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Take walk on wild side at restored Queens Zoo

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From the American bison to the North American porcupine, from the Florida sandhill crane to the American alligator, from the Norwegian fjord pony to the barn owl, the Queens Zoo has it all.

After a $16 million renovation in 1988, the zoo was reopened in 1992, with newly planted trees, redesigned aviary, artificial streams and good viewing spots.

Zoo Director Robin Dalton credits Borough President Claire Shulman with keeping the zoo funded and publicized.

    Situated on 11-acres of land, the zoo is home to some 400 animals and nearly 40 different species. “The zoo serves as a source of local and foreign pride since it shares the wildlife heritage of American continents with visitors from around the globe,” said Curator Scott Silver. Administered by the Wildlife Conservation Society for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, the zoo has an annual budget of $300,000.

Walking amid the plants, ponds, trees and artificially-warmed rocks, a visitor can actually feel part of an African safari — or within a forest in the aviary, a geodesic dome with streams and ponds. The aviary is home to a variety of birds including the American Bald Eagle (including Mel and Claire, named in honor of Shulman and her husband), Cattle Egret, Green-wing Teal and Rhode Island Red.

The zoo’s residents also include two alligators, both female, each weighing about 100 pounds. Most people regard the creatures as dangerous; zoo officials have set up a display of shoes, bags, and other products made from alligator skin to illustrate the dangers that alligators face from humans.

    The four adult male sea lions, weighing about 600 pounds each, are fed 120 pounds of fish every day, Silver said.

The domestic side of the zoo features chicken, ducks, goats, sheep and rabbits. “This side of the zoo gives young visitors a chance to feed and pet some of these animals,” Silver said.

In the middle of the domestic side is a large barn, where the zoo’s educational programs are offered for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

    All lessons offer hands-on experience. For details, high-school students can call the education department at the Zoo to find out what programs are available for them. Teachers can also participate in a day-long workshop that explains how they can use the zoo as a teaching tool for their class.

The zoo offers educational and volunteer programs in English, Spanish and other languages as well. The WCS, which operates the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo as well as the Queens Zoo, has 250 programs in more than 60 nations, said Diana Heide, a WSC spokeswoman. “They work on conservation all over the world,” she said.

    Although the zoo primarily exhibits American animals, Dalton said it’s hoped the zoo can expand and bring in animals from other countries. He hinted that the zoo might have a camel exhibit fairly soon.

The zoo is open every day of the year, but the hours vary depending on the season.     

For more information call 718-220-5100 or log onto www.wcs.org. For more about educational events at the Queens Zoo, call 718--271-7361.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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