• December 15, 2019
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For the better part of three years, I spent most Saturdays at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, Florida. 

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary was not a zoo, but a place of refuge for the flora and fauna of south Florida. Birds with clipped wings, possums who’d been hit by cars, and even a hulking American Alligator made docile by a traumatic brain injury–all were welcome at Busch. The sanctuary’s primary function was to heal, rehabilitate, and release these animals back into the wild; unfortunately, a safe release was not always in the cards for these creatures. That’s where we come in–the child volunteers. It was our duty to care for these estranged animals and ensure that their extended stay was as comfortable as possible.

Busch drew me in since I was a young child; Florida’s wildlife deeply fascinated me, and even more so by the brave teenagers and adults who handled them. The adults are full time staff members–paid employees who worked for the sanctuary. The teenagers, on the other hand, are a group of volunteers known as the “Junior Naturalists.” Almost every week I would go just to watch these young men and women handle the animals and listen as they taught myself and others about the majesty of nature. Every naturalist was different, but every one preached an unchanging message that sticks with me to this day: respect nature, do not fear it. 

And that’s the lesson I lived by. Everyday I worked with my fellow junior naturalists–a group of like minded misfits and leaders–we personified that message through our work. We cared for the wildlife entrusted to us; whether we were cleaning enclosures, preparing meals, and transporting wildlife, we did so with a caring hand and a watchful eye. We were students of the world that had been granted to us, and teachers of that oh-so valuable message: respect nature, do not fear it. 

We fear what we do not understand, so we strove everyday to learn something new about the world around us. We reap what we sow, so we labored diligently in caring for the creatures entrusted to us. We always pay it forward, so we taught little kids like I used to be the universal rule we all came to love: respect nature, do not fear it. 

Two junior naturalists lead a presentation about native Florida wildlife. The two carry owls in an attempt to teach the audience about birds of prey.(Photo used by permission of Tracey Polansky)

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