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Conservancy of Southwest Florida supports National Endangered Species Day
Friends and families spent the day at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to support National Endangered Species day and learn about at-risk species living in the area.
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Friends and families spent Saturday at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to support National Endangered Species day and learn about at-risk species living in the area.
Katie Ferron, nature center program coordinator, led visitors on a gopher tortoise walk; displayed local snakes during the Reptile Rendezvous; told success stories about alligators and bald eagles; and talked about underwater habitats.
“Kids love meeting all sorts of ambassadors. They love getting up close to meet them, so it’s a cool experience for them,” Ferron said.
The first endangered animal visitors met was the gopher tortoise.
Living up to 80 years, gopher tortoises can dig burrows up to 15 feet long and 6½ feet deep and forage for plants, berries and prickly pear cactus. Their burrows provide refuge to almost 400 other species, making their existence crucial to the environment, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Visitors followed behind Ferron to the Christopher B. Smith Preserve wooden-plank walkway to observe several burrows tagged with little pink flags. The children leaned over the side of a railing to get a peek at some of the wildlife, spotting gopher tortoise #116 and cooing with excitement.
Afterward, the group stopped at a covered landing where Ferron led the children in an interactive activity. Each child had a few cut-outs of local animals and had to place them where they would live in a gopher tortoise burrow.
“We do things to bring attention to what we do to protect our mission, which is to protect Florida’s land, water and wildlife. Anything that really ties into that nationally or worldwide is easy for us to tie into family activity day where we create crafts, activities and just fun things for the family to do out here,” Ferron said.
Thomas Lockyear brought his 5-year-old son Jackson to enjoy nature and learn about his community.
The pair go to the conservancy often, so much so that the staff knows Jackson by name. They enjoyed attending the Earth Day Festival in late April, so he thought he would check out Endangered Species Day with his son.
“I would say that it helps him develop a greater understanding of the threat that is posed to a lot of our native species,” Lockyear said.
During the next segment of the event, Reptile Rendezvous, visitors had the chance to see an eastern indigo snake, a local snake that stores its eggs in gopher tortoise burrows and is federally classified as “threatened.” Eastern indigo snakes have been discovered having the ability to reproduce in various ways — some females can fertilize their own eggs, and some snakes can engage in parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction, and lay eggs on their own.
“Eastern indigo snakes are a really really cool species of snake that not a lot of people know about, and they’re not super familiar with,” Ferron said. “But when they learn about their cool feature, it’s a really cool kind of enlightening experience.”
Josanne and Tom Sabourin came out together to enjoy the day as well. Josanne Sabourin volunteers for Clam Pass nature walks once a week, and chose to spend her outside time at Endangered Species Day
“This is our environment, and we want to make sure we preserve it for the future, both the wildlife and the land and water,” Sabourin said. “And I think what we hear most often is that after somebody goes on a tour like this one — they say they didn’t notice a lot of this nature — and then when they go out again, they are so much more observant of what’s in the environment.”
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a tucked-away gem in Naples. A gift shop with honey sticks, swirly lollipops, informational butterfly guides and other souvenirs serves as a pleasant entry way into the rest of the area.
The main learning center has snake exhibits, a touch tank and 5,000-gallon aquarium filled with colorful local fish. A basic membership for the conservancy can be bought for $65 but is not required to attend events like Endangered Species Day.
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