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New Perkins Wildlife Center is a fitting home for native rescue animals, joy for visitors

Harvey Webster, CMNH director of wildlife resources with one of the great horned owls


Sleeping red fox




feeding time for the foxes





Barn Owls



Orion the bald eagle

Looking for the otters

Linus the otter


The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s (CMNH) Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center and Woods Garden, presented by KeyBank is a refuge for the region’s native animals and plant life, as well as the many visitors who are expected to come through.
 
Construction began on the center in June 2015, after KeyBank made a $2 million sponsorship donation to the project. The center opened on Labor Day weekend. It replaces the old Perkins Wildlife Center, which was located on the west side the museum's campus. The new two-acre center overlooks Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
 
“It’s an interpretive landscape,” says Harvey Webster, CMNH director of wildlife resources. “We want to bring people together with plants and animals that are native now to the region or were once native. What we’re trying to do is create a dynamic, immersive educational experience.”
 
The center has a meandering, elevated walk way – portions of which are made from repurposed black locust wood salvaged from the trees on the site that were damaged by lightning or dying. It winds throughout the interactive center, past everything from songbirds, sand cranes and owls to fox, bobcats, raccoons and coyotes. Even the otters, Lucy and Linus, splash and play among turtles, fish and frogs in a tank with a 50-foot acrylic wall that allows visitors to watch them under water.


 
“It’s a zoo of native wildlife and native plants in the museum,” says Webster. “It’s a dramatic landing, two-and-a-half stories high". The elevated walkway snakes west, bordering the property, soaring over MLK Boulevard and the Doan Brook Watershed. ”It’s an interesting topography to be appreciated,” he adds.
 
There are 48 species totaling more than 100 individual animals living in Perkins. Trees include beech, maple and oaks. The center will also receive American chestnut saplings, a species that has been almost demolished in this region, from the American Chestnut Foundation. The shrub swamps and wetland garden areas feature plant species native to Ohio as well.
 
There are 11 species of mammals, including bobcats, foxes, coyotes, river otters, porcupines and groundhogs. There are 24 species of birds, including songbirds, eagles, falcons, owls and other birds of prey; five species of reptiles; five species of amphibians; and five species of frogs.
 
While the species each have their own unique habitats for visitors to observe, the humans can also serve as observation subjects for many of the animals. The Bobcats, coyotes, red and grey foxes, porcupines and raccoons all have their own elevated runs along the path – over the visitors’ heads, so they can watch the people passing and indulge their own curiosity.
 
Orion the bald eagleAlong the path are “parallel play areas,” where visitors can mimic activities the animals do. For instance, visitors are challenged to “hop like a bobcat,” where a 10-foot span is marked on the path to indicate the distance a bobcat can go in just one leap. In another area, visitors are encourage to “perch like a crow” on posts of varying heights.
 
“You can emulate the animal and hopefully the animal will emulate you,” says Webster. “It’s another way to create a relationship between you and the animals.”
 
Songbirds fly through the tree canopy in an aviary, while a bald eagle named Orion and a golden eagle named Midas perch next to each other for comparison. Midas flew into high tension wires while in the wild and is blind in one eye.
 
In fact, all of the animals in the Perkins Wildlife Center come from either rescue or rehabilitation centers. Niles and Daphne, a pair of sandhill cranes, were found picking bugs out of radiator grills at a highway truck stop. "The sandhill cranes are a conservation success story,” says Webster.
 
Three of the coyotes – Tex, Red and Ember – came to Perkins after their mother was hit by a car on a Texas highway. A son of a veterinarian stopped and delivered the pups on the side of the road. A fourth coyote, Charcoal, lives separately. She was saved from a wildfire.
 
Both of the great horned owls, Tamarack and Mama have permanent eye injuries. Tamarack was hit by a car and Mama was affected by West Nile Virus in 2002, leaving her with an inability to judge distances correctly.

One of the great horned owls on display at the center
 
Linus the otter was caught in a Louisiana trap seven years ago. Both Linus and Lucy are estimated to be about 18 years old, with a life expectancy of 25.
 
Many of the animals have preschool play toys, such as picnic tables and slides, donated by Streetsboro-based toy manufacturer Step 2. The big plastic toys help provide enrichment activities to the animals. Some species have blankets and clothing in their living areas that carry other animals’ scents, which also stimulates them.


 
The Perkins Wildlife Center is part of phase one of the museum’s Centennial transformation project, which will be completed for its 100-year anniversary in 2020. The multiyear project is designed to create powerful and engaging experiences that will capitalize on the resources of the museum.
 
The entire exhibit was designed by New York-based Thinc Design, while Osborn Engineering, AECOM, general contractor Panzica/Gilbane and Project Management Consultants also worked on the project.
 
Approximately 135 people worked on the construction team. Eight museum employees tend to the center on a daily basis.
 
Tickets to the Perkins Wildlife Center are free with museum admission.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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