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Camp Zoo offers unique experience for campers

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Posted: Friday, April 9, 2010 11:00 pm

Summer camps abound with lakes, hiking and outdoor activities, but only one has hedgehogs you can train.

“We’re a zoo, so we can do a lot of fun things with animals,” said Dean Watanabe, Camp Zoo director at the Phoenix Zoo’s summer program, who called it the “coolest camp around.”

That’s because there is something for everyone, from how to care for zoo animals to summer camp games, action projects to learning animal tracking skills. Children entering kindergarten to eighth-graders will have fun.

There is even a week segment for older campers that focuses on animal training, complete with snakes, “which are always awesome,” said Watanabe, as well as scorpions and larger animals, including hedgehogs.

“The kids will basically learn to train and handle animals,” Watanabe said. Not lions or tigers, he added, but exciting just the same.

And while it won’t include teaching animals to jump through burning hoops, training is important from the smallest to the largest animals, because the zoo staff needs to be able to feed and care for everything from frogs to elephants, which means they all have to be trained to work with their human caretakers.

The one-week Camp Zoo sessions are offered from June 7 through July 30, with two alternating programs for each age group, so children can attend two weeks of camp and experience a different focus each week, Watanabe said.

And because it’s summer in Arizona, he said each day’s program includes some early morning outdoor activities, classroom and indoor activities, plus fun with some of the water features in the zoo so campers can cool off.

Best of all, Watanabe added, “There are definitely behind-the-scene opportunities,” at the zoo for campers.

To make camp as flexible for parents as possible it is divided into full day, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., for all but kindergartners and half day, from 8 a.m. to noon, for all but seventh- and eighth-graders. After camp care is also available from 4 to 6 p.m. for $50 a week. A week of full day camp costs $252 for members of the zoo, $280 for non-members and a week of half-day camp costs $153 or $170 for non-members of the zoo.

Camp Zoo is divided into age groups with half day only available to kindergartners and full or half day for first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth– and sixth-graders. Full-day-only camp is offered for the older seventh– and eighth-graders.

Watanabe said the groups are kept small with a ratio of two counselors for each group of 14 campers.

For more information or to register, visit and click on “Camp Zoo.”

“As far as camps go, I think it’s a combination of the coolest place to have a camp, the zoo, and it’s exciting,” Watanabe said.

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