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Wild Animals on the Web

By Shannon Maughan for Real Families, Real Fun

The crowds at zoos and aquariums prove that humans love observing wild animals. If you don't live near such facilities, you can still get an up-close and personal view of an amazing array of species and habitats by visiting virtual zoos and aquariums.

Our test families agreed that a virtual trip doesn't replace the real thing, though several spoke of taking field trips in the future. "The Internet does not come close to visiting the real places," said Liz Price. "But our online exploring reminded Nathan of the great time he had at the real zoo and aquarium and left him longing to go back to the real thing."

The LaClairs echoed a similar sentiment. "Going to these sites made me thing of the time we went to the New Jersey Aquarium, and made me want to visit a local game farm that has lots of animals this summer," said Peggy.

Until you reserve a day for such an outing, satisfy your curiosity and urge by visiting the sites listed below. Each site contains information and activities for a broad age range, making them great family destinations. Best of all, no long lines or smelly cages!

National Zoo Home Page
You can check in with the National zoo's most famous residents, Giant Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian via the Giant Panda Cam. In addition to learning about Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived from China last December, and their celebrated predecessors Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, who lived at the zoo for more than 25 years, Web visitors can view other animals. Young animal lovers can play games in the Giant Panda area and in the kids' area of the Friends of the Zoo section.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
This self-described "e-quarium" is filled with fun things to do and explore, without the risk of getting wet. Click from the Penguin Cam and Tide Pool cam to games like Kelp Habitat Tic-Tac-Toe. You can also use high quality photos to create your own cool e-mail postcards to send to family and friends.

"Ben (age 7) liked the 'Crunch, Nibble, Gulp, Bite' matching game and we got to see a pretty cool animated film of a shark eating another fish," said Marianne Reis. "But the Penguincam was too slow and fuzzy to really hold our attention," she added.

San Diego Zoo
At this excellent site you'll find profiles of people who work at the zoo as well as the animals who live there. Test one of the site's animal-inspired recipe, like Rice-a-Rhino. Then, after your snack, try your hand at the zoo games or crafts. Don't miss the zoo's Baby Page, where you can view video footage of a Bactrian camel born on May 23, 2001.

"Nathan (age 5) always enjoys checking out a new site to see if he can play a new game and he really enjoyed the San Diego Zoo games. He liked carrying the animals over the bridge and watching it collapse if the load was too heavy," reported Nathan's mom, Liz Price.

The Florida Aquarium (
Be in-the-know with the animal fun facts, in addition to coloring pages, activities (how to press seaweed, make a hydrometer), games, an exploration of habitats, and an "ask the expert" area which should satisfy even the most curious fish fans.

"Ryan (age 12) and Christine (age 5) liked all the pictures," said their mom, Peggy LaClair. "It looks like a really cool place to go," she added, while noting that the "games didn't really work for us."

Venture into Hawaii's Coral Reefs (
This site moves one step beyond an aquarium setting. Elementary students on the island of Oahu have put together this fascinating look at the coral reef habitats near their home. Learn more about the living coral, the fish, mammals and other creatures that live in it, how the habitat is threatened and how people are trying to protect it.

"It took a long time to download, but it was worth the wait," Peggy LaClair commented. "There was a book you could read, a crossword puzzle that Rachel (age 10) enjoyed, great cartoon pictures and lots of fun learning."

Gorilla Cam at the Johannesburg Zoo ( Travel to South Africa for a live look at gorillas Max and Lisa, who live in the Johannesburg Zoo. You can capture photos of them and add them to the site with your own witty captions. You may want to investigate the new lion cams, too. Just be mindful of the time change (South Africa is six hours ahead of EST in the U.S.; best viewing time from April to September is 9AM to 3PM South Africa time, weather permitting.)

I liked the craft suggestions on the San Diego Zoo site. The directions were easy-to-follow and the activities are definitely something we would do on a rainy day. --Liz Price

Also see:
Entertaining dinosaur videos
Soothing bed time videos
Take the kids to an art museum
Enjoy a one-day family escape
Great children's museums

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