New Orleans,
11:09 AM

Watoto Farm Debuts at Audubon Zoo

Interactive Experience Offers Hands-On Activities, Educational Opportunities

Watoto Farm B-Roll

Audubon Zoo is debuting an exciting, new interactive experience designed especially for pint-sized guests.

Watoto Farm - a 10,000-square-foot paddock next door to the Watato Walk contact yard across from the Zoo’s giraffe exhibit – gives visitors an up-close look at animals old and new to Audubon. The word “Watoto’’ is Swahili for children and the new space is specifically designed to engage children with hands-on activities and educational presentations.

“Watoto Farm gives guests a chance to catch up with familiar acquaintances like the Aldabra tortoises and the Sicilian donkey and get to know some new species like zebu,’’ said Audubon Zoo General Curator Joel Hamilton. “Through these fascinating animals, we hope visitors will learn a few things about sustainable farming both at home and in Africa and that they’ll start to be increasingly mindful about how their food is sourced.’’

The exhibit’s must-see residents are a pair of miniature zebu, one of the planet’s oldest and smallest breed of cow – a species that dates to 3000 BC. Zebu are native to the jungles of Southern India and the island of Sri Lanka. Zebu are thriving across Africa because of their ability to withstand extreme heat. Audubon’s zebu are one-year-old Lulu, a female, and Ravi, an infant male born in mid-May. Lulu, which means “pearl’’ in Tanzania, and Ravi, the name for the Hindu god of the sun, are both expected to stand only about 30 inches tall when fully grown. They will be joined by Margaret, a beloved 26-year-old Sicilian donkey who has brought smiles to guests’ faces since she arrived at Audubon Zoo as a two-year-old in 1994. Margaret was originally housed in the Children’s Zoo and will be familiar to many.

Watoto Farm is also the new home for some of the Zoo’s oldest residents, three Aldabra Giant Tortoises: Feldspar, 94; Magma, 83; and Xaviera, 56. Giant tortoises are among the members of the animal kingdom with the longest life spans; some Aldabra tortoises are believed to be more than 200 years old.

The giant tortoises formerly occupied an area near the Zoo’s new lion habitat now being built in the African Savanna. Sharing the space with the zebu will also be two sulcata tortoises, Grant and Sherman, who are very personable and love meeting visitors. The sulcata is the third largest species of tortoise and both males weigh about 80 pounds. They will be part of scheduled programs at Watoto Farm that will allow guests a unique opportunity to learn about the species and how it is affected by agriculture in Africa.

Rounding out the menagerie at Watoto Farm will be a free-range flock of a dozen domestic chickens. Visitors can participate in a daily bug toss and egg collection and learn just how smart chickens are.

Watoto Farm will serve as an outdoor classroom to educate visitors about the effect food choices have on the environment. Nearly 50 percent of all habitable land is now occupied by pasture or farmland and agriculture is considered a leading cause of pollution due to the use of pesticides, fertilizers and toxic farm chemicals.

“We are excited to bring such a diverse group of animal ambassadors to the new farm area,’’ said Animal Ambassador Assistant Curator Lindsay Ezell. “Our hope is that these unique interactions will help to bring attention to our connectedness and make everyone aware of our impact as individuals. We are the ones creating global agricultural demands through daily food choices. By offering a few simple solutions, we hope to empower our visitors to help make a difference for wildlife everywhere.’’

Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs, and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.