Trail of Tears lesson shows city kids about life in the country

Monday, October 22, 2001

Children in Chicago are used to seeing the kind of Cubs that wear batting gloves and run around an infield, not the kind that have fur coats and scurry around the forest.

So when a group of students from Chicago got to see the pelt of a fox cub Sunday afternoon, some of them, like 14-year-old Carolyn Quinn, didn't quite know what to think of it.

"We see squirrels and birds in Chicago," Quinn said. "And once and a while we see raccoons along the road, but that's it."

Quinn and about 35 kids from the Positive Learning in an Atmosphere for Individual Development Academy in Chicago stopped at Trail of Tears State Park as part of a three-day lesson on nature and Native Americans while traveling through Southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.

The children, along with a few teachers and about 10 others not with the group, listened as park naturalist Tara Tucker described how animals native to Southeast Missouri adapt to the sometimes harsh winter weather. The presentation was part of a fall program at Trail of Tears State Park.

As Tucker spoke, she passed around the pelts of several animals including a deer, a beaver, a bobcat and a fox. All the pelts came from animals that had been found dead in the park.

"I touched them as they went by," Quinn said, "but I didn't want to hold them."

While Quinn wasn't comfortable holding the animals, several of her classmates were. Teacher Sheila O'Gorman, co-founder of the school, captured the event on film, snapping pictures of the students holding, petting and even posing with the pelts.

Cute but wild

Tucker reminded the group that even though the animals might look cute and cuddly, out in the wild they are just that -- wild. So people should leave them alone, she said.

She said animals adapt to the cold weather in many different ways. Some migrate like the ruby-throated hummingbird, which weighs about the same as a quarter and flies 18 hours non-stop each winter to escape cold temperatures.

Others, like foxes and raccoons in urban areas, stay where they are and can become dependent on people for help.

Tucker said wind is the biggest enemy of any animal living outside during the winter, so many animals try to seek shelter in people's garages, trash cans and even homes.

The best thing people living in urban areas can do to help wild animals, Tucker said, is to keep their garbage sealed and try not to attract them. But people living in rural areas, like John and Jody Taylor, can do a lot to help the wild animals make it through the winter.

The Taylors live on a 6-acre plot of pasture in Cape Girardeau County. John Taylor, who has seen deer and heard coyotes on his property, said he has let trees and bushes grow on part of his property so the animals will have a place to seek cover in the winter.

Winter and pets

Wild animals aren't the only ones who benefit from extra care during the cold months.

Cindy Lange, educational outreach coordinator at the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, said pet owners should make a few preparations for their tame animals before the weather gets too cold.

First, she said, any outside pets should not be left out during dangerously cold temperatures and, regardless of the temperature, all pet beds should be elevated so they are not on the ground.

Second, pet owners should check the water in their outside pet's bowls frequently to make sure it hasn't frozen.

And third, if people have been taking care of stray pets but are not going to feed them on a regular basis in the winter they should consider bringing them to the Humane Society.

"It's hard this time of year for animals to be left outside," Lange said. "It's very important to bring all pets in and get them out of the cold weather."

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