WINSTON — Wildlife Safari hosted a summer camp focused on all of the grossest things in the animal kingdom for 4 to 7-year-olds this week.
“I don’t want them to grow up scared of animals they don’t have to be scared of,” said Christina Pintado, lead summer camp counselor. Instead, she encouraged campers to touch, smell, listen and watch the animals.
On Tuesday, the lesson centered around reptiles and amphibians. Students watched a toad squirting poison and a frog eating its own skin.
“I’ve learned animals help us get food,” 5-year-old Luke Spear said. “Some animals help us get more animals out of this world, so we don’t get sick.”
Luke’s favorite animals are blue bellied lizards, which he learned have something in common with frogs. “They eat flies, so (the flies) don’t get in your food,” he explained.
In addition to watching videos and holding small reptiles, the group was able to used the Safari Village portion of the animal park to see snakes and American alligators.
Campers also took in a lemur talk and emulated the primates by climbing at the playground.
Monday focused on bugs and slugs, Wednesday was all about birds, and mammals took center stage on Thursday.
Tuesday they learned that when it comes to birds, turkey vultures poop on their leg to regulate their body temperature, Pintado said. Students would get to pick apart owl pellets during Wednesday’s camp day as well.
On Monday, the students held meal worms and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
“We also did a bug hunt and found lots of bugs,” Pintado said. “They absolutely loved it. It’s been dry so I was surprised how many bugs they were able to find.”
A board in the education center lists the animals students are learning about that day. At the start of each day students pick whether they like or dislike the animal, and they reassess when it’s almost time to learn.
“Each day Savejah (Palmer) puts all the animals in the dislike category, but at the end she moves them from dislike to like,” Pintado said. “So, I’ve been reaching my goal every day.”
Pintado received help from education department volunteer Jessie Farrington and junior zookeeper 11-year-old Luke Conner.
Farrington just graduated with a degree in exotic animal training at Moorpark College. Conner lives in El Paso, Texas, but is helping at the Wildlife Safari while visiting grandparents in the area.
Conner’s usual job at the park includes cleaning cages and feeding animals.
When asked what her favorite part about camp was, 6-year-old Ally Bea Aramburu said, “Make a bunch of friends.”