But, even if he were inclined to reach out to you, you think to yourself, he'd do it so slowly that you've have plenty of time to duck.
Depending on what metric you use, Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island is the largest zoo in New England. But, again, that depends on the metric. Is it the region's largest zoo by square footage? No. But is it the most popular and highly trafficked? By a mile - especially in the fall, when the zoo's Jack O'Lantern Spectacular brings in tens of thousands of people to see 5,000 carved pumpkins on display.
None of that really matters, though, unless you're talking about how the zoo uses its influence to do good in the world. Roger Williams Park Zoo is taking that global responsibility to a new level with its recently opened Faces of the Rainforest exhibit. Not only does the $15 million dollar project allow visitors to get up close to animals they likely wouldn't encounter in the wild, it's a lesson to those visitors about how conservation of the rainforests starts with people's everyday choices. Plus, says Dr. Jeremy Goodman, executive director of Roger Williams Park Zoo, "The public made it very clear to us that they want to see a lot more monkeys.”
The immersive exhibit, which opened in late November of 2018 and was a project four years in the making, puts humans and rainforest animals in the same environment. While the howler monkeys, poison frogs and anaconda are behind glass, there are tropical birds flying freely overhead, and usually sleeping two-toed sloths tucked away into corners of the room. The exhibit's Giant Amazonian River Otters, playful creatures that regularly stop their splashing around to interact with kids, are the only ones of their kind in New England, and live at only 8 other zoos in North America.
There are over 40 animals in the exhibit, and 100 species of plants, including examples of both that are not native to the area. There are not many avocado trees or arabica coffee plants in New England, but in this steamy and humid room, they're thriving. According to Goodman, the exhibit was based on Humans of New York, the popular website-turned-book that tells individual stories to get at a universal message of humanity. There are conservation messages throughout the exhibit, showing people whose lives both impact and are impacted by the rainforest. Those people, though, don't just live in South America. "Hopefully people realize that they too are a face of the rainforest,” Goodman says. “It’s not just something that’s thousands of miles away. Our choices make a big impact on the rainforest.”
There are interactive games throughout, helping to illustrate those choices and their environmental impacts - things as simple as leaving the water on while you're brushing your teeth (harmful) or shutting off your car if it's going to idle for more than a minute (helpful). “It’s really important for us to help save the actual habitats," Goodman says. To that end, there's a gift shop dedicated to items that raise money for rainforest conservation, and cafes throughout the zoo that offer grass-fed beef alternatives to regular hamburgers for a few, environmentally conscious dollars more. "We really spent a lot of time making sure people understood that they have choices," Goodman says. "As long as you’re making a little step forward, the planet will benefit.”