A visit from the wild; Zoo brings animals to Austin to tout mission
Published 10:09 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Bentley Davis, 3, leaned forward and gently touched a giant African millipede as Zoomobile Naturalist Chris Ness talked about the creatures.
Holding two large, millepedes coiled across her palms, Ness asked the audience: What do you get when you don’t have a winter in Minnesota?
“Giant bugs,” she answered.
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Maybe we should be thankful for Minnesota winters, she quipped.
The Minnesota Zoo’s zoomobile visited the Mower County Senior Center and the Austin Rotary Club Monday as part of a greater Minnesota outreach tour to showcase the programs the facility has to offer.
Minnesota Zoo Director/President John Frawley said the goal of the tour was to remind Minnesotans that it’s there to serve all the people of Minnesota.
“It’s really important for us to serve the entire state, all the people of the state of Minnesota,” he said.
Zoo officials have been doing that recently by taking the animals to the road and visiting various communities on a greater Minnesota tour.
“We want to remind people that we’re here for them,” Frawley said.
Monday’s stop in Austin allowed the zoo to connect with senior citizens, business leaders through Rotary and a few youngsters who stopped by the senior center.
Though many past zoomobile stops have centered around Austin Public Library and a younger audience, Frawley said it’s important to reach out the state’s senior residents too since many grew up on farms and around animals.
“I think a lot of people grew up with wildlife in their world, in their lives,” he said. “If it was farming, we have the Wells Fargo Family Farm.”
Though the zoo can bring back fond memories, it can be a challenge for elderly residents to get to the zoo and navigate the zoo, so Frawley was excited to bring a slice of the zoo to them.
“We’ve gotta take care of our elder Minnesotans,” he said.
As a state zoo, the Minnesota Zoo’s mission is to connect people with animals, the natural world and wildlife while teaching conservation. Frawley said a bigger goal moving forward is to starting connecting people to the natural world.
The zoo’s site in Apple Valley is one of the largest zoos in the country at about 500 acres, and Frawley described it as a beautiful Minnesota woods in the middle of the Twin Cities metro.
“We’re looking at expanding how kids and families and people in Minnesota can get into those woods, and maybe it’s through hiking trails or walking trails or birding, but we really want to get into connecting people to the natural world as well as animals,” he said.
That’s not all the zoo has on the horizon. Next year, the zoo is bringing in an Australia exhibit called Kangaroo Crossing. Frawley told families to make plans to visit the zoo next summer for a chance to see Australian animals like a wallaby and kangaroo.
“It’s going to be a great reason to visit the Minnesota Zoo,” he added.
Frawley, who has been the zoo’s director/president for less than a year, grew up in Red Wing before serving a zookeeper at the Minnesota Zoo before he moved to California to continue his career. He was pleased to visit southern Minnesota Monday, saying the region still feels like home.