Ecology lab’s annual Touch an Animal Day welcomes hundreds in Aiken


Ecology lab’s annual Touch an Animal Day welcomes hundreds in Aiken

Colin Demarest
Aiken Standard

Aug. 24, 2019

The annual Touch an Animal Day was again a big hit, evidenced by the hundreds of people that swarmed the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center in Aiken Saturday morning and afternoon.

The free, family-friendly event kicked off at 10 a.m. and ran until 1 p.m. More than 1,500 people had expressed interest or said they were going on social media. Last year’s crowd numbered more than 700, according to Vicky Sutton-Jackson, the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory public relations coordinator.

This was the first year the event was at Odell Weeks. Size was a major factor in the move.

“We’re growing,” Sutton-Jackson said.

The event – highlighting wildlife native to the Savannah River Site and the Southeast, in general – is put on by the lab. Sutton-Jackson described it as a perfect mix of education, awareness and fun. It allows kids to see and become familiar with what’s out there, she said.

“We just want to let people know what kind of neat animals live in this area and the research that goes into restoring and protecting these animals,” SREL outreach manager P.J. Perea said in a previous interview with the Aiken Standard.

Touch an Animal Day stayed true to its name Saturday: Snakes, an opossum and a duck were just some of the wildlife attendees had the chance to interact with. Other exhibits and displays featured butterflies, spiders and bird and animal bones. Researchers and graduate students were on hand to answer questions and guide discussions. And there was even a coyote, Scooter, watching over the gym.

One station at Touch an Animal Day offered so-called “choco-chirpies” – chocolate chip cookies baked with cricket flour. While the cookies inspired trepidation in some, others proved fearless and went for the snack. (They tasted like regular cookies, by the way.)

The ecology laboratory can be traced back to 1951, when a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia was invited to inventory the Savannah River Site, previously known as the Savannah River Plant. The lab is “largely supported” by outside funding, according to its website,