Visitors to Audubon Zoo this summer will be happy to learn they now have another option for keeping cool — and it’s located just inside the gate.
Only three months after the recent 44,000-square-foot expansion of the Cool Zoo water park, the zoo has opened a new exhibit: Frogs! Beyond Green. The 2,200-square-foot exhibit is located just to the left as you walk in the front gate, in what has been known as the Earth Lab.
“The Earth Lab was built around early 2000 as an environmentally sustainable building,” said Brenda Walkenhorst, director of educational projects for Audubon Zoo.
“In keeping with that theme, we thought we’d highlight frogs, as they’re essentially the canaries for the environment — some of the first to be affected by climate changes and habitat loss,” she said. “A healthy environment is one that has lots of frogs and toads.”
In that case, Audubon Zoo just got a whole lot healthier.
After a greeting from a giant version of the Frog Prince, visitors are treated to an air-conditioned space where they can view 50 frogs from 12 species.
From tiny, neon-hued dart frogs smaller than a pingpong ball to the gigantic African bullfrog and Rococo toad of South America — easily measuring 2 to 3 pounds each — “Frogs! Beyond Green” showcases the diversity of this amazing amphibian.
“They’re so amazing at camouflaging themselves,” Walkenhorst said. “It’s fun to challenge the kids to see how many frogs they can find.”
Older visitors will likely appreciate the exhibit’s ode to frogs of popular culture, including the Atari game Frogger, Michigan J. Frog and, of course, Kermit.
Just before the exit, there’s even a full-size replica of a scene from Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” where visitors are invited to pose with a cartoon witch boiling frogs in her cauldron.
This month, Audubon also welcomes the new Bambu Village Asian Discovery Trail. Located further in the park next to the entrance to the Cool Zoo, it is the reimagining of what was previously known as the Discovery Walk.
“This is the introduction to the future new Asia exhibit,” Walkenhorst said. “It’s designed to feel like you just stepped into Southeast Asia.”
The Discovery Trail creates this illusion by playing on all five senses, she said. “As you walk in, you’ll hear the native music while you look around and see and smell the native plants,” she said.
For the touch portion, the Discovery Trail features a collection of various animals indigenous to Southeast Asia, including the Burmese mountain tortoise and a pair of vocal cockatoos.
“Finding animals was a challenge,” Walkenhorst said. “Most of the animals in Southeast Asia are not nice. Not exactly touchable.”
Finally, for the sense of taste, the more adventurous visitors will be invited to partake in the zoo’s most exotic snack cart, serving up various fried insects.
The Discovery Trail’s efforts to re-create a typical Southeast Asian village also include an Indonesian puppet theater, which will host puppet shows of traditional folk tales multiple times a day, and a small peaceful getaway where parents can relax while kids use natural materials to build their own little village.
“In the fall, this Asia exhibit will expand to include the new home we’ve constructed for our orangutans and, of course, the new, larger home for our two Asian elephants,” Walkenhorst said. “What we’re doing here is looking at the cultural side — the relationship between people and animals in a different area of the world.
“Everywhere you’re going to find subtle views into how these people have found simple solutions to human/animal conflict while still retaining their culture. Preserving both is so important, and I think this will give people hope.”