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An endangered glimpse





There were oohs and ahhs all around, with a hearty dose of squirming tossed in as nearly 1,100 elementary students made their way Tuesday through a series of stops at Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

The oohs and aahs were reserved for a bald eagle and peregrine falcon, as well as a domesticated wolf that were among the stops.

But a display off by itself, at the far end of the parking lot, was enough to make the students squirm -- especially when they were warned not to antagonize the rattlesnakes in two of the cages.

Despite that, they were quick to crowd around the cage of the less-threatening hognose snake that was quick to put on a show in its cage.

The eagle, wolf, snakes and lizards all were part of the inaugural "American Icons: Threatened and Endangered" program at the museum.

It was a day-long event that let elementary school students learn about animals that either have been or are on the nation's endangered species list.

Sternberg educator James Leiker said plans already are in the works for next year's event.

Most of the nearly 1,100 students were from Hays USD 489 schools, although Victoria sent over a busload for the afternoon session. Several students from Holy Family Elementary were on hand in the afternoon, as were a small group of home-schooled students.

They especially were prone to squirming as they learned about the snakes and other reptiles.

"There's a lot of cool stuff," Leiker said. "There haven't been any glitches yet today."

Unless, of course, you count the start of the afternoon, when nearly 200 students teachers and parents packed the museum lobby, never mind there were only approximately 160 chairs set out. The students didn't seem to mind as they sat on the floor or stood in the back.

Leiker took special delight when he found out some classes were learning about environmental issues, including endangered species, and the day provided the hands-on opportunity to put what they've learned in practice.

The presence of a hybrid wolf -- a cross between a gray wolf and an Alaskan malamute -- was the highlight of the day for many students.

But Leiker said the ability to keep some of the stations outside helped ease congestion, letting students migrate from display to display.