From red pandas to zombies to Saltville, Va.-discoveries, the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Natural History Museum Visitor Center and Gray Fossil Site has plenty of community-oriented activities coming up for the public to enjoy and take part in.
The Natural History Museum will celebrate the fourth-annual International Red Panda Day on Saturday.
The museum is teaming up with the Red Panda Network to raise awareness about the endangered modern red panda and to educate visitors about the red pandas found on the site.
“Red Panda Day is all about understanding red pandas through time and helping with conservation efforts — the conservation efforts that are going into preservation of the living species of red panda,” Dr. Blaine Schubert, director of the Don Sundquist Center for Excellence in Paleontology and director of the natural history museum, said. “We celebrate red panda at our museum too ... because it’s one of the few fossil sites in the world that had red pandas and we have the most complete red panda skeletal material in the world.
“It’s one of the things that puts us on the map as something unique, because ... there are only two site in all of North America that have red panda fossils. The other site is in Washington state,” Schubert said.
Red panda expert, paleontologist and museum curator Dr. Steven Wallace will give a free talk at 1 p.m. titled, “Red Pandas of the Past and Present,” and will discuss the importance of the Gray Fossil Site’s Appalachian Red Panda and will compare it to the modern red pandas.
At 3 p.m., Sarah Glass, curator of red pandas, program animals and special exhibits at the Knoxville Zoo, will also lecture about red panda conservation efforts.
From 11 a.m.-4 p.m. children’s activities will be going on, giving kids the opportunity to “climb” the Himalayas and learn about red pandas, as well as earn the title of Red Panda Ranger.
To get into the Halloween spirit, the Natural History Museum will hold a day-long zombie themed event on Oct. 26 on ETSU’s main campus.
“This (event) is our big fundraiser. We’ve never had a fundraiser of this scale. We’ve been planning it for quite some time,” Schubert said.
The dedication to zombies will feature four main events, which will kick off at 10 a.m. with the Zombie 5K, co-hosted by ETSU Campus Recreation.
“This is the 5K they do every year, but every year they donate the proceeds to a charity or to somebody, and this year it’s to the museum. People are encouraged to dress up and we’re having a costume contest.”
Kids ages 11 and under are invited to participate in a “flag” Zombie Tag at noon on the intramural field near the Wayne G. Basler Center for Physical Activity. Participants will be given a free child’s and adult’s pass to the Natural History Museum. Face painting and inflatables will also be featured in the kid’s area. The teen Zombie Tag event will be held at 2 p.m. for ages 12-17 and the adult event, for participants 18 and up, will start at 5 p.m.
“The goal is to make it to all six checkpoints without becoming a zombie,” Schubert said. “We encourage everybody to dress up. We’re also going to have makeup artist that specializes in doing things like zombies. We’re also recruiting people ... from campus and the community to be ... starter zombies. The very beginning, you might see one of your professors out there as a starter zombie ... or a dean or a chair of a department.”
All other participants will wear a black T-shirt over a white T-shirt –– the black shirt representing humans and the white shirts representing zombies.
“If you get tagged, you have to take off your black shirt and then your white shirt is exposed and then you are a zombie,” Schubert said. “If you make it to all six checkpoints without getting tagged, you’re eligible for a higher level prize at the end. We’re hoping that a lot of people will come. All proceeds go towards the Natural History Museum, the exhibits and education programming at the museum.”
Adult Zombie Tag tickets are $10 online and $12 at the gate, the teen event is $10 and the children’s event is $5. Tickets for the Zombie Tag events can be purchased at http://zombietix.com.
Registration for the Zombie 5K has not yet been posted.
Schubert said the “Peanuts ... Naturally” exhibit is currently leaving the museum, but said they do have a “new finds” exhibit.
“It’s four cases within the main exhibit area ... that focuses on the discoveries from Saltville,” he said. “It talks about everything from giant short-faced bears to mammoths and mastodons. Some of the exhibits are pretty dramatic actually in showing the interaction of things like mammoths and giant short-faced bears. It’s definitely a good thing to see.”
Wallace and Schubert said the Fossil Site’s dig season, while a bit slow, did produce unique finds.
“We did actually find some pretty cool stuff,” Wallace said. “We found some of our first three-dimensional tapir skulls, which was really strange. Most of our skulls (we find) are crushed and we actually found some nice 3D skulls this year. We continue to recover more of that second panda skeleton. It’s about 75 percent complete.”
Schubert said they’ve been “discovering that more and more of the animals are new species. Many of even the bigger animals are turning out to be new species.”
A monthly speaker series and “Fossil and Artifact ID Nights” every other month also take place, as well as various youth programs.
For more information, visit the Natural History Museum’s website at www.etsu.edu/naturalhistorymuseum or call 866-202-6223.