Last weekend, Girl Scout Troop 1100 of Cannonsburg had a unique experience at the Cincinnati Zoo. They had the opportunity to attend the zoo’s “Sleep with the Manatees,” program to get up close and personal with some animals that they would not otherwise see in this part of the country.
The girls arrived Saturday evening at the zoo’s Education Center to begin their adventure. Their itinerary began with a lesson on biodiversity. They were separated into groups and got to pretend to be animals from Yellowstone National Park. They learned what happens to other animals and to the surrounding environment when one species is overhunted and goes extinct.
In this particular scenario, they learned that the river overran the trees as a result of the wolves disappearing from the national park. The elk population got out of control and ate all the trees. The trees died leaving no roots to hold back the river.
They were then introduced to some of the zoo’s animal ambassadors. They got to get up close and personal with a three-banded hairy armadillo, a 71- year-old box turtle, a large barn owl and a juvenile python. They formed a circle around each animal and the zoo staff to learn all about the environment in which each animal lives and what they eat. They were invited to touch each animal with the exception of the barn owl. Some opted out of the encounter with the large snake.
The girls were then treated to a night hike around the zoo, including seeing areas that are usually considered off limits to visitors. One of these areas was the kitchen where all of the food is prepared for the penguins and other birds at the zoo. Another they got to visit but not touch was the Science Center. The science center is where they keep all the information on all of the animals at the zoo including genetic material for species that have the possibility of going extinct. This information is shared with other zoos across the country.
After their hike, the girls and their families went into Manatee Springs where they spent the night. They were given a tour of the facility including the upper tank area where the manatees are fed a diet consisting of different kinds of lettuce to simulate the seaweed that they usually eat from the bottom of the ocean. They were given a lesson on why orphaned manatees may end up at the zoo including the four currently calling Manatee Springs their home. They were also told about dangers that manatees face in the wild - particularly boat propellers.
The families then bedded down with their air mattresses and bed rolls at the bottom of the manatee tank. Once the lights were turned off, there was a blue glow coming from the tank. At any time that any member of the group woke up during the night, they were able to look over and see the manatees swimming around and playing together.
The following morning after being served breakfast in the education center, the girls and their families were able to meet some more zoo animal ambassadors including two very large tortoises and a friendly nine-banded armadillo. The animals were let loose to run around the room and the children were invited to sit in the floor and pet them without zoo staff holding onto them.
Following the animal encounters, each family was able to explore the zoo on their own for the rest of the day. The girls and their families had a great time and each of the girls will be able to apply the experience to one of the badges that they will be working on in future meetings.