Sunday, May 27, 2012

Life in a Zoo The Real Thing: A School Tour

Underprivileged Children get a Hands-on Tour.

When we opened our zoo officially, we were very concerned about how the visitors would treat the animals.  And, we were concerned about the liability of people doing foolish things.

We did not allow people to wander freely throughout the zoo, but conducted guided tours.  It didn’t matter whether it was just a couple or a group of thirty or more. All were welcome, and all were given pretty much the same tour.

It often took an hour or more to get the full tour. We would stop at every pen and compound. Our visitors learned the names of the animals, a bit about the species, and unusual or interesting characteristics of each species. 

Many of our animals were rescue animals who sometimes found themselves in an abusive situation. Often out of ignorance, sometimes deliberate cruelty, animals needed to be removed from their present environment. Some animals were orphaned babies. Sometimes the novelty of owning an exotic pet had worn off and their owners lost interest.  Sometimes the reality of financial obligations, veterinary bills, and feed bills became too much for the owner.

Both private individuals and law enforcement officers brought animals to us. We would tell each animal’s story and emphasize that most of these critters had no business as family pets.

Whenever possible, I would bring animals out of their pens and allow the visitors to pet them.  Especially with young children, I would emphasize the importance of being kind and gentle.

Part of the emphasis of our zoo was children’s literature, hence the name “Storybook Farm”.  We always pointed out how many of our animals represented children’s literature.

Our first two pygmy goats were named Heidi and Peter, characters from Johanna Spyri’s book, Heidi. We had a Wilbur from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Of course, Felix Salton’s  Bambi was represented by our first deer, Faline (Bambi’s mother). We had a Thumper, B’rer Rabbit, and “Whitey” the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Our first miniature donkey became Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry.

Our two pot-bellied pigs and our little fine boned guinea represented The Three Little Pigs.  We were donated a Rhode Island red rooster who was promptly dubbed Chanticleer from Chanticleer and the Fox.  And of course, we had plenty of representatives from The Little Red Hen and Peter Rabbit. BaaBaaLouie, our Suffolk sheep, represented Mary Had a Little Lamb. We had a Squirrel Nutkin, the City Mouse and the Country Mouse, and an assortment of representatives from Aesop’s Fables. Mother Goose characters were aptly represented and we even had a Ping from Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack.

Another important aspect of our zoo reflected our Christianity. For each species of animal, we had biblical stories for them.  Depending on our audience, we told Bible stories that included various animals. 

For more mature audiences, we talked about creation, and the problems with evolutionary theory. We talked about our impact on the environment and its effects on the flora and fauna of our planet.

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