BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Move over Groundhog Day.
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Instead of celebrating the annual holiday involving Punxsutawney Phil, Binder Park Zoo celebrated Prairie Dog Day with students from Marshall’s Gordon Elementary School Friday.
“They [the students] are wild and excited about it,” Mary Douglass, a fifth-grade teacher at Gordon Elementary, said. “There’s nothing like coming out of a dry, dismal school on a sunny day and being at the zoo.”
After learning the zoo was allowing community members to name its 18 prairie dogs for $500 each, students at the elementary school got to work.
Raising money through bake sales, can drives, penny wars and more, students raised $1,000 in support of conservation and “adopted” two prairie dogs, naming one “Gordon” and the other “Jordan-rhymes-with-Gordon,” officials said.
“While we were here, the kids noticed that they were building a new exhibit for the prairie dogs, and they saw they have an opportunity to raise money for this new exhibit and they wanted to help,” Douglass said. “So they have spent time and effort raising money to adopt two of the prairie dogs, so they came today, on Groundhog Day, to help with the unveiling of the new exhibit for the prairie dogs, so they are here making enrichments for the prairie dogs on Groundhog Day.”
Although spring-like weather complimented the closed-to-the-public celebration, Binder Park’s prairie dogs did not come out of their habitats to greet students.
However, the group decided that, since the animals didn’t see their shadows on Prairie Dog Day, spring would be coming early to Calhoun County.
“We wanted to put our own spin on Groundhog Day, so we decided that sharing the passion these young people have for prairie dogs – and many other animals, was the perfect tie,” Alex Case, Education Manager at Binder Park Zoo, said. “This group had recently participated in the BIG Zoo Lesson – a week-long immersive conservation education program held at the zoo. It was an experience that clearly gave them the inspiration and desire to dig in and help make a change for wildlife.”
Douglass was especially appreciative that Binder Park Zoo continually ensures learning about conservation is fun for students.
“It’s really important that it’s fun,” Douglass said. “When you’re 10, fun is everything, and I appreciate that Binder Park makes it fun to come to the zoo and that they make the message of conservation fun, and that making a difference in your community is a fun thing to do. You learn that lesson at 10, you can carry it through your whole life.”
While Gordon Elementary has raised $1,000 so far, the school aims to raise $4,000 for Binder Park Zoo, according to Douglass.
How that money will be spent besides supporting the zoo’s prairie dog exhibit, however, remains unknown.
“Whatever they use it for, the zoo is conservation and education, and we really don’t care, we love Binder Park and we want them to be here for our children and grandchildren, and our children’s grandchildren and their grandchildren,” Douglass said. “So we’re all about conservation and keeping the zoo going.”
Binder Park Zoo opens to the public for their 2024 season on May 1. More information about other educational programs, or how to support the zoo, can be found online.