When's a zoo not a zoo
Brianna Ochoa (left) and Sydney Salgueiro get up close and personal with a Heerman Kangaroo Rat during CALM’s Zoo School.
When is a zoo not a zoo? Well, actually the California Living Museum (CALM) in Bakersfield is a zoo, housing native animals who have been injured and/or abandoned that cannot care for themselves. But it has always been much more with a vibrant landscape featuring native vegetation and a natural history museum, too. Still, from July 18-22, CALM was even more – it was a "Zoo School" from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. for children in grades 4-6.
"We have had half day Zoo Schools during the summer months for many years," said Program Supervisor Lana Fain. "But this is the first time we extended it to a full day to provide much more of a learning opportunity for the children who attended."
Zoo School also features fun names and activities, such as "Fur, Feathers, Scales and Exoskeletons, "Be an Ologist" and "Zoopendous." The all day Zoo School carried the title "Close-up at CALM," giving a hint of the depth to which the children would be exposed to the many educational opportunities provided. There were lessons, activities, stories, videos and crafts all relating to whatever the subject of the day happened to be.
On July 20, children learned about the San Joaquin Kit Fox and the Heermann Kangaroo Rat, both endangered species that are in residence at CALM. By mid-morning, the time had come for a little up close and personal education with the zoo's ambassador animal of the day. Entering the permanent classroom came Education Specialist Kim Belmont, carrying a small, traveling cage with a light cover over it. As soon as she had the children take a seat around her, Belmont unveiled a live kangaroo rat, and the "oohs" and ahs" rose steadily while the children clamored closer to get a better look.
Belmont told the children, among other things, that the kangaroo rat has a short life span in the wild – only four-to-five years. It is an herbivore, living off vegetation, which also means it is prey for larger predators. For that reason, nature has provided kangaroo rats with long whiskers to sense when things are getting close to its face and small ears that are acutely responsive to sound.
"See him digging in the sand in his cage," Belmont asked "They have sharp claws that allow them to dig deeply into the sand or dirt in search of food way below the surface. If he were outside in the heat of the day, like today, where would he stay?"
"In a hole in the ground," answered student Savannah Melton.
"And that is another reason why kangaroo rats are such good diggers," Belmont replied.
During a break in the day's activities, one student, Benjamin Klein, seemed excited to talk about Zoo School.
"It's cool," Klein said. "I've been here the last five years. I really like the crafts and other fun stuff, but my favorite is the up close experience with the animals. Yesterday, we got to see a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. It's venomous. And another kind of rattlesnake, the sidewinder, can blend right in with the sand. You can be within five feet of him and not know it."
"Yes, and it's a reptile," joined in Arianna Jafari. "Snakes are horrible mommies. They lay their eggs and then leave."
To find out more about Zoo School for next year and all of the other exciting activities going on at CALM, call (661) 872-2256 or visit the Web site, http://www.calmzoo.org.
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