This week marked the last week of Lee Richardson Zoo's summer camp program.
The final Zoo Edventure of the year was geared toward seventh- and eighth-graders, and the topic this year was "Junior Wildlife Biologists."
Throughout the week, we explored the different aspects and possibilities for careers in the field of wildlife biology. While I enjoy all of our Edventures, this is the one I look forward to every year as I enjoy the activities, as much as — if not more than — the kids. By exposing the campers to the world of wildlife careers, I also get to go outside and get involved with nature in a way that is not part of my daily routine.
On Monday, we explored the need for habitat restoration. When wildlife habitats are damaged or destroyed, it can have a drastic effect on the local ecosystem. One species whose numbers have declined due to habitat loss is the monarch butterfly. In order to help these beautiful insects, we planted milkweed seeds at the bison range and in the zoo's own butterfly garden. With some luck, both locations may have a healthy population of milkweed for migrating monarchs to enjoy and lay their eggs on next year.
Many longtime Kansas residents can remember when monarch butterflies used to gather in swarms throughout our area. None of this week's campers are old enough to remember those migrations, but if we can get enough milkweed growing in our area, it may be possible to witness this natural phenomenon again.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we explored the need for population surveys and management. Another trip to the bison refuge had us visiting dove trapping sites and helping to identify the age and gender of the trapped birds. Once banded, these doves were released in the hopes that they might provide information on the numbers of doves which are being harvested annually, and help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keep track of dove migration and populations nationwide.
We continued further into the field to meet our local bison herd. Currently, there are only about two dozen bison on the range as this is the number that the drought-affected fields can support. Historically, bison at the Sandsage Bison Range have exceeded 100 individuals when water was more abundant and the grass was growing plentifully. It is the responsibility of the wildlife biologists who work at the refuge to monitor the population and the food supply to determine whether the area can handle and support a healthy group.
My favorite aspect of wildlife biology came on Thursday when we tried our hand at wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. After looking at the environmental impact of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, we experimented with the best methods of removing oil from feathers, fur and other natural elements. Rehabilitators get a lot of attention during natural disasters, but they are active non-stop, helping injured and abandoned wildlife in a variety of circumstances.
Friday wrapped up our week of wildlife biology and the zoo's summer of crafting, games and "edventure." Our campers had the opportunity to pass their knowledge of wildlife and our local ecosystem on to their parents and family members as we visited the bison refuge one last time. I know many of these kids will not grow up to work with wildlife, but my hope is that they will develop a wildlife conservation ethic that they will take with them wherever they go.
Chances are that if you are reading this you aren't eligible for our school-aged Zoo Edventures, but I encourage you to visit the zoo, or the Sandsage Bison Range and look around with fresh eyes.
Take some time to think about the ways we affect the world around us and the people who are working to ensure that our grandchildren can experience the same sort of nature that we have had the privilege to grow up with.
You may even take your own turn at being a wildlife biologist as you listen to the calls of toads and frogs at a local pond, attempt to identify birds in your back yard, or plant some native species in your garden. Whatever your approach, enjoy the adventure that awaits outside your doors.