Planned Saturday activities to engage families with African culture, animals
By Chris Fish
MELBOURNE -- For next year's 20th anniversary, the Brevard Zoo wants to give its guest something different.
In March 2014, the Brevard Zoo will open a new exhibit, featuring meerkats; animal organizers describe the species as "sociable" and entertaining.
"We don't have any groups of large active, social mammals, but meerkats are popular because of their social lives," said Keith Winsten, Brevard Zoo's executive director. "We know they are one of the most popular animals because they are cool and are always doing things."
To fund this $400,000 project, organizers said the zoo received a generous $162,500 gift from PNC Bank, a division of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.
Along with this donation, PNC Bank will host a series of Saturday morning workshops entitled "PNC Brings the Zoo to You!"
At these Saturday events, organizers said that local bank branches will serve as a preview for the exhibit by introducing children to small African animals, such as a ball python, African pygmy hedgehog, African gray parrot and African Sudan plated lizard.
"PNC recognizes the importance of nature and wildlife in the education of young children," said Craig Grant, PNC regional president of eastern Florida, in a press release. "By letting our youngest citizens interact in unique educational activities, where they can learn about wildlife from across the planet, we help them understand the importance of our relationship with animals and the cycle of life."
Mr. Winsten said these periodic Saturday sessions will provide families with an opportunity to create meerkat puppets, learn more about the animals and establish a relationship with wildlife and nature.
"This is really different for us," he said. "Because of the anniversary, we want to engage our guests. Those who come to the workshop and make puppets can come in next year, because kids get in free with a puppet. We really love the partnership with PNC Bank and using these branches to educate about meerkats."
Mr. Winsten said construction for the new exhibit will being in June and end in January of 2014.
"We are building sort of in the middle of the zoo," he said. "When we do construction, we want to ensure that it doesn't interfere with the rest of our exhibits."
Organizers said the zoo's African rock python will be integrated in the new meerkat exhibit to offer guests multiple views of the meerkats.
The zoo also plans to establish an interactive termite mound for children where they can crawl into the exhibit and watch the meerkats passing through acrylic tubes. Also, guests visiting the Nyami River Lodge will have their own viewing area.
Organizers said the Brevard Zoo is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquarium Community and the Species Survival Plan coordinator to choose meerkats best suited for the exhibit since meerkats are not easily introduced to one another.
Careful planning is needed to ensure establishing a healthy clan or mob, organizers said.
For more information about the exhibit and the outreach activities planned, visit Brevardzoo.org.