Virtually Wondrous

Virtually Wondrous

Museum and aquarium WOW visitors with online offerings

Just like museums and aquariums all over the world, the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo., has been shuttered because of covid-19. And just like staff at those museums and aquariums all over the world, the critter keepers at WOW have been working to make sure the resident animals are safe, well, happy and entertained while the rest of the staff works to keep virtual visitors in touch.

“Our team works hard each day to give the animals the highest possible care so their lives are not affected by the quarantine,” says Shawn Strycula, assistant curator for birds and mammals. “Our team has done a great job of stepping up during challenging times to make sure all of our 35,000 animals continue to receive all of the care and interaction they are used to, even when the aquarium is closed.”

One way to do that was to take some of the animals on walk-about to see some of the other animals. Howdy the pelican is, for example, the only one of his species at WOW, so he needed some extra attention. Howdy is a white pelican that came to WOW from a rehab facility due to a wing injury he sustained in the wild, deeming him a non-releasable bird, Strycula explains.

“Howdy and other pelicans will recognize their caretakers and other familiar items — especially those associated with food,” Strycula says. “They form the strongest bonds with the keepers that work with them most often and do most of their training. White pelicans can live around 16 years in the wild, but under human care they can live well into their late 20s. They use pouches under their bill to scoop fish out of the water. Unlike brown pelicans, white pelicans do not dive for their food, but instead ‘corral’ fish into the shallows and scoop them out.

“The animal care team is always looking for fun new ways to add enrichment,” Strycula adds. “The keepers came up with the idea to take Howdy for a walk — and he really seemed to enjoy it!”

According to Strycula, Howdy’s favorite part of the walk-about was meeting the otters — who also seemed interested in him. The takeaway, he adds, is “people aren’t the only ones who like to see all the aquarium has to offer!”

While Howdy may have gotten his fill of the place on one walk, it would take a human visitor much longer to see all the 350,000-square-foot attraction has to offer. Wonders of Wildlife boasts a 1.5 million gallon aquarium — with some 35,000 live fish, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and birds representing more than 800 species — set in the midst of 350,000 square feet of immersive habitats from the Arctic to the Alps to Africa. Younger visitors can walk into the middle of the ocean and watch sharks swim around them, touch stingrays at the Shipwreck Reef and pop up in viewing bubbles in the middle of neon tetras, piranhas and more. Older visitors might get excited about a “collection of boats fishing legends were made on,” along with historical boats used by musicians Jimmy Buffet, literary legend Ernest Hemingway and western author Zane Grey.

And visitors from the Midwest can do it all in their own backyard. Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, opened Wonders of Wildlife, a facility bigger than the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, in his hometown of Springfield in 2017.

More than a mile and a half of trails wander through the exhibits — traversing tropical coasts, steamy rain forests, freshwater swamps and more — and some 40 leading conservation organizations — among them the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and the U.S. Forest Service — contributed to the finished product, located next door to the Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters on Sunshine Street.

With all of that shuttered, WOW staff members had to get creative to keep their connection to patrons. In addition to a video chronicling Howdy’s tour of the facility, they’ve also implemented these offerings, available on the Wonders of Wildlife YouTube channel:

“Feel-Good” Videos — Featuring “dreamy” under-the-sea scenes, “adorable” penguins and jelly fish “with serious Zen vibes.”

Book and a Beast — This video storytelling series features a WOW educator reading an animal-themed children’s book by a cozy fire. After the story, an animal from the book is brought out for viewers to learn about it. Readings have included “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed,” with an appearance by a tiny American alligator named Garfunkel, and “The Swamp Where Gator Hides,” with an appearance by a Great Plains rat snake named Alex.

Creature Crafting — Virtual visitors are invited to get creative at home with WOW’s new video series that teaches the young and young at heart how to create DIY crafts such as coffee filter jellyfish, bird feeders or slithering snake bracelets.

Ecosystem Explorations — New ecosystem exploration videos reveal fascinating world habitats and the wildlife that call them home.

“Swamps [for example] are one of the most misunderstood ecosystems – often thought of as dirty, icky places,” says Shelby Stephenson, public relations manager. “We hope this video educates our fans on the important role they play for our planet!”

Stephenson goes on to explain that the Swamp at Night exhibit at WOW “is actually two stories and features towering cypress trees covered in Spanish moss, and even a swinging bridge that connects to a treehouse.”

“This exhibit also features a reverse light cycle, because many of the species who call the swamp home are nocturnal,” Stephenson says. “This means that during the day, the swamp is dark so that the animals are awake. Overnight, this exhibit receives special lighting to mimic daylight – and that’s when the animals sleep.

“Swamps act as a giant sponge – absorbing ground water and then filtering it out. They are also crucial habitat for animals like ducks, egrets, alligators and many more. When we protect these habitats, we protect the animals that live there, too,” Stephenson adds. “We hope videos like this educate our fans about Earth’s many fascinating ecosystems — many of which have been re-created at Wonders of Wildlife. We won’t work to protect habitats we don’t love — and we can’t love something we don’t know anything about. We hope that these videos leave viewers feeling more inspired to get involved in conservation.”

And if they are so inspired, WOW is offering a new “Mission Conservation” phone app game that invites kids to conduct weekly conservation-themed missions and win prizes. All that’s required to play is to download the app on your phone, visit the Mission Conservation landing page on the WOW website and scan the app over the code to unlock that week’s challenge.

“Even when we’re closed, it’s still important to us to fulfill our mission of inspiring everyone to get outdoors and get involved in conservation,” says Stephenson of the online offerings. “Since our guests can’t come to WOW, we wanted to bring WOW to them.”

Wonders of Wildlife had not set a date to reopen when this story went to press.


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Categories: Family Friendly