GREENVILLE – Some Darke County residents learned why certain animals call Darke County home, on Saturday.
During “Meet the Animals” at Darke County Park District’s Shawnee Prairie Preserve and Nature Center, guests were able to handle the animals and learn about respecting them. Volunteer Margaret Hensel and Volunteer Coordinator/Naturalist Kathi McQueen were on-hand to share information about the animals with the public. One reason for the event was to educate people about the laws of keeping the animals in captivity.
“A lot of people don’t know that the animals we have cannot be kept,” McQueen said. “If you pick them up outside, the Department of Natural Resources can give you a fine and they will take your animal. We also want people to understand the care it takes and the importance of making relationships with the animals. This leads to people caring about the land, the preserves and the parks and becoming more environmentally aware.”
The animals on display, included: an Eastern box turtle, an American toad, a Tiger salamander a Gray tree frog, an Eastern brown snake, a Deer mouse a Common snapping turtle, a Corn snake and the featured attraction Greta, a blind Great horned owl. All of the animals could be touched, except for Greta.
“She has become very special to us,” McQueen said, as the owl perched on her arm. Greta was tethered to a leather raptor handler’s glove that McQueen was wearing for protection from Greta’s three-inch-long talons. Only a few volunteers are trained to handle Greta. McQueen asked the audience to be very quiet, as due to her blindness, Greta is extra sensitive to noise. The six-pound owl is about 14-years-old and has been with the park district for three years.
“She has not had the best life,” McQueen said. “She was hit by a car several years ago causing one of her eyes to go blind.”
She blinded herself in the other eye, in a flying accident. According to McQueen, Greta’s previous owner had kept her in a dog cage, where she was away from nature. Volunteers have worked very hard to get her to come out of her shell. One volunteer reads to Greta everyday to get her accustomed to the volunteer’s voice.
“Some people have a real passion for animals and do things like that,” McQueen said. “We are really lucky.”
Some facts about Greta include: she is a high class predator, her wings have serrated edges for flying silently, she is a carnivore, her ears are off-set to have a better range at catching vibrations, she is nocturnal and is missing a talon. Other Great horned owls are nesting right now, out by the sugar shack on the preserve property.
McQueen asked the kids in the audience if all animals bite. The kids resoundingly said, “no.”
“Everything with a mouth can bite you,” McQueen said. “If you pick it up and it bites you, it is your fault. Everything you do effects these animals and everything they do effects us – it is all connected,” McQueen said.
Angela Franklin and her family, were visiting from Oregon. They are a naturalist family and sought out the nature center while they were in town. Franklin said her two children are home-schooled.
“Places like this are good resources for home-schooled families,” she said. “Just having the opportunity to experience animals close up and touch them was really cool.”
An upcoming event in August, the Shawnee Prairie 5K Raptor Run/Walk will help raise money for an enclosure for Greta and to get some more birds. To register, visit cantstoprunningco.com/local-races.