Safari seeks to educate children on dangers of little-known poisons

Lariat File Photo
Lariat File Photo
By Rebecca Fiedler

In a place full of lions, tigers and bears, visitors to the Cameron Park Zoo will learn to live safer lives, as the zoo hosts its Poison Safety Safari. Together with the Central Texas Poison Control Center and Scott & White Healthcare, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Cameron Park Zoo will have games and presentations for kids and their families, teaching everyone about poison safety. This will be the first time that the Cameron Park Zoo has hosted this event since 2003.

“We tell the public that everything can be poisonous,” said Jennifer Watson, community education specialist for the Central Texas Poison Center at Scott & White Healthcare. “It just depends on the dose. So even water can be poisonous.”

In the front plaza of the zoo, children 12 years old and younger will be able to pick up a goody bag with a scavenger hunt booklet and free giveaways inside. When they finish filling out the booklet from the hunt the children can enter to win a drawing for a girl’s or boy’s bike, both of which were donated by Walmart in Temple said Connie Kassner, education curator for the Cameron Park Zoo.

“A lot of times, it seems like people come to the zoo and they don’t realize something else is going on, and then they really enjoy the fact that there are other things to do in the zoo besides just walk around and look at the animals,” Kassner said.

On the playground area of the zoo, children and families will learn about things found in the wild with a special focus on things found locally, Kassner said. One activity, a game, will compare things that look alike, like candy and certain medicines, and will educate kids on the difference between what is edible and what isn’t.

Scott & White Healthcare will talk to parents about childproofing their homes and will give away child safety locks for cabinets.

The Safe Kids coalition will talk about car seat and vehicle safety.

There will be a drunk driving simulator in the front plaza, where visitors can see for themselves what it’s like to drive drunk.

Alpha Epsilon Delta, a Baylor student organization, will be coming out and volunteering with multiple aspects of the event, Kassner said.

A nature trail activity around the park will help teach children where poisons “hide,” educating kids on organisms such spiders, snakes and ants, Watson said.

“It kind of gets children thinking not to pick those things up, and don’t put them in your mouth, and don’t try to kill a spider or snake on your own — things like that,” Watson said.
The Humane Society of Central Texas will talk about pet safety.

The Temple Target store will be hosting a “mother-may-I” game, which will teach kids about what is and isn’t safe for them to eat, smell and touch. Some zookeepers will be talking about invertebrates’ bites and stings and reptiles, focusing on Texas organisms.

“For example,” Kassner said, “our reptile staff will be talking about the milk snake and the coral snake; how one is venomous and one is not; how you’ll find rat snakes and they’ll talk about cottonmouths and copperheads and different snakes you’ll find in this area.”

This week is National Poison Prevention Week, and in honor of that, there will be a poison safety poster contest for the children, judged by zoo staff. Children will be able to make a poster Saturday, but many have already submitted posters through their schools. The winner of the poster contest will get a yearlong family membership pass to the zoo.

Watson, who visits schools to educate children on poison safety, said most children will think about poison ivy when hearing the word “poison.” They don’t think about medication or cleaning supplies being poisonous, she said.

“I wish that we could speak to parents more. Unfortunately when I go to groups of parents ­— and it’s usually in a parenting class or something — there’s not a lot of parents that want to attend parenting classes, so we don’t get to talk to as many as we would like. But when I do talk to them, they are amazed and shocked.”