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Could you be the next design star? The Texas Zoo hopes so

By Gheni_Platenburg
July 5, 2010 at 2:05 a.m.

2-year-old Kaden Ortiz and aunt, Brenda Ortiz, take a look at the zoo animals in the Animal Kingdom room Tuesday. The Animal Kingdom room is undergoing updates that will allow visitors to read information about the animals via digital photo frames that are being installed.

WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN REDESIGN CONTEST?

Visit the zoo or check www.TexasZoo.org to find a complete listing of exhibits available for redesign. Pay close attention to the animal living in the exhibit and the size of the exhibit.

Do your research. You must know much about the animal who lives there. Be sure to use animal-friendly materials.

Submit designs to Animal Curator Jan Dunaway at 110 Memorial Drive, Victoria, TX 77901, or you can personally deliver them to the zoo's gift shop. Designs can also be e-mailed to animalcare@texaszoo.org.

All submissions must be received no later than July 26.

The Texas Zoo is calling all animal lovers who double as interior designers - amateur or professional.

The zoo wants you to redesign animal exhibits as part of its effort to update the Animal Kingdom building.

"The interiors of the exhibits need some freshening up," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the zoo. "We're really interested in seeing what people come up with."

Blomberg said the zoo, which has made no major renovations to the Animal Kingdom for three years, will have six to eight animal exhibits up for redesign.

These exhibits will possibly include the emerald tree boa, armadillo and common boa.

Interested adults or children can visit the zoo or log onto www.TexasZoo.org to find a complete listing of the exhibits that are up for redesign.

Designers are encouraged to research their chosen animal's native habitat in order to create a similar environment in the exhibit, complete with rocks, tree branches, sand and other animal-friendly materials.

"If we don't have what they want in their design, then they will have to provide it, but we probably have a lot of what they want," said Blomberg.

Proprietors of the winning submissions will get to not only design the exhibits, but they will also get a behind-the-scenes tour of the entire zoo.

In addition to seeing new exhibits, zoo-goers will soon get to dig up some knowledge.

Zoo employees have been working to build an archeological dig site within the animal kingdom area that will feature fossils belonging to native Texas animals.

"This could be a good hands-on activity at the zoo that people can do in any weather," said Blomberg. "I can see parents sitting at the dig site with their children having just as much fun."

The site, which is expected to cost $500 to complete, will include more than 100 fossils from 20 varieties of animals.

Blomberg said diggers can expect to uncover everything from mammal teeth and camel bones to horse teeth and possibly some aquatic animal fossils.

Blomberg said the idea for an archaeological dig site, which is the only one of its kind in Victoria, came from watching kids play with the rocks in front of the concessions stand.

"We have children who think this is one of the best things in the entire zoo," she said.

For the last three weeks, zoo employees have also been working to install digital photo frames in cedar wood display cases in front of all the animal kingdom exhibits.

"We still have a way to go, but we're definitely coming along," said Jay Gregston, zoo operations manager.

The photo frames, which were donated by the Victoria Rotary Club sometime before December 2009, will replace the outdated paper information signs currently stuck to the exhibits' glass fronts.

"It will be easier for the children to learn and easier for parents to teach their kids about what is in front of them," said Blomberg.

One Animal Kingdom update that was already completed is the building's fresh paint job of earth tone colors.

"It just makes things look warmer, friendlier and more vibrant," said Blomberg.

Victoria residents had positive things to say about the building's makeover.

"It will get the kids active," said 61-year-old Gary Lees. "It lets them learn while they think they are playing."

Richard Deases, 19, agreed.

"I think it's a very good idea," Deases said. "It promotes a positive learning experience that keeps kids entertained and provides facts that are not hard to understand."

Deases, who admitted he had not been to the zoo since he was in third grade, said Blomberg can expect to receive an entry from him in the animal exhibit redesign contest.

"I love designing things," said Deases. "This is the best possible thing you could have told me about."

Blomberg hopes the changes are as well received by all the zoo's visitors.

"Until we can do structural things outside, this will make a low-cost high impact for a zoo on a budget," she said.

All the updates are expected to be completed by the August 28 Texas Tunes Fundraiser.

The zoo is seeking donations of plaster, cash and fossils to complete the archaeological dig.

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