- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Many people know New York City's Bronx borough for its pinstriped baseball team, as the birthplace of Billy Joel or as a place to get a great slice of pizza. Who knew it also offers a thriving African rain forest?
The 104-year-old Bronx Zoo boasts more than 4,000 creatures and 265 acres of land, making it the largest urban wildlife conservation facility in America. Created by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo has put together some exciting exhibits, including a Himalayan Highlands area and Congo Gorilla Forest. The latter also has become an online destination that provides budding zoologists a great place to learn about some of the world's amazing animals and what is being done to stop their extinction.
Congo Gorilla Forest
Site address: www.congogorillaforest.com
Creator: The Wildlife Conservation Society, which has its headquarters at the Bronx Zoo, developed and updates the site. Founded in 1895, the society manages the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, including the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium and the Central Park, Queens and Prospect Park zoos; more than 300 field projects in 53 countries; education programs used in all 50 states and in 15 nations; and a breeding facility off the coast of Georgia.
Creator quotable: "We created the Congo Gorilla Forest Web site as an online companion for the award-winning Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. The Web site was launched in June of 1999 to coincide with the exhibit's opening," says Marjorie Federici, manager of online services for the society.
"Designed to educate all audiences about the plight of wildlife in the Congo Basin region in Central Africa, the site also inspires visitors to care for, and help save, this irreplaceable region and the wildlife that calls it home."
Word from the Webwise: As a baby gorilla's face fills the screen, a visitor clicks to jump quickly to the home page, which has a black background, a border of bamboo and a friendly frog peeking in from the corner. Visitors can choose from the main sections Congo Virtual Tour, Meet the Congo Residents and Conservation Choices to learn about the man-made environment and why it's worthy of a visit.
After perusing an introduction section that touts some of the exhibit's flavor and its lush habitat, which contains 15,000 plants, 55 fabricated trees and 75 species of animals, I suggest taking the Congo Virtual Tour. Explore the map of the Bronx Congo, which features clickable hot spots to investigate areas such as the Mandrill Forest, Okapi Jungle and Colobus Trees.
Each area's page features colorful photos, a detailed description of what visitors will see, a zoological fact (the giraffelike Okapi uses its long black tongue to strip leaves from branches) and even a QuickTime video clip showing the residents in their very natural setting. Also included on the tour are some facts about real rain forests, biographies of those responsible for creating the exhibit and some construction photographs.
Of course, the animals are what really brings the Congo to life and Meet the Congo Residents does an admirable job highlighting 12 of the species with a slick design. Visitors can move their cursor over the animals' names to reveal an image of the creature peeking out from under a leaf, then click on the name to go to the animal's own page.
Diverse fellows ranging from the Colobus monkey to the Red River hog to the African rock python to the western lowland gorilla are introduced through pages filled with information on the animals' life span, gestation period, diet, distinct characteristics and threats they encounter in the wild.
Finally, the simple but fact-filled Conservation Choices section explains how the society keeps an eye on the elephant, okapi, mandrill and gorilla populations around the world.
Visitors looking to deviate from the site's major paths will enjoy a link to National Geographic's virtual adventure that follows conservationist Michael Fay's trek through the heart of central Africa, complete with a 360-degree simulation of his surroundings.
Ease of use: The site should work with all operating systems and platforms, but I had trouble playing the Conservation Quest game on the Macintosh system. To view video clips in the virtual tour, visitors will need the QuickTime plug-in, and playing the game requires the Shockwave Player plug-in.
Don't miss: A simple board-game challenge, titled Conservation Quest, is translated to the virtual world as players choose from an okapi, mandrill, gorilla and elephant to trek around a path as quickly as possible to win. Each player clicks on a compass spinner to set the pointer in motion, and when it comes to a stop on a color, drags his animal to the next block of that color on the board. Not much to learn here, but a pleasant diversion.
Elements on the horizon: Look for another fun site (www.savingtigers.com) to go online in May, complementing the opening of the Bronx Zoo's new exhibit, Tiger Mountain.
Comprehension level: Miss Federici says the site was created for all ages to enjoy.
Overall grade: A
Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.
Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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