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Community gets a chance to talk with the animals (Dec. 23, 2004)

Community gets a chance to talk with the animals (Dec. 23, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Community gets a chance to talk with the animals

Dec. 23, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0212}

An e-Review Feature
By Ronald K. Owen**

LAKELAND — Members of Kathleen United Methodist Church's youth group "The Difference" hold a snake brought with other animals to the church by the animal group Safari Todd. The event was designed as an outreach to the community and an educational opportunity to learn about rare and endangered animals. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jeffrey Smith, Photo #04-0128.

LAKELAND — Safari Todd came to Kathleen United Methodist Church, near Lakeland, this fall, bringing panthers, alligators, snakes, skunks and a host of other rare, endangered and misunderstood animals.

The event was sponsored by the church's youth and designed as an outreach to the community. More than 80 people from the outlying area, most of whom were not members, attended.

The youth wanted to reach out to families in the area, and Safari Todd seemed the perfect attraction, according to the Rev. Jeffrey Smith, the church's pastor. Safari Todd travels to schools, churches, civic organizations, cities and towns to offer an informational and educational opportunity for people of all ages.

Smith said the program Safari Todd provided for the church was both entertaining and educational. He said people were encouraged to see the animals up close and to hold and pet some of them. They were also able to have their picture taken with their new friends.

The most popular animal in the group was the Florida panther, an endangered species. Only 50 remain alive in the state today. "The panther has a vertical leap of 19 feet," Smith said. "We did not get to see this tremendous leap, praise God!"

Many of the facts revealed about the animals also helped dispel some myths. One is that there are large numbers of alligators in the wild, but in reality they were on the endangered species list as late as 1967 and placed on the protected list in 1987. Another myth, that it's OK to feed animals in the wild, was also debunked because such feeding causes the animals to be aggressive.

"The church youth liked the idea of being with animals, which are misunderstood, just like people-especially youth are often misunderstood," Smith said.

Young and old attended the event, which was meant to appeal to people of all ages. Smith said one of the guests told him: "It was an awesome combination of fun and a further understanding of God's wonderful creation. We can't believe a church would put on an event like this for people they do not know."

In addition to the animal attraction, the church event also included a variety of games and a chili supper. Smith praised the youth for their hard work and declared the event an unqualified success.


This article relates to Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Owen is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville, Fla.