Local wildlife took over the St. Maarten Zoo this past Sunday morning, and over 400 people came out to see and learn about it. The occasion was the third Endemic Animal Festival, an annual wildlife discovery event created by the Les Fruits de Mer association to celebrate the unique animals that are found only on our island or only in our region.
“We were delighted with the turnout, and the positive response we got from the attendees!” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “This event is especially important to us because it’s all about the wildlife that make this island special and unique.”
The Festival’s Endemic Animal Discovery Station showcased live reptiles, insects and crustaceans that are only found on St. Martin or only in the Caribbean, with panels explaining the origins and importance of these special species. Wildlife experts were on hand to share fun facts and answer questions. At the station, guests picked up a checklist of over 20 local species that can be seen in the wild on the zoo grounds and headed on a self-guided wildlife walk: a series of ten permanent signs created and installed in March tells the story of St. Martin’s native wildlife, with a focus on species that live at the zoo naturally.
At the art activity station, kids—and the young at heart—made colorful crowns featuring endemic wildlife. 200 Endemic Animal Activity Books were also distributed at the event. Both the crown designs and the activity books are available for free download on the Les Fruits de Mer website so they can be used by teachers and parents. Eco-friendly canvas grocery totes were given away as well.
A Bird Observation Station was set up on the Great Salt Pond where guests learned to use special scopes and binoculars to spot Laughing Gulls, Magnificent Frigatebirds, an Osprey and many other species that depend on pond and wetland habitats. The station was hosted by professional birding guide and Nature Foundation board member Binkie van Es. The Great Salt Pond is internationally designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Event attendees also enjoyed visiting the zoo itself, which has been transformed by recent renovations. In addition to the new native animal signage, plantings are underway to develop the zoo grounds as a botanic garden. Other renovations include bright new picnic tables and shade gazebos, a relaunched petting zoo, and an all-new Monkey Bar which will officially reopen on May 1st.
The Festival, including admission to the Zoo, was totally free. The event was staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by the generous support of the 2016 sponsors: Buccaneer Beach Bar, Calmos Cafe, Delta Petroleum, Hotel L’Esplanade, Lagoonies Bar & Bistro, Loterie Farm and Tri-Sport. Photos from the event, the Festival’s free companion eBook Eye on Endemics: Caribbean Originals, and free downloads of the activity books and crown craft can be found at www.lesfruitsdemer.com.