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Campers learn conservation lessons and earn badges in the process

July 18, 2010 at 2:18 a.m.

Nathan Arent keeps a keen eye on his aquifer project, patiently waiting for the water to filter through multiple layers.  Kids at a Zoo Camp were learning about their relationships to the environment, such as the water shed and how their action can affect the environment.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. That's the message the nine graduates of this year's Texas Zoo Conservation Rangers Camp took away as they earned their ranger badges on Friday afternoon.

"As a conservation ranger, I pledge to fulfill my role in the community, the country and the planet," recited the graduates in front of an audience of camp leaders and parents. "I take responsibility for the resources in my community and I pledge to conserve and protect them."

The ranger camp, which ran from June 12 through June 16, was held at the Texas Zoo and focused on the conservation of water, land, air, animals and the Earth.

The Texas Zoo typically holds about six camps of various themes during the year; but this is the first time in around five years that a ranger camp has been held.

"The current popularity of conservation and green initiatives inspired this year's camp theme and curriculum," said Texas Zoo education curator Karalyn Jones, who has held the position for the last three months.

The fifth and sixth-graders participated in various conservation-learning activities that culminated in a graduation and ranger badges.

"We wanted them to know the degree to which they personally influence their resources and environment and the degree to which they can actually influence that," said Jones. "The idea was to give them the ranger badge so that they'd go out and be spokespeople."

Throughout the week, campers diligently pursued their ranger badges by participating in several activities including building aquifers and edible landfills, water testing, scavenger hunts, nature walks and discussions on how to conserve.

"I learned how many gallons a washing machine uses up," said 11-year-old Brandon Svatek, a sixth-grader. "It was fun. We learned a lot that we should reduce, reuse, recycle."

Marie Lester from Air Victoria, Tim Andruss from Victoria County Groundwater District and Dottie Grandstaff from Bay City Animal Control all stopped in during the week to provide the campers with insight on different conservation issues.

"People that have wells in low areas, what will happen is the flood waters will go above their casing and the water will flow in," Andruss told the studious campers during his presentation." The people don't get sick from some sort of chemical. It's the bacteria."

"As a zoo, we're focusing on developing our community relations, which led to the local speakers and organizations for the camps," said Jones.

The camp also provided introspective lessons, including self-evaluations to determine personal waste habits.

"The campers would tell you that they waste the most by leaving the water running while they brush their teeth and wash their hands, by not reusing or recycling everyday materials, and by leaving items plugged in or the lights turned on when they're not using them," said Jones.

In lieu of a formal final written test, graduates performed a puppet show to demonstrate a working knowledge of what they'd learned in camp.

"My favorite part was the puppet show and learning about the animals because it will help me out in school," said Mackenzie Shelton, a 12-year-old sixth-grader.

Based on whether they were members of the Texas Zoo, parents paid $125 or $150 for their child to participate in the camp.

Mission Valley resident Liz Arent, whose 9-year-old son Nathan participated in the camps, said the cost was well worth it.

"Nathan was constantly talking about the camp and the names of all the animals. It seemed like he identified more with the lessons here than he did in school," said Arent about her fifth-grader. "He's said since he was 4 years old that he wants to be a zoologist so this camp was good for him."

Tyler Wideman's dad, Scott, expressed similar thoughts.

" I think he had a lot of fun. He was excited about everything he did during the day. I heard him talk more about conservation this week than I ever have," Wideman said about his 11-year-old fifth-grader. '"He kept telling me not to leave the engine idle all week."

Overall, Texas Zoo executive director Andrea Blomberg thought the camp was a big hit.

"This camp was everything I thought it would be," said Blomberg. "When you get children and adults in contact with animals, people will have sympathy and empathy with the animals and start thinking about the impact they are having on these animals."

She added, " That's important because if they impact the animals, then they impact the earth."



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