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Spiders, snakes and lizards get petted at James Clemens

David Ballard with Animal Trax, at right, handles a tarantula at the Alternative Animal Petting Booth, sponsored by the Jet Wildlife Club. (Contributed)

Jet Wildlife Club at James Clemens High School helped to ease stereotypical fears for exotic pets with their “Alternative Animal Petting Booth.”

David Ballard with Animal Trax, 100 Church St. in downtown Madison, brought exotic animals. Before the event, club members visited Animal Trax to learn handling and care needs for the animals.

“David taught us how to feed them and about the pets’ natural habitats,” club sponsor Patricia Williams said. “David stressed the importance of husbandry, or care and maintenance for alternative pets.”

At the booth, James Clemens students were fearful, curious and excited about touching tarantulas and larger reptiles, like the Argentine black-and-white Tegu. “Other students had utter excitement to touch snakes, turtles, and Charlie the bearded dragon, Ballard’s six-year-old mascot at Animal Trax,” Williams said.

Two of Williams’ students asked her to advise the new club, originally aimed at herpetology but expanded for animal and plant wildlife. Erin Phillips and Lynn Cole are serving as president and vice president, respectively.

The club educates its audience about proper care and respect for alternative wildlife, genetics of new ‘designer’ pets and differences between these animals and domestic pets.

Williams decided to sponsor the club because James Clemens instructors “believe in a culture for conservation and development of the mind through various vehicles, including technology, meaningful collaboration, continuation of learning through clubs and a plethora of instructionally based learning.”

In addition, Williams owns a leopard gecko, Jeff, a gift from a James Clemens parent and now her classroom’s pet. “Jeff makes learning about reptiles more realistically meaningful,” she said.

In the future, Jet Wildlife Club members want to explain husbandry at elementary schools, visit natural habitats at a wildlife refuge and continue partnering with Animal Trax.

Club member Zachery Williams owns a ball python, turtle and leopard gecko. “I like to care for them. I really like different reactions that my friends have towards viewing and touching my alternative pets,” Williams said. Zachery explains his pets’ dry and scaly skin, shedding, predatory habits and color variations.

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