesticides and nutrients that protect the water quality downstream, absorb large downpours and slowly leak the water back out, saving the waterways downstream from erosion and providing a home for plants and animals (often endangered).
Walk onto the museum's Wetland deck and look out over an immense wetland bordered by a rich forest and rock walls. This high activity area explores the history of the mining activity that created the quarry pit that is now home to this wetland. It also teaches about the wildlife and plant life supported by wetland habitats.
"This is a unique opportunity to experience and learn about the biological significance of wetlands in a natural outdoor interactive science park. With cooperation from the Duke University Wetlands Center, this is a 'one of a kind' exhibit," said Don Simonet, the Museum's Bayer CropScience Fellow.
Visitors can pump live samples of wetland water to identify the microscopic life teeming in the wetland or build and experiment in the stream table to learn about runoff. Duck feet and tadpole interactives illustrate methods used by wetland life for getting around.
Additional "Explore the Wild Exhibit" features include a grand entryway, visitor pavilion and comfort station, landscaped areas and benches throughout the six-acre exhibit campus. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible, and interactives with visual components include an audio descriptive label for visually impaired visitors to use.
The Museum of Life and Science outdoor expansion is the culmination of a long-range master plan that provides an intellectually rich, multi-generational experience for an estimated 275,000 or more annual visitors.
The master plan's first element was "Magic Wings Butterfly House," completed in 1999. The remaining three components are "Explore the Wild" and "Catch the Wind" and the newly designed Dinosaur Trail (opening in 2007).
The Museum of Life and Science's mission is to create a place of lifelong learning where young children to senior citizens embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community and their world.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
General admission is $9.50 for adults, and $7.50 for children ages 3-12. Seniors 65 and over are admitted for $8.50, and children ages 2 and under are admitted free.
The museum is located at 433 Murray Ave., Durham. For information, call 919-220-5429 or visit www.ncmls.org.
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