Deer Creek fourth-graders skip the classroom to spend a day at the Oregon Zoo

REGAL COURIER PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Turning your back on elephants is not a good idea on safari, but it's OK to do in the Elephant Lands exhibit at the Oregon Zoo; from left are Kylie, Kimberly, Linda, Rinret, Jennifer and Emma.The Oregon Zoo is probably never quiet with 1,800 individual animals representing 232 species or subspecies of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates within its 64 acres.

So between the animals and about one-and-a-half million visitors each year, there is always lots of commotion. But Feb. 24, despite being a cold and drizzly day, was especially noisy as dozens of groups of excited and noisy students swarmed through the five major exhibit areas: Great Northwest, Fragile Forests, Asia, Pacific Shores and Africa, and they have 23 specialized exhibits within them.

And among the thundering herds of kids were Deer Creek Elementary fourth-graders on a mission: to play Adaptation Blackout Bingo while observing the animals in their habitats.

Thanks to a lot of parent volunteers, the kids were put in small groups of half a dozen or so and sent out to explore the zoo with three simple instructions: Keep track of animal adaptations on their bingo sheets, meet for lunch at Forest Hall in the Elephant Lands exhibit and be back in the parking lot at 1:30 for the ride back to school.

One mom, April, had six girls to keep track of – Kylie, Linda, Emma, Rinret, Kimberly and Jennifer – as they passed by the mountain goat exhibit next to the entrance and headed into the Great Northwest exhibit.

REGAL COURIER PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - On a cold and rainy day at the Oregon Zoo, the lion sculptures were more fun than the real lions tucked away in their cozy den; from left are Emma, Kimberly, Kylie, Linda, Jennifer (in background) and Rinret.There they were amazed to see giant condors, bald eagles, waterfowl, beavers and river otters, bob cats, cougars and even black bears. At the eagle overlook was a giant, life-sized concrete version of an eagle's nest that all the girls could stand in together.

The girls also enjoyed the Trillium Creek Family Farm, going inside the barn to see sheep, rabbits, chickens and goats, but their favorite part might have been sitting on old-fashioned wooden horses.

Next up was Pacific Shores where for most of them, Nora the polar bear was their favorite animal of the whole day, but they also liked the harbor seals, penguins and sea otters.

The Primate Forest features sun bears, Visayan warty pigs, orangutans, chimpanzees, and yuck, snakes.

The girls and other visitors were fascinated with two chimpanzees as they played under a white sheet and then took turns wrapping themselves up in it like a mummy, grabbing a rope and swinging to the other side of the pen before collapsing in a billowing pile of white fluff.

The new Elephant Lands exhibit was impressive, with the zoo's elephants now having a much-larger area to roam, and the girls were touched by a tribute to Packy, the zoo's most famous elephant who recently died. A life-size photo of him on an acrylic panel is covered with Post-it notes filled with farewell messages written by his fans.

REGAL COURIER PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - At the Trillium Creek Family Farm at the Oregon Zoo, seeing the farm animals inside the heated barn was a nice break from the cold temperature outside; riding the wooden horses from left are (front to back) Kimberly and Emma, and right (front to back) Kylie and Rinret.Believe it or not, Africa was hard to find, but the intrepid April finally found it in the lower part of the zoo, where the girls saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, flamingos and many other animals.

As the girls darted from animal to animal around the zoo, April tried valiantly to keep them on track to find examples for their Adaption Blackout Bingo game. One characteristic they had to look for was examples of camouflage, which enables an animal to hide from predators or prey by blending in.

They had to find carnivores, which only eat other animals; herbivores, which only eat plants; and omnivores, which eat both plants and other animals.

The students had to watch for social interaction among animals; physical adaptations like claws that help animals hunt, climb or defend themselves; and coloration, with bright colors warning other animals to stay away or help attract mates.

Students also had to look at different body coverings such as feathers that help animals fly or swim, scales that help animals move and hide, and fur that helps animals stay warm in cold places.

REGAL COURIER PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Inside Forest Hall in Elephant Lands is a moving tribute to the late Packy, with Post-it notes of sympathy covering most of his life-size photo; posing in front of the photo are (from left) Jennifer, Emma and Rinret.The kids enjoyed the opportunity to leave school for the day and walk on the wild side, encountering creatures that normally would only be seen on a safari in Africa or on a trek through the Columbia Gorge.

Following the field trip, a few students were asked their opinions about what they saw, and their answers follow:

What did you learn on the zoo field trip?

Aalce: "We learned about adaptations."

Corinne: "I learned about adaptations and about carnivores, herbivores and omnivores."

Lea: "That there might be an animal that's like another and might not have the same adaptations."

Scarlett: "Nora exists. Cheetahs have black bits under their eyes to suck sunlight up so it can't go in their eyes."

Aiden: "I learned that zoos have a lot more animals than I thought."

Peter: "Something interesting that I learned is that naked mole rats are omnivorous."

REGAL COURIER PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - The Deer Creek girls got close to these pretend penguins in the Oregon Zoo's penguin exhibit, where (front to back) Kimberly, Kylie and Emma blended right in.Was it different than what you thought it would be?

Aalce: "Yes, because I did not think we would see the whole zoo."

Lea: "The only thing different was this cute memorial for Packy in the Elephant Plaza."

What was your favorite part of the field trip?

Aalce: "Mine personally was getting to see the cheetahs."

Lorinne: "My favorite part of the field trip was when I saw the new elephant exhibit. It is amazing. The memorial to Packy was amazing. It shows how many people care about him."

Lea: "My favorite was when we got to see the amphibians because it was warm, and there were a lot of interesting animals."

Scarlett: "I loved the cougars, but it's tied with bobcats and lions."

Aiden: "My favorite part was seeing the giraffes."

Peter: "My favorite part of the field trip was lunch."

What was something surprising that you learned on the field trip?

Aalce: "That bears are omnivorous and they hibernate."

Lorinne: "Something surprising that I thought was cool was the poster of how tall the bears are and how long orangutans' arms are or how long the wing spans of birds are. I am as tall as a sun bear."

Lea: "That giraffes have purple tongues, and it's purple because it (is) like sunscreen."

Scarlett: "Packy died."

Aiden: "I learned that monkeys like to swing a lot!"

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