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Wild Child

Kids who like Animal Planet may also enjoy Wildlife Conservation Camp.

By Richard Heilbrun

Chad Retzloff wasn’t sure if it would be more like Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel, but he knew the summer of 2006 would be different than any summer he’d spent before. The high school junior had been chosen to attend Wildlife Conservation Camp, a weeklong outdoor experience for high school students. When asked why he wanted to spend the carefree days of summer learning about conservation and working with wildlife, the San Antonio resident replied: “I love nature and being in the outdoors. I always have.”

Retzloff and 16 other high school students from across the state joined 24 wildlife professionals last summer at the Welder Wildlife Foundation in South Texas. There, the students explored Texas wildlife, wildlife management and the field of conservation. The Wildlife Conservation Camp, now in its 14th year, is run by the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society.

“This is one of the greatest experiences that could be had by a young person who is interested in wildlife,” says Selma Glasscock, who serves as assistant director of the Welder Wildlife Foundation.

Glasscock has seen her share of camps. She’s been involved with the program since 1993 and touts the variety of activities the camp offers.

“Campers participate in a wide array of activities, including small mammal trapping, aging white-tailed deer, using GPS units, identifying birds and mammals, and even kayaking in the Laguna Madre,” she says,

Last year, campers caught a baby alligator. In 2004, students set prescribed fires intended to rejuvenate a pine forest. When the camp was in West Texas, campers helped professionals survey vegetation and observed desert bighorn sheep. Campers even have time to squeeze in some fishing and clay target shooting.

Glasscock’s favorite camp memory is the spotlight deer census. “Most of the time kids are looking for big bucks, but I’ll never forget their faces when they see the red eye shine of about 15 to 20 alligators staring back at them from the very wetlands that they were out studying earlier in the day. We all get excited about that!”

Campers come from both urban and rural parts of the state. Some show up without any knowledge of wildlife, while others have spent half their lives on a ranch. A few of the campers have gone on to be professional biologists, although most have chosen other careers. Glasscock’s hope is that, regardless of their profession, campers pass on their knowledge and appreciation to future generations.

Chad Retzloff’s career decision is still a few years away, but regardless, he knows one thing for sure: “Wildlife has always been a big part of my life and it always will be.”

This year’s Wildlife Conservation Camp will be July 8-14 at the Welder Wildlife Foundation in Sinton. Applications, due May 1, are available online at <www.tctws.org>.

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