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Snakes, pollinators top attractions at Touch an Animal Day

August 26, 2018 GMT

Saturday morning brought a friendly flood of traffic to Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s conference center, drawing 713 visitors for the facility’s annual Touch an Animal Day.

The event, in keeping with tradition, offered the chance for hands-on contact with such creatures as salamanders, snakes (mostly non-venomous, with the exception of an immobilized rattlesnake) and birds, along with a variety of pelts, shells and skulls. Kid-friendly guidance from dozens of educators and researchers was also part of the package.

Veterans on hand for the event included herpetologist Whit Gibbons, who offered an adult pine snake – relatively rare – for visitors to handle and hold.

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“One thing I was very pleased about this year is, nearly everybody came through,” he said. “All the kids wanted to touch the snakes. A lot of them wanted to hold the snakes. Nobody seemed afraid – very few people – and I got lots of comments about … this rare snake, and people were concerned that they’re getting rare because of habitat destruction and how we’re treating the world.”

That treatment is “not good,” said Gibbons, while acknowledging he welcomed people’s expressions of concern.

Among the first-time presenters was Katie Kule, now in her first year as SREL’s pollinator educator.

“I was surprised when I asked the kids if they knew what night pollinators were, or night butterflies, and they said, ‘Oh, yeah – moths!’ That was really exciting, and they knew that right off the bat,” she said.

“There was only one group of kids I asked that didn’t know that … so someone’s teaching them in school,” she said.

Kule’s territory is Aiken County’s schools, with a focus on making gardens, leading nature walks and otherwise spreading the word, with plenty of time to be spent in classrooms in the months ahead.