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Monday, February 6, 2012

Scat and stuff: Wildlife Rescue at the Fernbank

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A trip to any museum can harken memories of field trips as a child, or perhaps nightmares for adults with those small children. In either case, there is the inevitable question: will this be something I can geek out over, or something to keep in mind when I'm trying to sleep?

The Fernbank's newest exhibit, "Wildlife Rescue," is most definitely not the latter, but not for reasons you may assume. The exhibit is entirely interactive and comes with that brand new museum smell, which is always great. The interactive element is very cool, as it allows you to experience the exhibit in any way you want, unlike in the good old days when a semi-knowledgeable volunteer may make or break your time there. However, there seems to be a giant disconnect throughout the exhibit.

When you enter the space, there are several touch screens in a dimly lit room with laser projected animal lights dancing around you (that you may or may not mistake for someone sneaking up on you and then you turn around ready to punch someone, only to find an adorable neon elephant on the ground). Should you choose to go the traditional route, you will touch Jane Goodall's face and listen to her tell you about the majestic animals and causes she has spent her life defending. She says something along the lines of "it's not all doom and gloom" when it comes to animal rescue and habitat recovery, though you will realize through the exhibit that this claim is hard to maintain. For example, right next to Ms. Goodall's chipper welcome screen is a display about Chytrid fungus that grows on frogs and kills them unless they are treated. If that isn't doomy or gloomy, I don't know what is.

And of course I can't blame Ms. Goodall for trying to get the masses pumped about wildlife protection. The disconnect mentioned earlier is more in the presentation and content of the exhibit. It appears very kid friendly, complete with a bridge your kid can crawl under whilst donning a turtle shell (which made us want to play Frogger), but somehow, it's kind of not. For example, there is an exhibit we're going to call "Scat Man," which is all about identifying a lynx by picking out its poop next to other animals' poop. I mean, yeah, not totally inapro, but there is something weird about packaging an exhibit about poop in kid friendly colors. There is also a veterinarian station which totally looks like a My Size Barbie playhouse with muted colors where you can watch a veterinarian retrieve an undescended testicle from a reindeer. Inevitable questions about sex and Santa Claus abound.

There are also several game-show style quizzes where you can challenge the closest person next to you in a battle of wits, er, elephant trivia. In this case the opponent was a very intimidating five year old who took our pencil when I was done (maybe an indication of what was more interesting). You can also see how much you weigh in terms of a panda (I am a 2 year old panda), and how strong in terms of orangutans (3 human women, though that seems off a bit).

All jokes aside, I can appreciate the attempted balance between something you could bring your child to and also not want to continually punch yourself in the face. There are some very interesting tidbits about nature and wildlife rescue peppered throughout the exhibit, and you can never really get tired of adorable children pretending to be turtles.

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