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Zoo begins zookeeper camp for kids (video)

By JR Ortega
June 17, 2013 at 1:17 a.m.
Updated June 18, 2013 at 1:18 a.m.

Lexi Brusso, 9, watches Black Ears the opossum as he crawls down zookeeper Kash Clark's chest during a keeper talk  Monday at the Texas Zoo. Lexi was part of the Zoo Explorers camp, in which children learn what it takes to become a zookeeper at the zoo.

Ashlyn Shaffer, 9, held tight to the railing, teetering over the edge to catch glimpse of the American badger.

"There he is," one girl near her yelled out. "Stinky!"

Most of the 12 preteen girls on the Texas Zoo's Zoo Explorer Camp on Monday afternoon hovered nearby.

"Stinky," another said in a cutesy voice, trying to call him over.

Stinky waddled slowly across the hot rock in his habitat. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left as the girls swooned over his slow march.

Then came Kash the zookeeper, a Virginia opossum clinging and crawling from one of his shoulders to the next.

The girls immediately forgot Stinky - it was all about Black Ears.

Jessy Gould, 26, stood back, watching as the girls got hands-on experience with some of the zoo's tamer animals.

Gould, a program specialist, is helping lead the camp. The weeklong camp is for kids in fourth through sixth grade; it just so happens this year's camp is made up of all girls.

Kids learn what it takes to be a zookeeper - anything from animal nutrition to training is covered - but in a fun, interactive way, Gould said.

"I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is when animals are able to positively effect people, especially in the kids," she said.

Kids have classroom time and interactive time - a time they can feed, tend and train animals alongside a trusted zookeeper.

"I like that we get to learn more about the animals and how to be safe," said Lilianna Camarillo, 11, from Goliad.

She and another girl, Paige Borak, 9, became fast friends, as did all the girls.

Paige jumped into the conversation, adding that the excitement over the camp is much simpler than that.

"It's about petting the animals and naming the animals. Paige Jr. is over there," she said, pointing at a goat.

The girls were filled with questions and a natural curiosity.

"Why don't we have pandas?" one asked.

"We really don't have the climate for pandas," Gould informed them.

The highlight of Monday, though, was playing with Black Ears. The girls were captivated by the female opossum's story. She is the orphan of a mother who was hit by a car.

The zoo took her and other opossums in.

The rest of the week will include more hands-on experience with other animals, but there is one mammal Tuesday they may not be ready for, Gould said.

One more kid may be joining the group Tuesday - and it's a boy.

"I feel bad for him," one girl said, laughing.

"I feel bad for us," another joked back.



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