The Milwaukee County Zoo is the perfect place to go to see the big animals – from elephants and hippos to rhinos and polar bears. In many summers, there are even dinosaurs to see (type of robots or a lego set because dinosaurs are – of course – extinct).
However, this summer’s special exhibition is a little different. It will be in the same place where robotic dinosaurs usually hang out – in the outside area behind the small mammal building, surrounded by beautiful foliage from the zoo’s gardening section.
But this year’s exhibition will feature neither the real live animals that lived throughout the zoo nor the extinct robotic animals that lived millions of years ago. These robotic animals have never lived. They are legendary.
They are dragons.
Paige Ballard, the zoo’s visitor services specialist, said she went to the San Antonio Zoo last summer and saw an exhibit of the legendary Dino Donne dragon.
Dino Don is a company that, for the past 30 years, has provided roving natural history exhibits to zoos and museums. As the name suggests, exhibits usually feature giant dinosaurs.
Milwaukee decided to bring the dragons here, and it will only be the third zoo in the country to feature the new Dino Dawn exhibit.
Ballard said Milwaukee will be making some modifications to the gallery for their own purposes.
“In San Antonio, the gallery had a Renaissance feel,” Ballard said. “Here we are moving more towards slamming the messages on animal conservation.”
There are many reasons why Ballard believes families will be encouraged to advocate for animal conservation after they see the dragons.
Kids love dragons
Children’s interest in dinosaurs is legendary – from their fascination with dinosaur-themed movies and TV shows to their uncanny ability to remember the long, intricate names of extinct giants.
Zoo workers suspect that the children will be equally interested in the dragon. They hope to use their interest in facts about dragon traditions to also spark their interest in facts about other animals.
“Everyone loves dinosaurs, they’re adorable, colorful,” Ballard said. “And when we came across the dragons that Dino Dawn had created, there was a lot of the same feeling.” “And we know that movies like ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ are very popular with kids too, so we wanted that connection. This is a really good way to build on that interest so the kids can learn more about the zoo and their conservation goals.”
Dragons inspire communication with real animals
The zoo plans to link the interest in mythical creatures with the protection of animals in real life by pointing out the similarities between the dragon’s features and popular zoo animals.
There will be 15 dragons throughout the exhibit, and each will represent the myths of a different culture.
Dragon legends are common all over the world and are believed to be inspired in part by dinosaur fossils that people may have found in history without understanding what dinosaurs are. The physical traits from those fossils were then added to other animal traits to create the fictional monsters.
Since the stories of dragons are inspired by different parts of the world, the body of each dragon has the characteristics of the animals common to those environments.
For example, one of the robotic dragons, Ninki Nanka, is based on a mythical creature from West Africa, which also contains elements of crocodiles, giraffes and pangolins.
“In our signage, we will point out comparisons of the animals each dragon has and encourage guests to find them,” Ballard said. “Next, we’ll make connections between current animals and their preservation by referring to the animals we have in the zoo. Like, if one of the dragons has the characteristics of a snake, we’ll encourage visitors to visit our snakes in the aquarium and reptile center to see the similarities for themselves.”
Dragons are a great way to learn about different cultures
The Milwaukee Zoological Society recently received a grant to increase the use of empathy in zoo programming, with the idea that if people have compassion for animals, they are more likely to advocate for conservation.
One element of empathy building is to encourage visitors to empathize with people in other cultures by taking advantage of the fact that the zoo has a natural connection to other parts of the world through animals that come from other countries.
“As people walk around the zoo, we obviously have representative species from all over the world,” said Beth Heller, vice president of programs for the association. “As visitors realize that there are many cultures that enrich our experiences, this understanding helps us empathize with one another.”
Ballard said the Dragon Gallery follows the same principles of building empathy through cultural awareness.
“This exhibition will be a global celebration of the mythical stories told by all human beings in different regions and cultures,” Ballard said. “Dragons show the relationship between humans in different cultures, and the characteristics of dragons show the connection to real-life animals that need to be preserved.”
if you go
The Dragon Gallery will feature more than 15 robotic dragons, many of which will move and make noise, in an environment of foliage planted by the zoo’s horticultural department.
The exhibition will take place in the outdoor area behind the Zoo’s Small Mammal Building from May 28 through September 5.
Visitors must pay an entrance fee to the zoo, plus an additional $3 price to visit the exhibit.
There will be a gift tent in the shape of a dragon located in the exhibition.
more:Wisconsin Zoos help visitors empathize with the animals. They hope that will encourage conservation.
more:Show based on ‘Jurassic World’ coming to Fiserv Forum, complete with life-size animatronic dinosaurs