WASHINGTON – Want to see what Kali the rhinoceros and her new calf are doing?
You don’t have to go to the National Zoological Park to check on them.
Just go to the zoo’s Web site (http://www.si.edu/natzoo) and follow the “zoo highlights” section to its Web cameras. You’re likely to see Kali and her calf milling around their cage, although sometimes they hide in the corner just out of view.
The picture sent from the “rhinocam” is updated every three- and-one-half minutes.
The Web site – created in May 1995 – boasts general information for people planning a trip to the zoo but also allows people “to tour the zoo, even if they can’t get here,” said Marc Bretzfelder, 30, who maintains the zoo’s site.
The “highlights” section contains zoo maps, information on zoo births, feeding and training schedules for the pandas and other creatures, directions and hours of operation.
The Web site also provides in-depth information about exhibits and projects the zoo is involved with, Bretzfelder said.
The site has grown substantially since its launch, when it was simply a collection of articles from newspapers and magazines, he said.
In the “educational games” section, the orangutan language project challenges viewers to match symbols with colors or objects. Zoo orangutans use computers equipped with touch screens to learn how to communicate in a unique, symbolic language.
In the “zoo views” section, one can read how artificial reproduction technology, a process “tested and perfected” on humans, is being used to save endangered species.
And the Web camera exhibit has more than the updates on the rhinos. Cameras also look in on the naked mole-rat exhibit and two elephants. In a few weeks, viewers will be able to see poisonous millipedes, Bretzfelder said.
The Web cameras highlight Bretzfelder’s emphasis on multi- media.
“I don’t like to read too much when I’m on the Web. The average person isn’t going to read a lot,” said the native Washingtonian, whose background is in science writing. “I want [the site] to look like a piece of candy” – tempting.
Bretzfelder clicks on the “animal photos” section to underscore his point.
He brings up a picture of a polar bear. He clicks again, enlarging the picture to show the white bear focused on his next meal, a small black fish suspended inches from his waiting jaws.
The bear photo is one of more than 200 pictures of mammals, birds, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians found in this section.
Bretzfelder has taken on two unpaid, part-time interns to help with the site.
One is his mother, Deborah Bretzfelder, former chief of design at the National Museum of American History. She uses image enhancing software to make the animal photos clearer.
His other intern, Gloria Grimes, an oral surgery assistant at D.C. General Hospital, puts sounds onto the site.
Grimes said she always wanted to work with animals and enjoys volunteering because she has learned a lot about many different creatures.
Bretzfelder says he finds the work exciting. He said the site is seen by an estimated 9,000 to 11,000 people every month.
A self-described “computer person,” he said he taught himself how to design and maintain the Web site.
“As needed, I learn it,” he said, from behind the mountain of computer magazines and piles of papers on his desk.
He has been affiliated with the zoo since he was 12, when he began working for the zoo’s membership organization, the Friends of the National Zoo. He became an intern for the zoo after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1988 with a bachelor of science degree in journalism. From 1990 to 1995, he wrote science articles and produced videos for the zoo’s public relations department. -30-