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Friday, December 2, 2011

Nature Centers Capture Kids’ Votes on Wildlife Residents

Nature Centers Capture Kids’ Votes 
on Wildlife Residents
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The polling places were open, the ballot boxes in place and the candidates all on hand for a last face-to-face with the public before they cast their all important votes Election Day Tuesday. However, in these cases, the polling places were nature centers, the candidates had names like Hoot and Popeye, and the voters were mostly under the age of 12.

Running parallel programs, the CT Audubon Society, at 2325 Burr Street in Fairfield, and Earthplace, at 10 Woodside Lane in Westport, conducted elections wherein kids had the opportunity to cast a vote for their favorite furry, slithery or feathered resident creature. At Earthplace, Barney the Python beat out three other candidates to win the Election Day Fun contest. At the CT Audubon Society, the Animal Election winner had not yet been declared at press time, though it appeared Simon the Hedgehog was a runaway favorite.

Audubon Society Teacher/Naturalist Tricia Kevalis, serving as spokesperson for the seven entrants listed on the ballot there, commented, “This is the third year we’ve done the Animal Elections. Last year, Slipper the Blue Tongued Skink won by a whisker, edging out the very popular Simon. This is a great way to see many of our resident animals but also for kids to participate in a voting process and see how their votes make a difference.”

This year’s Audubon entrants included the aforementioned Simon and Slipper, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, Popeye the Red Eared Slider turtle, Big Tony the Eastern Box Turtle, The Fire Belly Toads and The Mice. The group was arranged in their respective tanks and cages on tables in a front hallway area. A clear acrylic box and ballot forms were on an adjacent table. Visiting children had the opportunity to meet each candidate and size them up.

Simon, though he spent a great deal of time hiding under a molded plastic cover in his tank, was the clear choice for a trio of young local ladies, and each had her own reason for liking him. “He’s really cute,” said Maura Matthews, 9, from Fairfield. “He’s the only nocturnal animal in the group,” said Courtney Culver, 10, from Easton. “I’ve liked him since I had my 7th birthday party here and got to hold him,” said Ellie Stepanskiy, 10, from Fairfield.

Sophia Garbarino, another ten-year-old from Fairfield, also favored Simon. “I like hedgehogs,” she said. “They’re one of my favorite animals. He’s cute.”

Sophia’s brother, Michael, 11, looked past the regular candidates lineup to an outlier in the “Other” category, a loan corn snake. “His shedded skin felt really cool,” he said.

Sophia and Michael’s mom, Julie, mentioned that the family had moved to Fairfield only recently and that this was their first visit to the Audubon. “We were just going to hike here today and then noticed the voting,” she said. “It’s a good way to introduce the kids to the real voting process. I’m going to take them to the polls later.”

Mom Ellen Martino, at the Audubon polls with her sons Aaron, 10, and Quinn, 7, agreed. “Any experience with the animals, like voting, is good for them.”

At Earthplace, contest winner Barney, of the Reptile Party, shared the ballot with Hoot the Saw Whet Owl (Avian Party), Tootie the European Ferret (Mammal Party) and Hop Sing the Monk Parakeet (Independent Party). Visiting children, ages 5 to 10, had to seek out the candidates in the Animal Hall then check off their favorite on a ballot sheet.

“It was very official,” said Earthplace Naturalist Margaret Ardwin, “and we had a continuous group of visitors all day. It was a beauty contest really. Barney’s a gentle giant at 12 feet long.”

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