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Clarke class receives visit from Blank Park Zoo staff member

Clarke’s agriculture science class invited Kathy McKee from the Blank Park Zoo to their class Sept. 13.

McKee works with “Just for Teachers” at the zoo and organizes teacher workshops. These workshops are offered at the zoo and schools surrounding the metro for teachers needing license renewal or college credit. 

The workshops offered are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and Iowa Core for Science. McKee previously worked for the state’s department of education, but now has a career working with science educators through the Blank Park Zoo.

McKee brought in four live animals — an armadillo, bull snake, screech owl and African hedgehog.

The students were engaged and asked several questions. McKee informed the students about the health, care and protection of these animals. She first presented the armadillo and the students weren’t allowed to touch the armadillo as he gets anxious in front of crowds.

McKee described how armadillos use their shells for protection and “buck” when they feel bothered. Armadillos are not found in Iowa, but have been spotted as far north as central Missouri. McKee also shared what this specific armadillo eats on a daily basis.

Most students assume that snakes are slimy, therefore were hesitant to pet the bull snake when it was offered. Several students raised their hands and asked about poisonous snakes in Iowa. McKee said snakes normally turn away at the sight of humans, unless they feel at harm.

A few students asked about the rattlers found in Iowa. McKee said rattlesnakes found in Iowa do not carry enough poison to cause human death, only serious illness.

McKee made science connections when describing the digestion period of a snake, as well as the process they go through to shed their skin.

McKee also presented a screech owl to the class. Screech owls are not able to turn their heads a complete 360 degrees, but this one still spooked the students when she turned it nearly 270 degrees to keep her eyes on all the students who were snapping photos with their iPads. The Blank Park Zoo received the owl after it had been through an accident, leaving her with only one wing.

The African hedgehog McKee presented helped students recognize the differences between hedgehogs and porcupines. Hedgehogs are often found as pets. McKee said hedgehogs will curl up in a ball when approached by a predator, using its pokey quills to intimidate it.

The animals presented to the class are not able to be seen at the zoo — they are strictly for educational purposes. Other zoo animals were discussed, as well as the importance to keep an eye out for endangered species.

McKee informed the students how dangerous it is to keep wild animals for pets.

McKee said many of the employees at the zoo have an animal-science degree or another related degree in agriculture science.

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