Kids, critters meet at SREL Touch an Animal Day

Bill Bengtson

Aiken Standard

August 27, 2017


Sampling some usual beverage options Saturday morning are North Augusta siblings Joy Hedges, 11, and Jonathan Hedges, 13. Among the possibilities were elderflower, beautyberry and yaupon holly Kombucha.
Staff photo by Bill Bengtson, Aiken Standard

An overflow crowd was on hand Saturday morning on the edge of the Savannah River Site, as the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory played host to its ninth annual Touch an Animal Day.

Vicky Sutton-Jackson, the facility’s public relations coordinator, estimated the crowd at more than 800. “We were very pleased with the turnout and the engagement,” she said, recalling plenty of interaction between the general public and the naturalists on hand to help provide a hands-on introduction to a variety of snakes, birds, insects and plants ranging from muscadines to aloe vera and cacti.

Some of the fauna was potentially deadly, such as an adult rattlesnake with the front half of its body safely contained inside a clear tube. Other specimens, such as full-grown opossum, were relatively harmless.  An abundance of hand sanitizer was ready, for the sake of all involved.

Pelts, feathers, bones and “owl puke” also were part of the mix, along with displays offering details about a variety of research projects by University of Georgia graduate students associated with SREL.

“We’re wanting to educate the public about the natural ecosystem in the area – the animals that are here as well as the plants – and give them an appreciation for what’s in the area, as well as to get them concerned about environmental stewardship,” Sutton-Jackson said.

P.J. Perea, SREL’s director of public relations and outreach, made similar comments, confirming plenty of public participation. “It was wall to wall, basically, the whole three hours, so that was fun to see, and the expressions of the kids doing out, it was just smiles all the way around,” he said.

“They were excited, and for many of them, it was their first interaction with a lot of these animals, and very positive,” said Perea. “They just had an incredible time, from what I heard – so many favorites and firsts and new things that they’d never done, so that was a real treat to see how happy they were, going out.”