May 13, 2008

Madison County youth got a chance to feel the soft fur of a chinchilla and learn the length of an orangutan’s arm span during the recent Louisville Zoo outreach program at the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service.

“The program was designed to get an interest in the natural resources and environment in Madison County, because we haven’t had clubs and activities like this,” said Scott Darst, Madison County 4H Youth development agent.

About 120 people attended the program, which gave youth and their parents a chance to not only learn about traits and characteristics of animals, such as polar bears, but an opportunity to see and feel their fur as well. Several live animals that youth could touch were also part of the program. Animals that traveled with the outreach team to Madison County included a ball python, chinchilla, African pygmy hedgehog and a bearded dragon.

“We want them (youth) to have that connection with plants and animals and things that are wild, so maybe when they grow up they’ll become good stewards of our planet,” said Kathleen Johnson, an educator with the Louisville Zoo.

The program was one component of a three-part environmental miniseries in Madison County. Other programs in the miniseries include Kentucky State University’s Aquaculture Day and an ATV Safety Day.

One environmental club already has kicked off and others are in the works for Madison County youth. Darst said youth in a four-week forestry club painted a rain barrel to contribute to the Berea Rain Barrel Festival and learned about water conservation in the process. An environmental club for Cloverbuds also is in the works. The club, called Little Explorers, will teach youth from ages 4 to 8 about animals and environmental issues through hands-on experiments and activities. He also hopes to start an outdoor adventure club for older youth who would participate in activities like white water rafting and rock climbing.

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