Animal Expo introduces community children to wildlife


Taylor Wegner

A red morph eastern screech owl perches at the Animal Expo. The Orpheum Children’s Museum hosted the event Saturday, where children interacted with the animals.

By Taylor Wegner, Contributing writer

Allerton Park and Kickapoo State Park are two of many places where local community members can interact with wildlife; however, the opportunity for wildlife interaction isn’t as available in the urbanized Champaign-Urbana area.

For this reason, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum hosted the Animal Expo Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., in which local wildlife, along with a few domestic animals, were featured.

At the event, children learned about how to interact with animals that they otherwise would not have the chance to encounter.

Vanessa Cook and Allie McGraw, seniors in ACES, helped coordinate the event.

Cook and McGraw explained how the animal sciences curriculum includes a course in which students participate in a local internship.

Their internship, as Orpheum animal caretakers, culminated in a community outreach project — the Animal Expo.

After contacting various students and local organizations, Cook and McGraw, despite constraints on availability and accommodations, brought together a sizeable collection of animals for the event. In addition, they created various animal-related activities for children, like a scooter course that was designed as a dinosaur habitat.

“Student organizations weren’t as receptive, they were really busy with a lot of other things,” Cook said. “It’s the end of the semester, getting to that point, but the local organizations that we did contact were local shelters, places like the Wildlife Medical Clinic and Wings of Wonder.

They were really receptive to it, really excited for the event.”

Members of local wildlife shelters and rehabilitation clinics who were in attendance provided information on the animals that they brought along, and some even gave demonstrations.

“This sounded like a good idea, just bringing the community together and teaching the kids about animals,” McGraw said. “I feel like that’s something that doesn’t really ever happen.”

The University’s Wildlife Medical Clinic takes in and rehabilitates injured animals, and continues to care for the animals that cannot be released back into the wild after treatment, according to public relations coordinator Darcy Stephenson.

During their stay at the clinic, these animals are trained through positive reinforcement and take on an educational purpose in order to allow members of the community to become informed about the local wildlife.

For the Animal Expo, the Wildlife Medical Clinic brought along four animals. Three were birds that naturally reside in central Illinois, including a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Red Morph Eastern Screech Owl with wing injuries and a one-eyed American Kestrel.

The fourth animal was a massive Blue-Tongued Skink. Unlike the birds, the skink is native to Australia. Although these animals suffered unfortunate accidents, Stephenson said at the clinic they are “treated like kings and queens.”

Because the animals at the Wildlife Medical Clinic are in a fragile physical state, guests were asked not to touch them.

Various shelters, however, were present and urged kids to interact with their animals.

Wings of Wonder, an avian rescue shelter, allowed visitors to pet the many parrots, cockatoos and other birds that they brought along. Members of the local dog shelter, Pet Net, also attended and brought a few dogs that are currently in search of permanent homes.

In addition, a few volunteers came with their own pets. Some of these pets included guinea pigs, cats and a ball python.

Of all of the exhibits, the one held by the University Department of Entomology was the largest. Children surrounded the entomology table to have a look at their collection of live insects. A few brave participants stepped up to hold the grasshoppers, tarantulas and hissing cockroaches, while their parents snapped pictures. Others shouted an indignant “no thanks!” when asked if they would like to hold a bug.

Along with the live insects, the members of the Department of Entomology had a collection of preserved butterflies, moths and beetles on display. While the children congregated around the table, the Department of Entomology members educated them on the bugs they were interacting with by providing the insects’ species names and information on their habitats and diets.

Cook said she’s excited that so many children learned about the different kinds of animals and wildlife around the world.

“It’s so diverse. I mean, animal science encompasses so many things,” Cook said.

“It could be everything from the nutrition of the animal down to what its hair is made out of.”

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