Rain Forests in Texas?

Article excerpt

In the past ten years, zoos throughout the United States have added elaborate rain-forest exhibits to their collections. In order to do so, they have joined forces with scientists and conservationists throughout Latin America in educating the world about rain-forest conservation. Moody Gardens, a botanical garden in Galveston, Texas, has created one of the largest rain-forest exhibits in the U.S.

The Moody Gardens complex includes the Learning Place, a six-thousand square-foot educational facility; the Preview Theater, featuring environmentally conscious plays and movies; and the Rainforest Pyramid. The forty-thousand-square-foot rain-forest exhibit in a ten-story-high, glass pyramid is divided into three geographic regions, highlighting flora and fauna from the rain forests of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Although tropical fish and spiny softshell turtles inhabit the forest's ponds and aquariums, the focus of the exhibit is plant life. There are more than one thousand species of plants growing in the pyramid. Says Gary Outenreath, Moody Gardens horticulture exhibits manager: "Every plant here has been hand selected."

Adding color to the sea of green are brightly colored butterflies and tropical birds, such as Galapagos doves, blue and gold macaws, and scarlet ibis - just a few of the pyramid's thirty-five bird species. Two species of bats live in a cave in the middle of the rain forest. Separated from the visitors by a glass wall, a total of fifty-four bats roost, feed, and fly.

In order to gather material for their educational programs and the Rainforest Pyramid, Moody Gardens staff routinely travel to Latin America's rain forests and, for the past two years, have concentrated on Panama, working with the Asociacion Nacional para la Conservacion de la Naturaleza (ANCON), Panama's most prominent nature conservation organization. ANCON organizes Moody Gardens expeditions, supplies local guides, and approves all research trips with the Panamanian government. In return, Moody Gardens raises funds for ANCON's projects and purchases land for protection in the rain forest.

With the help of ANCON, Moody Gardens staff members can go deep into the jungle. "There's an art and a science to collecting plants," Outenreath says. "The idea is not to just go in and grab everything you see. So we usually like to see a plant that seems to be fairly common. If there's only one of something, we don't collect it."

Outenreath has spent most of his time collecting in Peru and Panama. Currently, Moody Gardens houses about seventy-five plant species, collected from Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Peru.

High on Outenreath's list is the collection of medicinal plants. …