When was the last time you splashed in a stream like a frog, scrambled over rocks like a prairie dog or pretended to be a spider spinning an intricate web? These moments of exploratory outdoor play are what teach us resilience, creativity and self-confidence. Playing in and around nature has also been shown to boost empathy for wildlife — paving the way for budding conservationists. That’s why nature play is the foundation for the San Diego Zoo’s all-new experience, Wildlife Explorers Basecamp.
At Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, explorers of all ages can learn about nature, play alongside animals, encounter new species and develop an empathy for wildlife. There’s plenty to discover in more than three acres at Wildlife Explorers Basecamp … just check out the amazing adventures waiting for you in Spineless Marvels, our new home for invertebrates within Wildlife Explorers Basecamp.
What’s the Buzz?
Peer inside a hive and marvel at thousands of honeybees hard at work as you wander through giant sweet-smelling honeycomb. You might even get to talk to a beekeeper! Honeybees were introduced to the Americas in the 1600s, but long before they arrived, native bees were doing the pollinating. A mural near the honeybee habitat tells their story.
No Glass? No Problem!
You might notice something missing from the golden orb weaver habitat: a barrier separating you and the spiders! But arachnophobes, have no fear. Golden orb weavers live life vertically, staying put in their strong, stretchy webs as long as they have everything they need. Our wildlife care specialists make sure that the orb weavers have insects to eat, water droplets to drink and plenty of branches in which to weave their three-foot-wide webs, creating a safe and comfortable spider home. This means there’s no need for the golden orb weavers to wander — and no need for you to run away.
Live the Mole-Rat Life
Like ants and honeybees, these unusual rodents are eusocial. One queen is the mother of almost all the other mole-rats, and everyone in the colony has a job — like gathering food, digging tunnels, defending the burrow or caring for young. Nearby, a kid-size tunnel immerses wildlife explorers into the sights, sounds — and even smells — of mole-rat life and brings them face-to-face with a … kid-size mole-rat!
There are dozens of hands-on ways for technology to enhance your experience at Spineless Marvels. Will you be able to find the animated stick insects on our interactive game? Give it a try! While you’re here, check out the microscope stations. Embedded touch displays and software allow you to examine objects up close, take a snapshot, add notes and drawings and share your observations. Watch time-lapse videos of the orb-weaver spiders building their intricate webs. Then, visit our “underground” leafcutter ant colony, illuminated by black light as they cut leaves to farm fungus — their main food source. Finally, wander through an immersive migration experience with migrating butterflies, locusts and dragonflies “flying” above you, projected across a domed ceiling. You might even get a glimpse of fireflies in the night sky!
Building Wildlife Empathy Beyond Basecamp
Parents and caregivers play a critical role in helping develop empathy, and we hope your Basecamp experiences inspires you to continue the empathy workout together long after you’ve left the Zoo’s front doors. Model how to “bee kind” to wildlife, especially those that don’t usually get much love, like insects, spiders and snakes. Work together to make your yard welcoming to all wildlife by planning pollinator-friendly and native plants. Or snuggle up and put on an episode of Amazing Wildlife — our family podcast that provides a behind-the-scenes look inside how San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance works to save wildlife worldwide. No matter how you go about it, we hope you continue finding ways to strengthen empathy for wildlife together — inspiring wildlife explorers to transform into future conservationists.
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