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Philadelphia Zoo creating new sustainable children's center with rare animal breeds

The Philadelphia Zoo might be the nation’s oldest zoo, but it’s ahead of its time when it comes to sustainability.

The zoo began work a few months ago on a new LEED-certified, indoor children’s zoo called the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Education Center, which will house animals hard to find at U.S. zoos. In addition to rare animal breeds, the zoo hopes to include animals that are currently, or are likely to be, affected by climate change.

The zoo is planning to offer a panoply of exotic animals for children, some of which will teach lessons about environmental decay. "There will be a great variety [of animals], providing opportunity for our youngest visitors to engage with animals," reports Dr. Andy Baker, the zoo’s chief operating officer. These animals will represent rare breeds of livestock, sheep, goats, and miniature horses. According to Baker, the youth zoo will also emphasize animals affected by climate change, such as Australian parakeets, tropical butterflies and fish, high-elevation frogs, ants, and even dreaded rats.

The Hamilton addition will include the first LEED-certified zoo building in Pennsylvania. Baker is excited about the zoo’s environmentally friendly approach to teaching children. First of all, he says the project will be sustainable because it will re-use an existing structure, the former pachyderm house. While some new structures will have to be built, they will come equipped with green roofs. Third of all, the children’s center will include a "significant geothermal field" for heating and air conditioning, says Baker. Finally, the facility will utilize rain gardens, and re-use graywater for restrooms.

Baker also hopes to make the new children’s zoo accessible to all types of children, including those with communications and physical disabilities. "Signage will include pictures for autistic kids," says Baker. He also assures that Braille and sign language will be made available for children who are visually- or aurally-impaired. The children’s zoo and education center will also be situated near the entrance of the zoo, which makes it more convenient for children in wheelchairs. Baker makes sure to add that this is part of the zoo’s "tremendous ambition" to enable children to interact with animals.

Expect the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Education Center to open in April, 2013. Baker believes construction will wrap up late this year or early next year, with the remaining few months devoted to opening preparation. Sustainability as it relates to animals and humans will be a central theme, as Baker promises it will include lessons on how people can recycle and use water and energy efficiently.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dr. Andy Baker, Philadelphia Zoo
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