Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2007 | Features

Lessons from the Dodo

By Shelbi Thomas
If only the dodo could speak.

If the lonely sentinel nesting in the UI's Hageboeck Hall of Birds could break its centuries-old silence, perhaps it would tilt its doleful head to one side, crack open its tragicomic beak, and croak a heartfelt warning: "Beware!"

As it is, the stuffed relic of a careless era can only stand watch outside a new permanent exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, bearing silent witness to the frailty of our world and its inhabitants.

Opened this past September, the museum's Biosphere Discovery Hub entices visitors to explore the consequences of human interaction with the environment-from climate change to the threat of extinction. With its emphasis on UI research that attempts to address those issues, the new exhibit offers ideas on how to prevent our species and our world from going the way of the dodo.

AT RIGHT: A flightless bird hunted into extinction only 40 years after its discovery, the dodo represents what UI Museum of Natural History education and outreach coordinator Sarah Horgen, 02BA, calls the "worst-case scenario of what could happen if we don't take care of the environment."

RIGHT INSET: Featured in Alice in Wonderland and Ice Age, the dodo has become a beloved cultural icon for children.
Sagan LEFT: Words from astronomer Carl Sagan inspire visitors to think about ways they could protect the planet. "It's easy to scare people about all the bad things happening to our environment, but that doesn't help," says Horgen. "We want to show people that every little bit helps, and if everybody chips in, it'll make a big difference."
RIGHT: Native American rock art depicts the animals that lived in northeast Iowa during the late prehistoric period. The display is part of a timeline that spans 12,000 years of ecological and cultural changes in the state. Rock Art
Room LEFT: Research from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist explains how descendants of the Native Americans who belonged to the "Effigy Mounds" groups farmed the land.
RIGHT: Settlers who moved to Iowa between the 1850s and 1900s made drastic changes to its landscape. In the span of 50 years, the oak savannas and prairies that dominated Iowa were largely supplanted by settlements and farm land. Turkey
Mask LEFT: This seashell mask, made between 1200 and 1600 by the Oneota people who lived in what is now Iowa's Allamakee County, is one of several pieces on loan to the exhibit from the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist.
RIGHT: Circular metal artwork with a natural theme hangs from the ceiling of the Biosphere Discovery Hub and casts a shadow canopy of leaves and branches onto the floor and the interactive display panels below. Ceiling
Toddler LEFT: An earth mat in the center of the room is particularly popular with children. The globe reminds visitors that the consequences of one country's interactions with the environment can be felt worldwide.


RIGHT: Interactive displays and computer stations provide hands-on lessons about the impact of current UI research in places as far away as the Pacific Northwest and Mexico. The Biosphere Discovery Hub also provides space for the museum to hold art classes, lectures, family programs, and story sessions.
Egrets LEFT: One display recreates Avery Island, a Louisiana swamp wildlife preserve that E.A. McIlhenny of Tabasco sauce fame set up in the early 20th century to save the snowy egrets (pictured) from extinction.
RIGHT: "At first glance, you might wonder what this alligator scene has to do with Iowa," says Horgen about this diorama. "[In fact, the UI Museum of Natural History] sent a contingent down to Louisiana in 1918 to collect specimens. [The story of McIlhenny's conservation efforts] fit perfectly into the exhibit." Alligator