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"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, waterbugs, tadpoles, frogs & turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, hickory nuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hayfields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets – and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education." -Luther Burbank 1849 - 1926
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Don't Turn It Loose!

When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, we frequently found a stray cat or dog wandering about. Sometimes even a chicken that escaped from the chicken transport trucks. That's how we adopted most of our pets...but we couldn't adopt all the animals that were "dropped off in the country" to find a home for themselves. Many times they were diseased, starving or crippled.

I hear that the practice is still going on. That's really unfortunate for many reasons. Pets don't know how to care for themselves in the wild...and they often starve or are run over by vehicles...or eaten by wild animals. They carry diseases that infect native wildlife. They can often attract infectious diseases and pass them on to people and other animals.

But dropping pets off isn't the only "Don't turn it loose" topic to consider. When you or your class of eager scientists study plants or animals -- what do you do with these living specimens when your experiment is over and done with?


There are some solutions. Please consider this challenge BEFORE you experiment with living plants or animals. And then handle the long term impact ethically and responsibly. Need some tips? Here are some prepared by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC).

They point out that the problem of releasing laboratory animals or pets into the wild can result in:

  • the introduction of harmful pathogens and parasites
  • increased competition with native/resident species for resources (food, water and shelter)
  • predation on native/resident species
  • degradation of the native / resident population's gene pool.

How can you help?

Instead of releasing unwanted pet, classroom or laboratory animals into the wild, consider one of these alternatives:

  • Give the animal to another responsible teacher, school or adult.
  • Return it to the place where it was bought
  • Keep it as a classroom pet
  • Donate it to your local natural history museum, science center, zoo, or aquarium
  • Humane euthanasia.

All of these alternatives outweigh the risk of releasing captive animals into the wild. To avoid the problem of what to do with unwanted animals, think about what you will do with them BEFORE you obtain them. Althought the release of "one little animal" (or plant) into the wild may seem benign, that action could have serious biological and legal consequences.


Yes. Both state and federal laws prohibit bringing non-native plants into wild areas.

The USDA now requires a special permit for schools, etc. who want to buy or move wildlife from place to place. Here is the form for you to download. You can learn more at the USDA Website: USDA PERMIT INFORMATION for PLANTS. and more: USDA PERMIT INFORMATION for SLUGS and SNAILS.

Invasive species -- both plant and animal -- are wrecking havoc on our wild lands, our waterways and even our urban areas. Some of the notorious invasives that have spread so fast that they stomp out the natives include the zebra mussel, kudzu and even trout that were deliberately stocked in our national parks for our fishing pleasure. These trout are decimating native frogs. Zebra mussels are decimating fish and native water flora. Kudzu is carpeting the Southern landscape and smothering native shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and even trees.


Now you have some alternatives. The best way to study the environment it to walk softly, treat it with respect, and leave it in its native habitat so it can continue to thrive -- that applies to ALL plants, animals, bacteria, etc. Respect. It goes a long way in solving these problems.


Some alternative ways to learn about life and the environment include:

  • Create a nature journal for observations, drawings, poetry and essays.
  • Observe. Watch, track, identify, and learn patterns of behavior.
  • Communicate with animals in your normal tone of voice -- they will respond with caution and curiosity
  • Take wildlife counts with a conservation organization.
  • Keep a migration calendar of different species that visit your area.
  • Draw a "green map" of your community habitat and identify the wide variety of native (and nonnative) plants and animals that live together with you in your community.
  • Discover NEW ways to learn about your natural treasure!
And most of all, enjoy learning how nature thrives in its diversity!