Students get up close and personal at reptile show

The Students Events Team organized for an employee of the Owatonna  Reptile Amphibian Discovery (RAD) Zoo to visit Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Sept. 14 to show students the fascinating reptiles they have. The event took place of the Dunung Center lawn on campus from 12-3 p.m. Reptiles they displayed included snakes, turtles, and more. Jamie Pastika, the Zoo Director at Owatonna RAD Zoo, did three different shows, each an hour long.

Students watched Pastika give a 50-minute spiel on each of the reptiles he brought, as well as walk the reptiles around the crowd for students to see them up close. After the show, students got to interact with the reptiles for ten minutes and ask him questions about the different reptiles he brought.

These events help educate students on reptiles and show that they are not as scary as one may think.

“I think it’s great just for people to learn that these animals aren’t scary, and to gain an appreciation for our wildlife,” said Pastika. “We also have a show on Saturdays at the zoo. We try to make sure everyone gets up close and gets a chance to experience interacting with an animal.”

Atlas James, the Educational Entertainment Board Member for The Student Events team, helped organize this event. One of the things he does in his role is to bring in speakers that can help educate students and have fun with it.

“We held this kind of event last spring, and we loved the crowd, so we decided to bring it back again for this fall,” said James. “We were able to bring it outside this time like we originally planned last spring.”

One of the reptiles was an alligator, Squirt, who is roughly six years old. She had tape wrapped around her mouth because her bite was as hard as a dog’s. Pastika did not want her to accidentally bite anyone who came to the show. It does not hurt the alligator, and he said it is like humans wearing a seatbelt. She only wears it during shows, taken off as soon as they return to the zoo.

Second-year student Valarie Weber said they had never pet an alligator before the show. However, after the experience, Weber said it was their favorite reptile from the show.

“I like snakes a lot, but I can’t say I’ve ever pet an alligator before today. So that one would be my favorite,” said Weber.

Another one of the reptiles brought out was Spike, a bearded dragon. The reptile is common in Australia and can make excellent pets, as they are low-maintenance. They will lay on people’s chests, chill, and absorb their body heat. Bearded dragons pet owners often purchase heating lamps for the reptiles, but their love of warmth makes them excellent cuddle buddies. 

First-year grad-student, Liz Jacobson, said that she would want to get a bearded dragon in the future, along with some snakes.

“I used to have a bearded dragon. I know in the future I want to have a couple of snakes and bearded dragons again,” said Jacobson. “I think they’re awesome. They seem chill.”

Jacobson continued, “They seem good with interactions, and it’s exciting to interact with the animals we don’t see in nature all that much.”

There are many opportunities for students to learn more about reptiles and other animals at the Owatonna RAD Zoo. 

“We do have internships. We’ve had quite a few students come here to intern at our zoo. And later, many of them have worked at our zoo after internships,” said Pastika. “We also have some volunteer opportunities for those students that are really interested in working with reptiles but maybe not a full-on internship.”

The event was a great way for students to interact with something outside their comfort zones and learn about opportunities outside of campus.

Header photo: Squirt the alligator soaking up all the sun on the Dining Center lawn. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)

Write to Lauren Viska at Lauren.Viska@mnsu.edu

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