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Bugs in a rug

ZooTeens are happy that insect exhibit is open this summer as Zoo looks for donations to keep it going
by: Jonathan House, Hal Ballard, chairman of the Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition inspects the brake calipers on the front of a bike Saturday at the Cedar Mill Farmers Market. Ballard talks with the owner as he reviews the bike using a component diagram and checklist to cover all aspects of the free inspection.

The ZooTeens aren't quite as bugged as they were early this year about their beloved insects.

Oregon Zoo officials have figured out a way to keep the insect exhibit open and staffed by full-time employees and young volunteers.

The zoo - and the teen volunteers - still needs to raise $250,000 to keep the attraction open.

But just having the exhibit open this summer made the group happy. When the teens found out that the insect zoo would be staffed for the summer, they saw it as a huge step in the right direction.

'All of these things started happening this year and we started thinking, 'Wait, we can do something,' ' said Jeremy Atwood. 'We're not going to stop until it's done.'

The teens see their efforts to get the zoo staffed for the summer and acquire donations for the new zoo as real achievements. ZooTeen Matt Brown said the group's endeavors were important.

'It's an amazing initiative opportunity,' Brown said. 'It's the underdog story. We've been given this chance.'

Undervalued insects

Oregon Zoo Director Tony Vecchio supports their efforts.

'I am thrilled that the teens are able to do it,' he said.

Vecchio also thinks the zoo could have a place for the insect exhibit in the future, but it will need donations to keep it going.

'I hope there's an insect zoo in that future,' he said.

To reach their goal of $250,000, the teens are hoping for help from private donors and big foundations. They've contacted Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey, sending them a video explaining why the insects matter to them. They hope that by getting the word out to the public, not only will they get the money they need for the new zoo, but awareness of their project will increase as well.

ZooTeen Alvin Ma believes that people can understand the importance of insects if they stop to think about their role in our everyday lives.

'If you take the time to notice something, it can change your life,' Ma said. 'Insects are really, really undervalued parts of society.'

As an example, Ma said cockroaches get rid of waste. Little things like that can really make a difference, he said.

Sea of ideas

If the teens can raise the money they are hoping for, their new insect exhibit will be built alongside other zoo projects, including the newly renovated primate exhibit and the predators of the Serengeti.

The teens want to show the public the insects and give people an opportunity to see them up close. Before the insect zoo was staffed for the summer, visitors were not able to touch the insects because a staff person is required to supervise the teens. Most people like a hands-on experience with the insects.

Now that the staff is back, people flock to the windows where they can peer inside, see the insects up close, and even touch them, while learning new insect facts.

The teens hope that their enthusiasm for the bugs will inspire others.

'I've been in love with these insects as long as I can remember,' Atwood said. 'If they take out the insect zoo, they are taking out an important part of the animal population.'

Although the new insect zoo might not happen for some time, the teens still have visions of what it will look like.

'We have a sea of ideas, but we don't have a canvass yet,' he said.

Carmen Hinckley is an intern from the University of Oregon.