The Snake Whisperer: Catalina State Park Nature Program

Catalina State Park (photo by Frosty Wooldridge)

Frosty Wooldridge

America’s first naturalist, John Muir, said, “How many hearts with warm, red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining? A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.” Atlantic Monthly, 1898

In this modern world, cities dominate the landscape with concrete, asphalt, glass, and steel. From such surroundings, it’s difficult to make contact with the natural world, not only for parents, but for their children. If you ask a child where his or her milk comes from, they might answer, “from the carton in the fridge.”

How can you, as an adult, help your child make contact with wild things?

On any given Saturday from October through April you may take your family for a bike ride, hike, and much more at Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson, Ariz. The wild things await you.

Check with park officials to discover that Jerry Schudda of SaddleBrooke, also known as the “Snake Whisperer,” presents the Catalina Nature Program, along with his cadre of volunteers manning the tables, offers a wildlife show unique to Southern Arizona. On any given Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., his crew of wildlife experts set up a veritable live and static collection of Arizona’s wild critters, primarily from the Sonoran Desert. This program was founded 22 years ago by naturalist Jim Cloer, and Jerry has been the director for the last 10 seasons.

Through the efforts of the program’s unique collection, you may meet Karen who is a professional geologist. She shows kids how the region developed.

When you visit John’s animal skin table, you can feel the different furs that keep animals warm or cool during the different seasons of the year.

If you slide over to the animal skull table, Tom will instruct you on the various features each animal possesses for finding prey or defending from predators or how they eat the various foods for their survival.

On to the snake aquariums will find Roger showing off a gopher snake that wraps around his arms in a magical “slithering” dance.

You might see Anthony surrounded by half a dozen kids sitting on the stage teaching them about the common king snake. They might be a little shy at first but, soon after the first kid holds the snake, then most others will follow.

As people surround tables, a distinct rattle can be heard from one of the rattlesnake terrariums. Sure enough, Jerry or other volunteers will explain to visitors about the 13 species of rattlesnakes in Arizona and how to react to them. What is the difference between poison and venom? That important difference will also be explained.

At another table, Floyd will show people a Sonoran Desert toad, western tiger salamander, Gila monster, and several scorpions. A big attraction comes from a live tarantula.

Everyone leaves the Nature Program’s pavilion with a greater understanding of the many animals that share our world.

At the children’s table, kids can color an animal drawing or model a critter in clay. The Catalina Nature Program is all about entertaining and educating all who visit the park about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. During the off-season (May through September) private tours of the old adobe “bunkhouse,” circa 1895, where the critters are housed, can be had simply by calling Jerry at 520-235-6899 or Jim at 520-818-3545 to set up a visit. Groups of six or less are preferred.

If you might like to become a volunteer of the Catalina Nature Program, please contact Jerry Schudda at [email protected]