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Morning Sun
  • Christmas critters

  • Pittsburg State University students get to go home for the holidays, but the university’s Nature Reach headquarters on the third floor of Heckert-Wells is home to more than 50 native and exotic animals, and someone has to be there to care for them while everyone else is away.

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  • Pittsburg State University students get to go home for the holidays, but the university’s Nature Reach headquarters on the third floor of Heckert-Wells is home to more than 50 native and exotic animals, and someone has to be there to care for them while everyone else is away.
    That person is Delia Lister, Nature Reach program co-ordinator. While school is in session, Lister has five students who assist her with the animals, feeding them, cleaning their cages and tanks and otherwise taking care of them while she is out giving lectures at area schools or hosting field trips. When the students are gone, though, she spends her days with the animals.
    Her days start at 8 a.m. preparing food for the turtles, snakes, lizards, tarantulas, birds and furry mammals that reside there. Lister also has to feed live insects and animals that constitute meals for the carnivorous animals, or “gut loading.”
    “They are what they eat,” Lister said.
    Many of the animals are native species such as prairie dogs, ferrets, rattlesnakes, copperheads and turtles.
    “We try to focus on native species,” Lister said, adding that many of the critters are collected by her own students.
    But others, such as the pair of sugar gliders or Charlie, the Catalina macaw — a hybrid breed of a blue and gold and a scarlet macaw whose feathers span a rainbow of colors — are adopted from people who no longer can care for them or were rescued from the wild after their owners turned them loose, such as the desert tortoise someone found roaming around Joplin, Mo. Lister also maintains raptors such as bald eagles, hawks, owls and other birds of prey in a center west of Pittsburg.
    “We keep them outside of town because they need privacy and space and there are separate regulation for keeping them,” Lister said.
    Nature reach, an outreach program of the university’s biology department and its Life Science Education Program, was started in 1985 by graduate student Pat Silovsky, who now runs the Milford Nature Center near the town of Milford in northern Kansas, and Dr. Cindy Ford. Its mission, according to the program’s website, is to educate residents of the four state region about the natural history of the area as well as local and global environmental issues.
    To do that, the Nature Reach provides outreach programs, in which Lister brings live animals to the classroom, to surrounding schools and communities, and campus tours of our natural history collections. Those programs include lectures about buffalo, rain forests, plants, raptors, creatures of the night, insects and amphibians, among others. Lister also offers private tours of the animals.
    Nature Reach is supported by fees, grants, and donations, Lister said.
    “A donor covered the cost for going to the schools, but we’re always looking for more donations to help feed these critters,” she said.
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