Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Wildlife on the Move brings animals to Azle

Teacher, librarian, nonprofit founder speak on conservation education

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AZLE — Animals bring people together. At least that was the case at the Azle Memorial Library Tuesday, June 4 during a special presentation by nonprofit Wildlife on the Move. The free event introduced kids and their parents to a menagerie of local and exotic animals and taught fun science facts through the rapid-fire stylings of host and founder Eric Brittingham.

Brittingham started the organization in 2005 and today still uses it as a vehicle for education and conservation. Since November, Brittingham has also been promoting Wild for the Word, where he helps raise money for organizations like the Texas Conservation Alliance and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Save Animals Facing Extinction initiative.

Azle’s library held a 10:30 a.m. and a noon show, each bringing in over 180 library guests for nearly 400 people total. One such guest was Azle ISD graduate and now Fort Worth ISD kindergarten teacher, Madison Mowery. Mowery took students from her own class at Waverly Park Elementary to experience the wildlife show in her hometown.

“As a teacher, I feel that these opportunities are invaluable,” Mowery said. “Other communities and libraries do not offer such rich experiences during the summer, and it allows the students to explore things they otherwise would never see. I belong to Fort Worth ISD, but I did research about reading programs and opportunities for learning this summer in FWISD and Azle was where I was finding the most valuable opportunities. I am also thankful to have gone to school in Azle because I know where to look for the summer learning opportunities. I plan on coming to more of the events and bringing the kids along.”

Mowery brought three 5-year-olds, a 6-year-old, two 3-year-olds and two 2-year-olds from Fort Worth to sit front and center at the show in Azle.

“They all were mesmerized by the different creatures they don’t see in day-to-day settings,” Mowery said. “After we left the presentation, they wanted to go to the park and the 6-year-old was pointing out that there were lizards that were cousins of the monitor we saw. They couldn’t stop talking about the animals and how they’ve seen it on TV, but never in real life. I asked them if they wanted to go to another library event and they all said ‘Yes!’ It was very enjoyable to me as well. I'm always looking for meaningful learning experiences to enrich the classroom when we go back to school.”

Among the different animals shown off by Brittingham were a native kingsnake, an opossum, a tenrec from Madagascar, a savannah monitor lizard, and an Australian jungle carpet python.

In call and response, Brittingham listed off facts about the 7-foot-long python and had the audience repeat an introductory phrase.

“Everybody say ‘stretchy, stretchy.’ The guy can stretch to eat things two to three times the size of my head,” Brittingham said. “Yes, he likes to eat mice and rats, but he also likes to eat birds and the only flying mammal. What’s that everybody? Airline pilots!”

Living on a farm with parents who were teachers, Brittingham grew up loving animals and science in equal measure. He attended Stephen F. Austin University to become a teacher but missed hands-on animal education and went to work for the Dallas Zoo. While at the zoo, Brittingham said he noticed that some schools did not have the funds to bring their students on field trips to learn about the animals, which inspired his decision to instead bring the field trip to them.

“It’s huge because the kids we see at our shows are the next generation that are going to carry that torch,” Brittingham said. “Without the animals, we’re not going to survive. Everything is becoming electronic so they’re losing touch with nature. If you can do a show like this where they can see the animals are important and they’re valuable, and they’re not scary, and are not going to hurt you, but you do need to have respect for them when they’re in the wild, then they’re going to make differences.”

Brittingham said his goal is to help get kids over their fears of animals through fun and education. For children’s librarian Ava Bryant, this proved true.

“I have a fear of snakes myself and I touched a snake. I think the kids are much braver than me,” Bryant said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity for the kids to be able to interact with animals and the conservation part is important too. They’ve been really great to work with and I definitely want to have them back next summer. Several of the parents stopped me a minute ago and said how much they appreciated it and that they had a great time, and their kids had a great time, so I’m really happy about that. For them to be able to touch the animal, it’s not something you get to do all the time, I think that’s great.”

For more information on the organization, visit www.wildlifeonthemove.com.