Report Card on Camp Big Cat
Camp Big Cat just concluded our most successful season ever. This summer, campers ages 8 to 15 were a regular sight on property sporting their lime green camp shirts and enthusiastic smiles. Our camp director, Coleen Kremer, certified teacher Erin Newman, and our fabulous summer interns (Lauren, Will B, Fran, Sara, Andrew, Rich, Erin, Jaydin) instructed and entertained the 108 campers who attended one or more of our six weekly sessions. We enjoyed many returning campers as well as several families who came from out of state, as far away as California!
Summer camp themes included Animal Classification, Animal Behavior, Ecology, Animal Adaptations, Genetics, and Conservation. Fun and interactive, educational activities for each topic reinforced the concepts presented and guest speakers added interest and variety to the topics.
Florida Aquarium sent their outreach educator, Tess to present “Aquatic Field Exploration” and “Marine Science Investigations” for our campers in an ongoing collaboration. Our very own talented volunteers were invaluable for the campers’ experience. Pat O’Shea, taught about butterflies, including a visit to the butterfly garden to find evidence of caterpillars and butterflies in their various stages of life. Dr. Deborah Albert shared a spectacular slide presentation of her travels to Antarctica. Dr. Kelly Rice spoke about veterinary medicine and intern, Will B, shared his contagious passion for Conservation. We appreciate these speakers for sharing their time to provide wonderful learning opportunities for our campers. Thanks also to our volunteers who were ready, willing, and able to help with camp, namely; Beth Ann Bluder, Scott Milshaw, Mike Surdyk, Hawley Crary and Sharyn Beach.
Camp is not just for learning, it’s also for fun! Here are just a few of the many activities the campers enjoyed:
– daily hikes to observe the cats during various times of the day
– making omnivore diets and observing feeding
– making enrichment and observing the cats reactions
– observing operant conditioning with a cat or two; and some campers even got to practice using this new skill while training another camper!
– creating extinction proof animals
– building mock habitats
– extracting strawberry DNA
– competing in scavenger hunts
2008 summer camp at Big Cat Rescue was an unprecedented success! How can we be SO sure? The following quotes are just a few of the enthusiastic responses we received:
…from the parents-
“When I picked them up they were exhausted but they had a twinkle in their eyes and were so excited to tell me about what they had done that day. The phrase “it was SOOO cool!” was said again and again. I thank you and my children thank you.”
“Very impressed with the entire staff, friendliness as well as seeing how much they all enjoy the children who attend camp, educating them all about the cats ….everything is very organized and taken seriously in the care which is given by all, true dedication. All activities are creative and the campers are given a gift with memories kept forever.”
“She couldn’t stop telling me about all the interesting cats. Really hit home about cats are NOT entertainment for humans.”
“My daughter has been going (to camp) since last year. She loves it and can’t wait until next summer!”
…from the campers-
“My favorite activity was making the cats enrichment. It was so fun and it was so cool to see the big cats play around with the newly made toys.”
“I loved Big Cat Rescue (camp) for 3 reasons. I love being around the animals so much. I loved the activities and I also loved the presentations.”
“What I loved about the camp was that we learn and enjoy the cats at the same time! I loved all the activities.”
“We got to see so many cool cats and learn about them and obviously have FUN!”
It’s no small feat to educate and entertain children onsite all day long at a working sanctuary, while keeping both kids and cats safe from one another. Plus, throughout camp season, private group tours continue with numerous other facilities bringing their campers to visit. The show must go on! None of this would have been possible without the active involvement of our dedicated staff. Our thanks go out to Scott, Kathryn, Jess, and Honey who handled the visiting tour groups and sent golf carts out to rescue ailing campers while doing all the other work they do every day.
Summer Camp Reports
No sad letters from camp here. If anything, our campers are chomping at the bit to come back each day. Big Cat Rescue’s Conservation Camp Summer Camp is 3 weeks this year and we have been overflowing with campers. This year we were booked as early as May 15 th , all 3 sessions are full. Campers are learning why these animals don’t make good pets and about the conservation of wildlife.
They are learning what they can do now to make a difference.
They get to visit the Lions, Tigers and Bearcats of Big Cat Rescues 40 acre facility. Campers spend 4 days Monday through Thursday 8am to 1 pm. The Campers will learn how we take care of our cats. What is takes to clean, feed, enrich, and build habitats for 100+ cats. In the time that they are here, they will get to treasure hunt in some empty enclosures, hand out enrichment (treats), and have a scavenger hunt based on their big cat facts. We are also adding a segment on tracking. Identifying animal tracks and figuring out what type of animal made that track.
To read more about camp and on how our camp director enhanced her tracking skills, read on…
Tracking Wildcats in the Wild
I have been lucky to get to go on 2 great trips. One to South Florida and one to Arizona . Both trips were for the purpose of tracking wildlife.
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The first one was to a workshop in South Florida sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife. In simplest terms they are dedicated to saving wildlife.
This is a quote from their mission statement “We focus our programs on what scientists consider two of the most serious environmental threats to the planet:
the accelerating rate of extinction of species and the associated loss of biological diversity, and habitat alteration and destruction. The workshop was to teach tracking to a group interested in Florida Wildlife. The class was taught by Sue Morse of “Keeping Track”. We learned the difference between dog and cat tracks, possum and raccoon, and what the tracks can tell us. We also learned where to look. To quote Sue “half of tracking is knowing where to look the other half is looking”. We also learn about other “signs” of wildlife.
Scratches on trees from bears, scat, and scrapes are all signs of wildlife.
From working at BCR I knew about cat scat and scrapes. Scrapes are what is left after a cat rubs its back feet over the ground to scent mark. The cat scrapes up a pile of pine needles that its scent is trapped in.
Once we knew what to look for we went out looking. We went to Big Cypress Preserve and found Florida Panther tracks Bear tracks and signs of a bobcat. The real purpose to this workshop is to hopefully one day have a group that can go out on calls of sightings and see if Florida Fish and Game really need to come out. Also being first response to sighting calls to educate the public on living with wildlife in Florida .
The second trip was to Tucson Arizona . This trip is run by a group called The Sky Island Alliance. The different mountain ranges are called sky islands and the wildlife like bears, cougars, and wolves need to move from island to island This trip was an actual track count; an area that is protected has to show presence of wildlife to stay protected. They get
volunteers to walk as many as 12 transects of land and document 2 specific species presence. Doesn’t mean we actually see the animal. The signs have to be documented; in this case we were looking for bear and cougar signs.
We found signs of both, on 4 different hikes. The hikes are 5 to 6 miles long and we hike on foot, starting at 6am and ending around 11am, then starting again at 2pm and ending at 6pm. This was a great experience.
At night we sat around and talked about past counts and why the track counts are important. There were volunteers from all over the US that came to help. It was amazing to see such support for animals we didn’t see. There were people in the group who had never seen a cougar except in pictures or video. I sometimes forget how lucky we are at Big Cat Rescue to be able to spend time with animals other people only see on TV. These people that volunteer are committed to saving habitat for these animals they love.
They give tirelessly for an animal they never see. We give so much for our cats but we get to see them enjoy what we give. We, however, get to see them enjoy enrichment, a new cage, or a special food treat. We get instant gratification to our work. I met with people who have dedicated their lives to saving habitat and never seen the animal for whom they work. I met people who work hard only to be called to pick up one more Florida Panther on Alligator Alley that has been hit by a car. I’m proud to work at Big Cat Rescue and share what I know with kids of all ages who come to tour our facility.