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|Kids prefer giraffes, reptiles to snacks|
Among the squawks and howls at Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo Wednesday walked a dozen young children, gazing left and right at the sights.
Donned in their zoo camp T-Shirts and tugging on their counselor's guide rope, the children refused to stop even for snacks.
"Let's go see the reptiles," one shouted.
"I want to see some snakes," a little girl said.
"I like the giraffes," another girl chirped in.
Zoo camp is held each summer to give local children an opportunity to learn about a variety of animals. Some of the older campers work along side zookeepers, feeding and caring for the animals.
Zoo camp began in June and will run through the first week of August. Each session is a week long. Different themes and activities are held for each session.
"There really isn't something that we like the most because all of it is really great," said 9-year-old Gregory Bell. "We really can't choose what we like the best."
"I'm a fan of the prairie dogs and the walruses," Bell said. "I know three of the animals names here. Gerry the Giraffe, Penelope is the hippo and Tank is the rhino."
Zoo director Joe Clawson said some of the same children come back each year to participate in the camp.
"We have people who are very loyal," Clawson said. "The ones who like zoo camp really love zoo camp and they will come back year after year."
"We address different subjects each week," Clawson explained. "This week it's 'Wilds of Louisiana' so they talk mostly about animals that are found in Louisiana, and we show them what animals we have. They do activities and programs each day that concentrate on individual animals.
"Typically our kids are the ones who already have interest in the animals, but we also get some who come here and get their first exposure to animals."
Zoo officials consider the camp as part of its overall mission to the community as well as educate youth about the environment and animals.
"We also have it set up so it is working parent friendly," Clawson said. "People can bring kids in early and pick them up late to accommodate the typical work schedule."
"We are an alternative to daycare with a twist," he said. "For someone who is a working parent or working couple with kids who will have to go into some daycare all summer long, this is a real nice break and a nice change of pace."
The zoo has camp counselors hired specifically to supervise campers and help them with their activities.
"The counselors are all individuals who are in college or have a college degree, who are in teaching or biology," he said.
The zoo also has several youth in the Boy Scouts Explorer program who assist campers during the sessions.
"A lot of them have been with the zoo for years and they will come and volunteer for summer camp, and then get hired on as assistant counselors," Clawson said. "We have people at the camps who have spent long amounts of time here. They are really familiar with the zoo and love it."
Melissa Henderson is a student at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. Two summers ago, she began work as a zoo camp counselor.
"I worked out here as a zoo keeper, I've volunteered out here before, too, so I've pretty much done it all," she said.
She encouraged parents to look into what zoo camp offers children while they are out of school.
"They get to see animals and have fun," she said. "We talk about different animals every week and do different things each week.
"They could come out every week and learn something different," Henderson continued. "We have morning and afternoon crafts and they all have something to do with the animals we're talking about that day.
"Today we're talking about skunks, and we're doing a skunk craft. Every day it's a different animal and the craft is related to that animal."
For more information about zoo camp, call the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo at 329-2400, or view the zoo camp brochure online at www.monroezoo.org.