Kids say the funniest things.
This is especially true when the subject is wildlife and the kids are from the inner city where the only connection to nature is through a television set.
A while back, my wife Lisa and I taught kids how to identify animal tracks at the Texas Wildlife Expo in Austin.
Hundreds of kids came through our booth that day and took a shot at guessing what the six plaster cast animal tracks we had were. The casts were red wolf, cougar, raccoon, bobcat, alligator and an otter.
The first kid of the morning pointed at the bobcat track and said it was a bear. I explained to him that a bear’s track, even a baby one, is much larger and shows claws.
“Maybe it had its claws clipped.”
Probably 200 kids correctly identified the raccoon track. Some of them had seen them crossing the road, in the garbage can or at a zoo. One kid said he had a raccoon in his front yard.
When I asked if it was his pet he said, “No, my dog ate it this morning.”
His mom blushed and took him on to another booth.
Kids directed the most interesting comments at the alligator track, which is about 10 inches long. Many kids guessed that it was a bear track. That is understandable considering it is long and has claws.
I nearly had to bite a hole in my lip to stop from laughing when a little girl said it was a chicken track. To make matters worse, her mom walked up and said the same thing before I could correct her.
I quickly explained it was an alligator track and said if I ran into a chicken that big I would have to call in the military for back up.
Before the day was over, I had three more kids guess that a chickenmade that track. One guessed it was an owl; two said duck and one said an elephant made it.
It was heartwarming to see the children’s reaction to the animal tracks. It was as if we opened an entirely new world to them and they loved every minute of it.
Lisa and I left knowing that we had sparked some children’s interest in wildlife.
Besides showing the kids how to identify tracks, we also gave a track casting demonstration and sent the parents and kids home with sheets that gave instructions on plaster casting.
That is a hobby even poor kids in the city can take part in. It may not be hunting or fishing, but any interest in wildlife is better than an interest in drugs or alcohol, for example.
Throughout my career, I have tried to reach children at every opportunity and I have made myself a promise I will do even more in the future.
If everyone who loves the outdoors would sacrifice a little time to help mentor some kids on behalf of the great outdoors, there is no telling what kind of impact we could make.
Look at it this way; if we don’t get their attention, there are plenty of drug dealers that would love the opportunity.
The kids deserve better than that.