Classroom zoo

SOUTH DAYTON – Although the zoo may be over 50 miles away, students in the third-grade classes at Pine Valley Elementary were able to view the animals with some help from technology.

The students participated in a virtual zoo visit with Rebecca Balk, long distance coordinator for the zoo, on two separate occasions. Balk first described to the students what instinct and learned behaviors are for the animals at the zoo. Students were able to watch the gorilla camera located inside the zoo as an example. Gorillas use their hands to feed themselves which is an example of instinctual behavior.

“Since gorillas have thumbs, they can pick up their food,” Balk said.

Balk told the students learned behaviors are behaviors the animals are taught by their mothers such as learning how to hunt prey.

Behavior is also influenced by the animal’s surroundings and adapting to those surroundings. Balk talked about the Indian rhinoceros and how a female will protect her baby. The female rhinoceros will make noises and charge at intruders with her horn to protect a baby rhinoceros.

Since animals are not in their natural habitat while at the zoo, zookeepers try to simulate their natural habitat. In order for the animals to keep entertained in their living spaces, enrichments are provided. According to Balk, an enrichment can be a new treat, toy or interesting food to give to the animals. The gorillas at the zoo are often given enrichments.

“A burlap bag, a sheet or towel is an example of an enrichment,” Balk said.

Following the first virtual zoo visit, each third-grade class was assigned an enrichment to make for their respective animal. The animals assigned were the Asian elephant, tenrec, blue and gold macaw and three banded armadillos. For the second virtual zoo visit, students had to research the animals and give Balk basic facts about the animals including location, natural behaviors, diet and what the animal looks like.

Each class will make an enrichment for the Asian elephant as well as one of the smaller animals. For the elephant, students will make an elephant box consisting of fruit, peanut butter and cereal in a cardboard box. Balk said any type of cereal is acceptable for the elephants.

“A general rule for the elephants is if it’s found on the shelves of Wegmans, it’s safe for the elephants to eat,” she said.

For the three banded armadillos and the tenrec, students will be making boxes for the animals to play and burrow in. Each box will be filled with sand provided by the zoo as well as newspapers. Balk stressed the boxes must be one to two inches in height since both animals have short legs and would not be able to climb into anything higher. For the blue and gold macaw, students will be making a spinning treat tube which will be made out of toilet paper tubes, rope and will have parrot treats inserted at the zoo. Balk said the birds love to play with new toys.

The students will get to see the animals up close and present their enrichments while visiting the zoo on June 12. Pine Valley has done the virtual zoo visits for over 10 years with the third-grade class. The classes involved are students of teachers Rose Park, Christina Lyndsley and Kirsten Lewis. For more information on zoo distance learning programs, visit

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