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Visit a rain forest -- in Buffalo

When we were younger, one of the best parts of heading back to school was going on field trips. While these instructive outings may no longer be a main educational priority, that doesn't mean you can't take one of your own.

With the new school year in full swing, this is a great time to visit that frequent field trip destination, the Buffalo Zoo.

The Buffalo Zoo has probably changed since that first-grade field trip, with new improvements and additions, most notably the Rainforest Falls, sponsored by M&T Bank.

Taking a cue from other popular rain forest zoo exhibits across the country like those in Cleveland and Evansville, Ind., the new exhibit offers up the diversity of a rain forest in a newly constructed building containing a 3,600-square-foot green house.

As some exhibits at the Buffalo Zoo date back to late 19th century, the sleek and artistic design of the Rainforest Falls building is extremely refreshing.

Visitors are ushered first into the visitors' center, an interactive area which gives visitors a quick tutorial on rain forests and Angel Falls, the specific habitat in Venezuela the exhibit is modeled after.

While activities were designed for the younger set, the creativity of the displays entertains teens and adults as well. "The Rainforest Buffet" activity teaches about rain forest food chains, with menus for every appetite, in this case herbivores and carnivores. A "Fish Puree" and "Warm Blood Broth" fell under the "Soup du Jour", with "Moldy Fruit Tart" for dessert.

An enormous flat screen TV played a short video about Angel Falls, featuring beautiful images of the wildlife, while explaining conservation efforts to maintain the habitat.

As enjoyable as the visitors center is, visitors are eager to enter the main attraction. Immediately, visitors are met with colorful birds like the scarlet ibis and exotic creatures like anteaters and ocelots. They also experience the extreme humidity of a rain forest, making this a perfect destination during the lake-effect snow season. Visitors follow a U-shaped path with a multitude of animals on either side, They then cross a rickety bridge over a river filled with lizards and turtles, to enter a cave under Angel Falls to see piranhas and vampire bats.

For those on the squeamish side, know that this is by no means an African Lion Safari. While the animals seem close, they're always behind some sort of fencing or netting.

Visitors continue toward the staircase, on the way stopping to see the entertaining squirrel monkeys and the forests' bottom dwellers inside a hollowed-out log, including a very convincing bird-eating spider. The stairs lead up to a balcony providing a bird's-eye view of the entire rain forest. This is also a great opportunity to see the entirety of Angel Falls. While a beautiful sight, at 25 feet tall, it is remarkably smaller than its inspiration, for which the zoo can not really be blamed. Angel Falls is the tallest waterfall in the world at 2,937 feet! To put that in perspective, our beloved Niagara Falls is a measly 188 feet tall.

While the exhibit is smaller than some of its counterparts across the country, the details make up for it. At every step there is a new species to see, whether plant or animal, and it is easy to see that the zoo worked diligently to make this exhibit not only educational, but also a wild experience.

The Buffalo Zoo is open daily, year round, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Tickets are $6 for children 14-and-under, $7 for students with a school ID, and $9.50 for adults. Visit www.buffalozoo.org.

Carlene Miller is a junior at Alden.

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