Nature center educates visitors on eco-system

May 31—Naturalists at Three Forks Nature Center say wild animals imprinted on humans cannot survive outside captivity, and they want to educate the public on the damage caused by trying to domesticate wildlife.

The nature center is located in Sequoyah State Park in Hulbert, and offers visitors a chance to learn about the eco-system of the park and the animals that live there.

On Saturdays at 9:30 a.m., Naturalist Sierra Coon and other staff members talk to visitors about wildlife as they feed the animals during the Ambassador Feeding Program.

"It helps give people a chance to see the animals during the feeding and ask questions in real time about that animal or their species," Coon said.

The reason the animals live in the cages behind the center is they cannot be released into the wild, Coon said.

"Our end goal is to educate the public on why it is important to [if] they find a fox kit [for example] to not take it home and raise it," Coon said. "It's illegal and that's what rehabbers are for — to get these animals back into the wild."

When an animal is kept as a pet, it imprints with humans and thinks that is who they should come to for food, Coon said.

A female Barred Owl on the premises is about to turn 25 years old and lives in a tall cage.

"She and her sibling were blown out of their nest and both went into rehab and both imprinted heavily on people," Coon said. "The sibling went to another park, and he passed away due to old age."

In the wild these owls live 5 to 8 years, but in captivity can live much longer. The owl is on a human schedule and that is why she was out during the daytime, Coon said.

Two foxes played together in a large enclosure that offered trees to climb and hiding places.

"One was an illegal pet and kept in a home for her first year of life," Coon said. "The people didn't want to keep her because she was digging holes and spraying their home, which smells like skunk spray."

The other fox was a neighborhood pet that was fed by all the neighbors.

"Everyone played with her and petted her and she quickly bonded with people," Coon said. "She was emaciated — nothing but skin and bones. She was able to get the weight back on but her bond with people never went away, so she lives with us."

A resident river otter was an illegal pet for several months and the people only fed him frozen fish filets and he developed metabolic disease, Coon said.

"Thankfully, we got him at an early age and we started the long process to get him to walk, run and swim," Coon said. "He can now walk, run and swim, but he will forever be affected by this disease."

On Sundays at 1 p.m. the snakes residing inside the center are fed and talks given as to why the species is so vital. Reptile programs share the snakes housed at the center as well as replicas of snakes found in the state.

"We talk about turtles, lizards, snakes — everything in the reptile category," Coon said. "How you can ID different animals — the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes."

Coon recommends joining a social media group on the topic of snakes, or get a book on the species in Oklahoma, to learn the differences, because nature loves mimicry.

"There are some species of snakes that often 'reflect' a venomous snake but are not," Coon said. "Nine times out of 10 snakes are terrified of people and want to get away unless cornered."

The park is 2,200 acres with lots to do both onshore and off, Coon said. The marina houses over 400 slips, and boats and AquaTrikes are available to rent. RV parking is available — full hookup or the option to utilize a dump station, and tent sites.

Horse stables offer visitors the opportunity to rent a horse and take a ride on the horse trails. Sequoyah Golf Course, a 9-hole course, is located in the park. Sequoyah Lodge has cabins and hotel rooms, and a recreation center.

"The recreation department is where any visitor can come, whether staying at the park or not," Coon said.

Every day at 11 a.m., the recreation department hosts arts and crafts, and guided hikes are given in the mornings.

"Thursday through Saturday we do snow cones — people can purchase them from 3-5 p.m.," Coon said. "And we have Trivia, Bingo, karaoke, and fishing at the dock."

An activities list is posted each week on the Facebook page for Sequoyah State Park, Coon said.