Participants interact with Tupi the Tamandua at one of the Minnesota Zoomobile’s events.
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Airports Commission.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Minnesota Zoomobile is coming to Winona on July 25, and it’s bringing a bunch of furry friends along for the ride.
On Wednesday, July 25, at 10 a.m., the Minnesota Zoomobile will stop at the Winona County History Center at 160 Johnson Street for a public animal demonstration. It is part of the Winona Public Library’s summer reading series, and will be the last performance of the program this year.
Tricia Wehrenberg, youth services librarian at the Winona Public Library, said the Zoomobile program was chosen as the last event thanks to kids’ overwhelming love of animals.
“The kids really love programs where they learn about animals,” Wehrenberg said. “We have plenty of animal books in the library specifically because they check them out all the time.”
The Zoomobile will be the sixth event in the summer series, following programs focused on magic, theater, dance and even slapstick comedy. According to Wehrenberg, no event has had less than 150 people in attendance, with the peak attendance at more than 270.
Wehrenberg believes that the Zoomobile offers a valuable experience for kids, both in term of fun and education.
“I think it’s important for kids to get close to animals they don’t see every day. It’s both fun and educational, which is important for broadening their horizons and helping them figure out who they are,” Wehrenberg said.
The Zoomobile is part of the Minnesota Zoo’s public outreach programs, in which several trained naturalists travel throughout the state with a group of small animals to teach kids — and adults — about nature.
Interpretive Naturalist Chris Neff works with the Minnesota Zoomobile as one of its seven full-time staff members. According to Neff, the program has been a part of the Minnesota Zoo in some form for around 25 years. In an attempt to allow more people across the state to experience the zoo, the Zoomobile was created to bring the zoo to them as part of a community outreach goal, Neff explained.
“We’re a state facility, so we belong to the state of Minnesota and the people. Sometimes, it’s easier for us to go to them than for them to get to us,” Neff said.
Every year, the Zoomobile makes hundreds of stops in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, going to every corner of the state. Neff said that in 2016, which was the last year it had full records available at press time, it had visited 42 counties and had more than 55,000 participants in its programs.
Speaking of programs, the Zoomobile has more than a dozen different sessions prepared for groups of all ages, including some on endangered species, Minnesota wildlife, rain forests, wetlands and additional subjects for younger kids.
Wednesday’s presentation will be “All Things Connected,” which Neff said is one of the Zoomobile’s most broad topics.
“We usually try to bring a good representation of all kinds of animals, from reptiles to raptors to mammals, and from all different regions. We’ll bring animals from Minnesota, from Asia, and from Africa,” she said. “It’s to demonstrate to kids that no matter what you are or where you’re from, everything needs food, water, and a place to live. Everything has a reason to be here.”
She couldn’t say exactly what animals would be brought along for the ride, since the cast changes from day to day, but Neff explained that the experience with the Zoomobile is quite a bit different than the zoo. In fact, all animals with the Zoomobile are not at exhibit at the zoo itself.
“It’s a different experience from the zoo, since we have different animals. For example, the zoo only has two snakes on display, while we have a much larger snake collection. You also get to get close to the animals — real close,” Neff explained.
Neff said another reason for the Zoomobile’s programs is to dispel fears and phobias in kids, showing animals in non-threatening situations where they can see that animals aren’t vicious or “slimy.”
While the Zoomobile’s schedule will continue on, with a booked schedule through the end of August, the library’s summer reading series is coming to a close. Wehrenberg said library organizers are hard at work planning next year’s events, which will focus on something a little less terrestrial.
“Our topic for next year is ‘A Universe Of Stories,’ focused on outer space. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon, so we’ll be able to connect it with that,” Wehrenberg explained. “Plus it’ll be a fun theme to work with, with space and rocket ships and stuff.”
Wehrenberg said that there aren’t any specific programs booked for next year, but the library is planning on having an end of summer party on August 8. The party will run from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and feature a free hot dog lunch, a DJ from 101.1 The River, crafts and a dunk tank.