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ZooKeys return to raise awareness, evoke nostalgia



Education is key to protecting the planet's endangered animals, a mindset Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is taking quite literally.
 
This month, the zoo launched its ZooKey program, which offers young visitors customized keys that unlock recorded messages specific to particular exhibits. Kids can use the elephant-shaped keys on two dozen designated boxes scattered throughout the zoo to get fascinating facts on their favorite beastie.
 
"Our mission is about connecting people with wildlife," says Kelly Manderfield, chief marketing officer for Cleveland Metroparks. "This is a hands-on opportunity to educate the next generation and encourage them to learn more about these animals."
 
ZooKeys, part of a partnership with KeyBank celebrating Cleveland Metroparks' 100-year anniversary, are available for purchase at the zoo for $3. Pint-sized patrons can keep the keys and bring them back to access additional recordings.
 
Zoo officials expect nostalgic parents to use the keys, too, considering the program made its original debut in the 1960s. Since the re-launch, adult visitors have arrived with the old "Packey the Elephant" keys they grew up with.
 
"This has stirred lots of memories for parents," says Manderfield. "People are having fun seeing their own children participate."
 
New animal keys will be introduced over the program's current five-year timeline. Manderfield hopes the venture not only connects participants with the zoo's 2,000 animals, but inspires them to get interested in wildlife conservation as well.
 
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are now 16,306  species threatened with extinction, a figure that also includes plants. Species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, and one third of all amphibians.
 
Cleveland zoo patrons can witness efforts to stave off this trend at the Eastern black rhinoceros exhibit. This subspecies of black rhino is considered "critically endangered"  under World Wildlife Foundation guidelines due to demand for rhino horn, which has driven poaching to record levels.
 
Unlocking knowledge about rhinos and other rare creatures can be the catalyst that saves them from disappearing forever, Manderfield says.
 
"If we don't take care of these animals now, they may not be around for future generations," she says. "We're taking the idea of conservation and bringing it to the forefront."

The Cleveland Metroparks is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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