Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wildlife education -- part 1

Rabbits, snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, bats, foxes, raccoons, ducks, geese, owls, moles, coyotes, eagles, hawks, possums, songbirds, crows . . . The kids called out what animals they thought might be taken care of at the Mercer County Wildlife Center. (All those named here were correct, and there were still more.)

This was an education session provided by the Center for children attending the Junior Master Gardener Summer Nature Camp, in Lawrence Township. All 18 seated (and most squirming) on a big blue mat, they looked and listened – and asked questions and told stories – as staff member Jane Rakos-Yates conducted the class.

She elicited from them what kind of animals the place serves: birds, mammals, reptiles. And in spelling out what kind of wildlife is welcome there -- sick, injured or without a parent – she stressed that it’s a hospital, not a sanctuary or zoo.

Four “education animals” were introduced to the children. Although they’ll live out their lives at the Center, they are still treated like wildlife. Rakos-Yates wore protective gloves and used towels when she held them, and the animals were on (short) leashes.

First came a female Eastern screech owl, who is at the Center because when the tree where she lived was chain-sawed down, she lost part of a wing. Inability to fly would quickly finish her off in the wild, so she helps with education and sometimes acts as a surrogate mom for baby screech owls brought in.

Next came an Eastern striped skunk. She had been de-scented to make her a pet before being rescued. For future reference, the kids learned that different kinds of skunks have different stripes and that vinegar’s the best way to get rid of the skunk spray "aroma."

(to be continued tomorrow)

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