Tippie the opossum wrapped himself around the shoulders of Alyssa Villarreal as children stared in awe at the marsupial.

The children reached over and gently petted Tippie as Villarreal, the interim education specialist at the Texas Zoo, observed Tippie’s toes.

“I see that he does have a little cut or sore on one of his little toes, so that’s something I am going to put on his animal record sheet. That way his toe can get treated and doesn’t get infected,” Villarreal, 31, said. “It looks like he might have accidentally scratched himself.”

Villarreal is one of several Texas Zoo staff who are teaching children about the life of a zoo veterinarian during Vet Camp this week. Vet Camp offers children the opportunity to learn about the importance of taking care of animals, checking the animals’ health and administering medicine.

The Vet Camp is one of four camps that are being offered this month. Other camps include Trainer Camp, Keeper Camp and another round of Vet Camp. Children ages 5-16 years have the opportunity to learn hands-on about animal care, Villarreal said.

Campers have learned about animal record sheets, which track an animal’s diet and digestion. To practice taking records, the campers are assigned a stuffed animal that could have an injury or illness, and the campers figure out whether the animal can walk, fly or eat.

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Haley Glass, 10, said creating an animal record is important to an animal’s health.

“You can find out a lot about how the animal is doing by checking on the animal every few minutes or seconds to see what is normal behavior for them,” Haley said.

Haley said she joined Vet Camp because she would like to become a veterinarian one day.

“It’s been nice getting to see the animals up close. We are getting to know the animals, and they are also getting to know us,” she said.

For Yunus Qureshi, the camp sparked an unexpected interest in animals. Yunus, 14, said his parents enrolled him in Trainer Camp last month. He wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but then Brighteyes, the red-ruffed lemur, playfully jumped on his shoulders.

“That has been by far the coolest thing to happen to me at the camp. We get to be up close with the animals, and it’s fun,” Yunus said.

Camper Lynsey Brown said she loves assisting the zookeepers with the black bears, D9 and Flo. So far, Lynsey has helped feed the two bears and has assisted in training the two bears for wellness check-ups.

“They each have their own personality, and it’s been great to see them up close,” Lynsey, 14, said.

Amber Aldaco reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at aaldaco@vicad.com or 361-580-6303.

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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