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The Real Hunger Games
By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo
Last night the Audubon Zoo Education department made a big impact on some families participating in our programs. It’s something we do every day, but last night was one of those events that will live on in the memories of the children that were here for the rest of their lives.
Safari After Dark is a family camping event at the Audubon Zoo. Families camp on the education grounds and participate in nature based activities and animal encounters. Last night we immersed the families in a real life game of predator/prey we call “The Real Hunger Games”. The group of 80 was broken into groups of herbivores, omnivores and carnivores. We gave instructions and sent them into the “arena” (zoo grounds) to find food and water. They needed to survive and make it back to camp after an hour. We had real world variables like disease, drought, fire and MAN out in the “arena” to make survival even harder (and actually more realistic.) Our goal was to get the families to understand the food chain and survival on the savanna by experiencing it in the most realistic manner ever. As I gave the instructions on how to play I emphasized that they would play it just fine if they would really think and react as the animal they were assigned. Let instinct take over. That’s what they did and boy did they get it!
They made it back to base, many were proud that they made it back with lives and no disease. Then they found out their water was contaminated and they wouldn’t survive after all. Gee, life on the savanna is tough and not fair. No kidding.
The families stayed up and discussed strategy and how the game went. Children shared their injury stories, there were lots of scrapes and skinned knees. Survival is rough. "Lights out" came at 11pm and the families were still talking about the game and using vocabulary like- domestication, herd mentality, adaptations, camouflage. I heard parents talk about letting their “diseased” young go to the water hole first in case a carnivore or predator lay waiting. I smiled to myself because the most wonderful thing had happened. They got it. They understood the roles of the food chain. More importantly there was no technology, no academic lecturing or testing, no fancy sets or players. It was an old fashioned game of “hide and seek” with adults playing and interacting with their children; families talking to each other about animals and nature. It was one magical night that will live on in the memories of those children.
My team and I are just as ecstatic as those families this morning. We understand the value of play, family togetherness in nature and informal learning. The excited conversations we had with the participants validated our roles here. We did it! We connected families to celebrate the wonders of nature.