Today I had the opportunity to give a talk on amphibians and reptiles and explore some forest trails with some very enthusiastic kids ages 4-6 at the Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center, SCLC (Centro de Aprendizaje para la Conservación en Sarapiquí [CECOS]) and Selva Verde Lodge. The kids got really excited over the Strawberry Poison Frogs, Green and Black Poison Frogs, and (Anole) lizards I brought for show and tell. But of course, all but one kid chanted “EEeeewwww” every time I mentioned the word “culebra” (snake), which I think is very reflective of the general public’s perception of snakes – they are all bad. Hopefully, through activities like these people will grow to be fond of traditionally feared creatures like snakes and what I think are traditionally overlooked creatures (amphibians and reptiles in general) in comparison to groups like birds and mammals.
The enthusiasm of the group of kids was refreshing. Even after the fifteenth poison frog we saw on the trail, the kids still went crazy yelling “rana!” (frog) every time another frog hopped across the trail. The kids, as expected, got excited over the howler monkeys but some also seemed equally excited over all of the different color fungi we spotted along the trail. Maybe there are some budding micologists in the group?
These kids were sharp! During the presentation in the classroom, we played “Quién está cantando?” which was basically just a little game where I played frog calls and gave the kids a selection of pictures of frogs to choose from to guess what species the frog call belonged to. The most commonly heard call around Sarapiquí, Costa Rica, is no doubt the Strawberry Poison Frog (Oophaga pumilio). The males sing and sing and sing, in hopes of attracting females. You can hear and see these things EVEYWHERE in Sarapiquí, forests, pastures, and even my front yard. Interestingly, when I asked the kids if they had seen these frogs before they were a bit wishy washy – “yeah, I have heard people talk about this frog a lot but I have only seen this frog maybe once or twice at some event where someone pointed one out to me” type of response. No one recognized the call at first. But after the game and a little reinforcement along the trail, these kids were picking out the Strawberry Poison Frog call like champs even with all of the other background forest noise going on (insects, birds etc.).
All in all, it was really fun (but exhausting) and only got a little dicey when some of the kids got a little nervous walking on the suspension bridge over the river. At the end of the day, all I hope for is that from this experience, the kids took away a growing love for and curiosity of their natural surroundings. I’ll call it a success.
Looking forward to the next major outreach activity, the 2014 environmental fair at La Selva Biological Station (Feria Ambiental La Selva 2014), November 9th !