What do animal tracks, mosquitos, bears, and crime scenes have in common? They were all involved when Alaska Department of Fish and Game Technician Ellie Mason met last week with Delta Greely Homeschoolers and Mrs. Mock’s first grade class at Delta Elementary School to talk about animal tracks and bear safety, with a little wildlife predation/crime scene investigation thrown in, while the students were simultaneously swatting at mosquitos during the outings.
Thirty Delta Greely Homeschool students met with Mason at the Alaska Fish and Game office in Delta, where she was helped by ADF&G alumnus Dave Davenport and ADF&G wildlife technician Bob Schmidt. Mason began the activity by telling students how to identify animal tracks and taught them some facts about safety while in bear country. The students were then separated into three groups. Davenport, an accomplished trapper and animal tracker, helped students use stencils and sidewalk chalk to draw animals tracks on the sidewalk in realistic patterns. The students had several animal track stencils to choose from including black and grizzly bear, caribou, mink, wolf, fox, and even a raven.
Schmidt’s group of students investigated a wildlife predation/crime scene to determine what had happened in the woods by looking at evidence consisting of animal tracks, feathers, and fur left at the scene, artificial scat, and other clues. The scenario that most students figured out was that a set of moose tracks in the area did not have anything to do with evidence that pointed to a fox trotting through the taped off scene and catching and eating a grouse that had been feeding on berries.
Mason had rubber, life-sized animal tracks molds that she and the students used to make an animal track impressions in a tray of soil. They then poured Plaster of Paris over the imprint to make a cast of the track, which they were able to take off.
The next day, Mason took her show on the road to Mrs. Mock’s first grade class at Delta Elementary School. Mason started the program by showing the students a short video on bear safety, which taught the students to keep a clean yard and camp site, do not run from bears, and other safety tips. Mason then showed the students pelts from a grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine, and lynx, and they looked at the feet to see what their tracks would look like.
The sharp claws on the lynx impressed many of the students.
The first graders were not able to conduct the predation scene investigation, but they did enjoy chalking the animal tracks on the DES basketball court and making track molds out of Plaster of Paris – while swatting at a few mosquitos.
When these two groups of students were done, they should have learned not to run from bears, what a few animal tracks looked like, and that Alaskan mosquitos are out.