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Animal, virtual, magical

EYEWITNESS VIRTUAL REALITY CAT. EYEWITNESS VIRTUAL REALITY BIRD. CD-Roms for multimedia PC Windows (Mac versions due in spring) Typical price Pounds 30 to Pounds 39, available through most software outlets Dorling Kindersley, 9 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8PS Tel: 0171 836 5411

Dorling Kindersley's latest CD-Rom titles put you into a unique "virtual museum" and let you explore more than 100 exhibits about the world of nature. As a way in to the study of some amazing creatures, this is unsurpassed and Dorling Kindersley has once again created some stunning attention-grabbers.

The idea in these latest titles, for age 10 upwards, is that you click and move step by step through a building where the galleries and corridors are lined with wall hangings. Click on these and you can find out how animals feed, how they behave and where they live.

In the Cat title you might find the exhibit marked Vision and read that binocular vision helps the cat to hunt, and that monocular vision helps a rabbit to escape. You will be told how the eye works and see this animated, or a pop-up screen will explain why cats' eyes glow in the dark. And all through you will see those razor-sharp photographs that have become the company trademark.

There are buttons to push and things to play with. For example, there is a bank of buttons you can press and hear the noises different cats make. Or you can move a square over a fluffy cat and see inside it - its muscle, its organs, its skeleton. Some cat lovers will have trouble with just the idea of this. You will also see a cheetah's skull and then turn it round to see its teeth. You can quickly pop over to a jaguar's skull and see its even larger teeth for tearing and gripping its prey.

This is not just a nature study, as other exhibits show the part cats have played in different cultures. So there is a statue of the god Vishnu incarnated as the man-lion.

The other title, Bird, follows the same museum floorplan with its three galleries, one on anatomy, another on behaviour, while the bird families are brought together in the aviary.

Essentially the same ground is covered, though Bird turns out to be the more interesting of the pair, perhaps because birds are a diverse lot. At meal time, for example, vultures mob a carcass, hummingbirds hover in a flower and the amazing cormorant takes a deep breath and fishes under water. These are just some of the snatches of film you pick up along the way.

Finally, there is a virtual museum shop where you can pick up cat postcards or bird writing paper to use with your word processor. In the poster section, there are screenfuls of leopard fur and bouncing kittens to decorate your computer desktop.

There is little question that these will be great at home and in libraries and those spending time, as they might in a museum, will gain from it.

It is in the class that there is a problem: the level is too hard for primary project work and it is not well connected with the curriculum. You will find snippets, but as in any museum trip, one is back to needing the help of someone who knows the place.

But it looks good and the idea of an open-all-hours gallery is a treat. What is more, it will not make your feet sore one bit.

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