Life Lessons from Sea Turtles and Snakes

Thursday October 27, 2011
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At our elementary school, first graders complete an animal research project as part of their science curriculum.  The kids select an animal they are interested in, and then spend time learning about the animal and it’s habitat.

It’s been really interesting to see how learning about animals has made a broader impact on my kids.

Last year, Wendy chose the Leatherback Sea Turtle.


Image Source:  Costa Rica Vacations

While researching her project we learned …

Leatherbacks are not only the largest sea turtle, they are also the deepest divers — they can go down over 4,000 feet and hold their breath for up to 35 minutes.  Their primary diet is jellyfish and one of the reasons sea turtles are endangered today is because they mistakenly eat floating plastic trash.

This made a big impression on Wendy and has led her to question what happens to our trash when the truck takes it away.  She was glad to hear our trash was burned (and thus, not ensnaring sea turtles), but then also sad to learn burning trash also has environmental impact (i.e. more pollution).  It led to a good discussion and has made her more conscious of the role our family plays in affecting the environment.

This year it is Sam’s turn and he has chosen the Black Mamba Snake.


Image Credit:  Tim Vickers, Wikipedia

I was unfamiliar with this snake, but after a quick bit of research we learned …

The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa, growing up to 14 feet.  It is also the fastest snake in the world — it can move 10-12 mph, and it’s venom is 100% fatal, unless anti-venom is quickly administered.  For all of these reasons, the Black Mamba snake is considered one of the world’s mostly deadly.

Reading all that gave me the heebie jeebies and made me thankful I don’t live in their natural habitat (central, eastern and southern Africa).   Understandably, there is much fear about these snakes in Africa and they are often killed when encountered.

Sam was fascinated and eagerly watched a 50 minute PBS documentary about the snakes.  The film focused on one woman’s conservation efforts of the black mamba snake in Swaziland.  It was geared for an adult audience, but both Sam and I were riveted.

Thea Litschka-Koen and her husband Clifton Koen, respond to hundreds of calls each year by locals who have found the mamba (or other snakes) in their homes or on their property.  They work to humanely capture the snakes and relocate them away from human populations.  They also spend a lot of time educating people about the snakes.

Many question the value of saving such a deadly snake (myself included!), but Thea is passionate about this cause and defends them vigorously, citing the important role they play in the balance of life in that environment.  Sam didn’t have much to say about after the video, and then it was time for dinner.   During the meal, an ant crawled across the kids table and I told the kids to squash it.  Instead, Sam flicked it off the table.

Later, as we were driving to church, I asked what he thought about the video.  He told me that it taught him that all creatures deserve to live and we shouldn’t kill things just because we don’t like them.  That’s why he didn’t kill the ant.   I tried to argue that insects are a different category of “living creature” than other animals, but I’m pretty sure I just got morally pwned by a 6 year old boy. 🙂

I love that he is such an analytical thinker and that something as simple as learning about a snake is helping him understand and care about the world we live in.

Deep stuff for first grade!

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