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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The air is hot and humid, you're surrounded by a cacophany of hoots and whistles, animals appear around every corner. No, it's not a rainforest, but it sure seems like one!

It's actually the Canisius College Amazoo, created by students in the Department Of Animal Behavior, Ecology And Conservation.

For months, the staff and students have been hard at work planning and preparing this unique experience, and now it has finally come to fruition, a steamy Brazilian Rainforest in the heart of the city. Matt Lefauve is one of the many students that worked on the project. "We started the first day of class in September learning about exhibit design, how to look at animal welfare in a zoo, as well as how to understand how a visitor feels in a zoo.," Matt said.

In the Amazoo, one can find a number of amazing creatures, from poisonous frogs, to giant cockroaches and even a porcupine ! But make no mistake, this is not a traditional exhibit. In keeping with the changing nature of zoos worldwide, this zoo is not just a bunch of caged animals.

Sue Margulis is an Associate Professor at Canisius. "This class and this program really emphasize the role of zoos in conservation and in society," Sue said. "So one of the challenges to the students is getting messages across, so if you look around here, every exhibit will have some sort of piece of information about what you can do to help the environment."

Adds Lefauve, "Zoos are really trying to show that they're not just menageries, they're education centers, so that's a really big part of our zoo, and that's something this class is really focused on."

Rainforests throughout the world are shrinking at an alarming rate, and although our WNY ecology may not seem like they have much in common, the Amazoo does a great job of reminding visitors that all environments are interconnected, that what happens thousands of miles away can have an impact everywhere else on the planet.

"The biodiversity in the Amazon is unmatched anywhere else in the world," Margulis said. "We get a lot of food, a lot of medicines come from plants and animals that come from the Amazon."

"They really are like the lungs of the planet,"Lefauve said. "Without them, we would lose so many species that are important in every ecosystem, not just in the rainforest."

Although the Amazoo is raising awareness about the planet, it is also achieving a more long term goal. Margulis says that through this experience and the guidance of the college, these students will be on the vanguard of change, an army of young stewards looking to protect the earth we all need to survive.

"Our students have an Animal Behavior degree with a minor in Zoo Biology," she said. "Many of them have done zoo internships, many of them have been through this course, and that really makes them stand out, so I think a lot of our students will be the zoo leaders of the future."

Lefauve concludes, "I love being here in the Animal Behavior Program, especially this course, it's been a lot of fun, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

The Amazoo is located in the Canisius Health Science Building. It is open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. through November 21. For more information, visit their website http://www.canisius.edu/abec/default.asp

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