Beastly Encounters: A look at Nevada wildlife |

Beastly Encounters: A look at Nevada wildlife

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Lucas Wright, 9, left, and Jacob Sullivan, 5, check out a black bear skull during the Beastly Encounters program at the Nevada State Museum Friday. The program educates children about Nevada wildlife.

Matt Case raised his hand to ask Dr. George Baumgardner, curator of natural history at the Nevada State Museum, an important question about bald eagles.

Matt’s impression of the bird, which was made the emblem of the United States in 1782, was a frightful one.

He had seen something on TV, and he wanted a truthful answer.

The doctor seemed to be in the know. He had shared all kinds of facts about Nevada’s wildlife with the children in attendance – that a cross between a coyote and a dog is a “coy dog”; that some black bears can be brown, or white, or gold or black; and that the bald eagle is one of three animals taken off the Endangered Species list in the United States, but still protected.

Baumgardner had shown children replicas of skulls and even replicas of scat from coyote, bear, cougar and mule deer.

So the 7-year-old Matt asked, “Can bald eagles really pick up people?”

Baumgardner let out a reassuring no, and explained to Matt that the bald eagle usually preys on birds, fish and rodents and, only occasionally, small boys.

Matt, knowing Baumgardner was kidding about the small-boy part, expressed relief at the truth.

“I thought they really did pick people up,” he explained. “I saw it on a show, and it wasn’t a cartoon.”

Providing elementary-age children with facts – and dispelling myths – about Nevada wildlife is exactly what the “Beastly Encounters” series at the Nevada State Museum is about.

Friday’s two-hour workshop was the first of four.

The sessions were created to correlate with a visiting exhibit called “Art and the Animal.”

“We’re celebrating the natural history of Nevada,” said Deborah Stevenson, curator of education. “That’s really the reasons (for these children’s activities.) We just want kids to be excited about their world.”

“Art and the Animal,” the premier exhibit of the Society of Animal Artists, is on exhibit until Nov. 28 and features 123 pieces. The show will then split up and travel throughout the country and world in smaller segments.

Matt, who was visiting the state museum with his family, was out of school for Nevada Day.

He has two hamsters and two fire-bellied toads at home.

“I really like the wild animals,” he said. “They’re a little different, instead of having pets. You can actually see wildlife. And you can go camping in the wildlife, which is really neat.”

In a nearby section of the room, another youngster was equally enthralled. Lucas Wright was trying to turn his head 270 degrees like an owl.

“It would be really cool if you could move it all the way around,” the 9-year-old said.

Lucas, who lives nears the Governor’s Mansion, said he’s never seen any of the wildlife mentioned at the presentation, except for deer.

“There’s thousands of them just running around like crazy,” he said.

He was glad he came for Beastly Encounters.

“First, I thought it was gonna be something different,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to learn about animals. I was like, ‘Oh, cool!'”

The children made paper owls at the end of the workshop. All Beastly Encounters include art projects. Future workshops will focus on animal prints, myths and wondrous facts.

n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at or 881-1219.

If you go:

What: Beastly Encounters for elementary

school-age children

Where: Nevada State Museum, 600 N. Carson St.

Cost: $5 materials fee for art projects

When: 3:15-4:15 p.m. Fridays

Last three in series: Nov. 8, Animal Tracking; Nov. 15, Animal Facts and Fables; Nov. 22, Animal Champions

Call: Deborah Stevenson at 687-4810, ext. 237