Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tigers at the Seaport

There are only an estimated 3,000 surviving wild tigers in the world today. That is a sharp reduction from a population of 5,000 mere months ago. Dramatically illustrating this alarming rate of decline, organizers of a new interactive exhibition on tigers have had to update their signage by hand. Developed by nature photographer Carole J. Amore to raise awareness of this issue, Tigers: Tracking a Legend recently opened at the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. Still, despite the inescapable urgency this figure represents, rest assured, the Tigers experience is mostly about creatively produced family fun, rather than depressing guilt trips.

To really appreciate the Tigers installation, you ought to go through it with some wide-eyed youngsters. My research assistants for the day were a very intelligent, animal-loving six-year old girl, her four year old brother (who is a tough crowd to please), and their incredibly patient aunt. Thanks to the spirited presentation of our knowledgeable guide, we were all very engaged by the exhibit, and our six year old team leader was absolutely engrossed.

There are no live tigers at the Seaport. There is no taxidermy either. There are some life-like representations of the stars of the show, the Bengal tigress Bachhi and her cubs Badi and Choti, but there are strictly inorganic recreations. However, we do see plenty of the real tigers in films shot by creator Amore that gives visitors a sense of their personalities.

Most of the exhibition though is hands-on and participatory. Through models, kids learn the basics of tracking animals, and get a tactile appreciation of the tiger’s hunting prowess and the mighty force of its jaws at clever activity stations. They had a chance to match the tiger’s roar and even learn something about the science of sound and hearing in one activity that probably skews a bit older than our team. However, the various smell stations with all the stinky scents associated with the tiger’s environment should be a big hit for a group of our age range (indeed, everyone under thirty loved being disgusted by them).

For young visitors, the highlight of Tigers will most likely be the digi-track climbing wall (so be sure they wear clean tennis shoes). Called the “nap-maker,” the guides have a number of tiger-themed games to play on the wall using the various flashing lights that are sure to burn off a lot of excess energy. Frankly, we all probably slept well that night.

There is also a serious station devoted to conservation, which is handled quite appropriately. It is a shame to see the dwindling population of tiger species, especially after spending time with Bachhi, Badi, and Choti. Unfortunately, many tiger populations have been centered in countries where environmental concerns hold little sway. As a result the Amur Siberian tiger in Russia number a scant 400-500 and only 70 South China Amoy tigers survive in captivity.

Again, the enthusiasm and professionalism of our guide was quite impression. Thanks to him, all four of us got something out of the Tigers exhibit. In fact, the verdict of our six year-old researcher was about as conclusive as it gets at that age—she immediately wanted to go through it all again. Seeing is believing. For smart, curious kids aged six and up, Tigers is a fascinating experience and good exercise as well. So if you have any kids lying around the house this Fourth of July weekend bring them to Tigers: Tracking a Legend on the third floor of Pier 17 and learn something about these powerful but endangered animals.