By Paola Iuspa-Abbott
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 23 2007
West Palm Beach -- It was as if the black bears, the tigers, the monkeys and even the butterflies at the Palm Beach Zoo knew it was Earth Day on Sunday. Or so visitors and zoo volunteers thought. They had rarely seen the bears hugging and fighting playfully; the tigers chasing each other and plunging into a pond; and the monkeys climbing and poking each other restlessly.
"Did anybody give them an Earth Day pill to make them active?" Diane Gant of Royal Palm Beach, asked. "The monkeys are running a rampage."
"They are frisky today," Connie Birt of Boca Raton told her husband, Mike, as one of the tigers got out of the pond, laid on the grass and rolled on its back.
"I've never seen them like this," said Mike Brit, who brings his family to the zoo twice a year.
Maybe the animals were in a party mood to go along with the zoo's Party for the Planet celebration, a nationwide commemoration of Earth Day. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums threw the party at 141 zoos in 42 states. At the Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park the event was held Saturday and Sunday, and included storytelling and music for children, face painting and butterfly and ladybug releases.
Lexi Bancroft, 4, of Deerfield Beach, had one of the 600 butterflies released over the weekend posed on her index finger for several minutes Sunday.
"It was ticklish," she said after the butterfly was gone. She still had a frog painted on her right cheek.
Zoo officials said they hoped children would appreciate animals better if they had direct contact with them.
So the butterfly idea was born.
"The more they know about animals, the more they will love them and save them," the zoo's special event and membership manager Claudia Harden said.
The black-and-orange painted lady butterflies came in the mail from St. Petersburg to be freed on Earth Day, she said.
Sisters Audra, 12, and Aimee, 9, Birt also got to see the butterflies up-close, but the experience didn't compare to their favorite animals at the zoo: the bush dogs, a rare South American canid.
"I know they bite," Audra said. "But they are so cute."
In the background, music filtered through the shrubs and the animals' habitats. At the nearby zoo's plaza, musician Rick Hubbard was playing the banjo as kids danced to exhaustion.
His songs talked about loving the planet and encouraging children to take care of it by doing things like cleaning their bedrooms everyday.
"If we mess it up, it is going to be a big round rock," he sang. "If we mess it up, we will have to move to the moon."
Paola Iuspa-Abbott can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6631.