Before the semester closes on Michael Noonan's zoo biology class at Canisius College, his students are tasked with creating their own mini-zoo.
So the 18 students transformed Room 316 of the Health Science Building, at the corner of Jefferson and East Delavan avenues, into a South American rain forest exhibit, right down to the canopy of leaves on the ceiling and the trail of bark leading to the douroucouli night monkey.
The public is invited to check out "Tropical Trek: From Dusk 'til Dawn in the Amazon," from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays until Nov. 16.
For the first part of the semester, Noonan's students studied the principles of exhibitry and husbandry, and then visited several zoos as far away as Detroit and Chicago to scope out exhibits and best practices.
"It's very much like the real world," said Noonan, professor of psychology and biology, and director of Canisius' animal behavior program. "It's a simulation of what real zoos have to go through."
The students decided to create a South American rain forest exhibit, borrowing 10 species from the Buffalo Zoo, thanks to Noonan's long working relationship with the cultural institution.
In less than three weeks, the students turned an ordinary classroom into an elaborate natural habitat, even hauling in and erecting fallen trees, and keeping the room temperature at a humid 82 degrees.
The exhibits include a six-banded armadillo, a prehensile-tailed porcupine, a dwarf caiman, a douroucouli night monkey, and green and black poison dart frogs.
The zoo is glad to be part of the project, said Kevin Murphy, animal curator at the zoo and a Canisius graduate.
"The best way to educate the public is having good exhibits," Murphy said. "It's amazing [the students] do this in the time frame they do."
It was a lot of work, said Alicia DuBrava, a senior in the class.
"It was so much planning for the species' needs. There was a lot to think about," she said, "But it was worth it. I loved it."
Noonan gives the students high marks.
"These are the most wonderful students I've ever worked with," Noonan said. "These exhibits are as good as I've seen anywhere."