Kids learn about wildlife from "stuffed animals" and Ranger Randy

Comanche County_Many kids play with stuffed animals, but few play with "taxidermied" creatures.  Youngsters from Sterling learned about different animals that inhabit the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday.  Using these props, the refuge ranger taught them about squirrels, possums, and raccoons - and the kids got an opportunity to touch the previously living animals.  It's all part of the Wildlife Refuge's Environmental Education Program.

The kids had a great time as Ranger Randy Hale taught the Sterling 5th graders that "buttonbush" -a plant found on the refuge - was once used to treat malaria.  He has worked with kids for nearly 20 years as an Environmental Education Specialist.  "I have the greatest job in the world, probably," he says.  "They're [the kids] getting excited out here, and they're gonna leave with a better situation of the refuge."

Ranger Randy also talked about how to interact with - or avoid - different wildlife.  "I think it's a great thing for the kids," says Sterling Elementary School Teacher Lisa Quickle.  "The rangers are really great with them, and they always learn something new."

Even 7News Reporter Robert Richardson was able to participate by donning a buffalo pelt.  "In addition to touching some animal furs, the kids even got to try some on," said Robert.  "I'm wearing a buffalo - and no, it wasn't shot, it was struck by a car at night.  So be careful when you drive the refuge"

After their lesson, the kids saw live buffalo, and then it was off to Prairie Dog Town.  But, the kids had differing views on prairie dogs.  "Prairie dogs rock!" said one student, while another got nipped at, "They're cute, they're cuddly but sometime they're evil."  Prairie dogs will indeed bite, especially if they think your trying to feed them by hand.  Prairie dogs, by the way, should not be fed snack food - it's not healthy for them.  "A lot of those foods contain salt, and prairie dogs don't handle that salt very well," says Ranger Randy.

Fifth grader Melisa Taylor eventually became friends with the prairie dog that nipped at her, and at least one of the "kids" on the trip realized what he wants to be when he grows up.  "This is something I would do if I wasn't a teacher or a principal," says Sterling Elementary School Principal Ross Ridge.  "I would be a ranger, something like that, something to deal with Oklahoma wildlife and history."

Ranger Randy says he hopes more schools will take advantage of the free classes.  Groups can pack their own lunches and have a picnic in the refuge - make a day of it.  If you would like to learn more about the Wildlife Refuge, the visitors center is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week.