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Mon, July 15

Zoo camp: Learning on the spot

Zookeeper Linda Najera holds a desert tortoise while the kids feed, water, and clean its pen.

Zookeeper Linda Najera holds a desert tortoise while the kids feed, water, and clean its pen.

The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is living up to its slogan "Conservation through education" this week by giving third-and fourth-graders a close-up relationship with the zoo's animals.

"There's something new each day," said Education Coordinator Nina Bricko, who leads the children through the Zoo Camp. "We do food prep and animal enrichment, and we feed some of the animals, as well."

"There's 180 animals here," points out 9-year-old Spencer, who is enjoying his 3rd summer at Zoo Camp. The campers fix meals for a great many of these 180 creatures, including lemurs, desert tortoises, coatis, ravens, iguanas, box turtles and even black bears.

"I love exploring and helping out with the animals," said Alyssa, a beaming 10-year-old.

On this particular day, the mini-keepers have been examining skulls. "I liked learning about the skulls today, which ones were herbivores and carnivores and omnivores," reports 9-year-old Mia.

"We were examining the skulls and exploring the teeth shape to learn about the differences between the animals and what that means we'll be feeding them today," explains Bricko.

After learning this information, the children get to implement their knowledge with hands-on experience. Using their newfound expertise after examining the skulls, they helped to prepare food for the zoo's many inhabitants.

But the camp offers more than simply learning about and feeding the animals; the cages and enclosures need cleaning. This is no bother for 9-year-old Adrianna, who also is enjoying her third Zoo Camp summer:

"I like picking up the droppings," she giggles. Some of the children enjoy this "grosser" side of animal care, as many of them clamor to sift through a pile of live meal worms to feed to the animals. Others like different aspects of the camp.

Eight-year-old Santana's favorite part has been, "When I got to see the birds yesterday. (I saw) the raven and the owl".

Zookeeper Linda Najera helps supervise, and the program also gets help from the Zoo Teens, 13-to-15-year-old volunteers who spend their summertime hours helping to educate these children.

As the group moves outside to work in the tortoise pen, Bricko is diligent in reminding her campers of the proper protocol:

"First we grab one animal from the enclosure, we make sure we know where they are, we lock them up or we extract them, so we're never inside the enclosure with the animals. Then we go in, clean up the poop, change the water and give them food. We make sure everything is clean and clear before we move on to the next one".

The children are responsive and attentive, yet wide-eyed and excited at the same time. Perhaps, 9-year-old Annie sums it up best, "My favorite part of zoo camp is when we take care of all the animals and play the animal games, and the team building was really fun."

In addition to Zoo Camp, the Sanctuary offers 12 different courses and special tours individually catered to specific age groups.

The sanctuary offers Zoo Camp every summer, and it offers six separate 5-day sessions, with each one broken up by age and theme.

Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is at the corner of Willow Creek Road and Heritage Park Road. It is open 365 days a year, although the hours vary by season. More information is available by calling the zoo at (928) 778-4242 or (877) 778-6008.

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