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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on April 26, 1999 at 10:07:32:
TIMES COLONIST (Victoria, BC) 26 April 99 Boys love danger of snakes, but girls choose turtle safety
Little girls love turtles, while little boys adore poisonous snakes.
That gender difference is just one of the preliminary findings of an international survey of students' attitudes towards amphibians and reptiles launched in Victoria by a local researcher.
Stan Orchard, chairman of the Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network and a research associate of the Royal B.C. Museum, says many adults express a phobia towards snakes, toads, lizards and the like.
But it's not clear whether that phobia is innate or culturally produced, and if the latter, at what age.
"We don't really have a good handle on how pervasive this attitude is in society. . . . We just have a general sense that a lot of people don't seem to like (reptiles and amphibians) and it's certainly an obstacle getting funding for research and conservation projects.''
That's why Orchard has designed a school survey that he hopes will produce a statistical benchmark on children's and teachers' feelings towards amphibians and reptiles.
These misunderstood creatures play a vital role in the world's ecosystem. It's feared, for example, that a mysterious worldwide decline in the frog population could be a harbinger of environmental degradation that could affect all species.
So far, Orchard has discovered "children have very definite opinions about amphibians and reptiles and their attitudes are generally positive.''
The greatest enthusiasm for most species is expressed in Grades 1 to 3 and, therefore, education programs should target very young children.
Boys are particularly enthusiastic about species with an element of danger, for example, poisonous snakes, but little girls hate poisonous snakes and much prefer turtles.
Snake phobia in girls is established by Grade 1 and could prove to be innate, Orchard said. Snake phobia in boys starts in Grade 4 and then rises to more than 40 per cent among Grade 12 boys so the fear could prove to be culturally induced.
"This (survey) has implications for both education and conservation and even provides some insights into human psychology,'' Orchard said.
"It will be vital for testing the effectiveness of one teaching technique over another. For example, is there an optimum age to start teaching kids about amphibians and reptiles?''
The survey is underway across Canada, in the United States, New Zealand, and is about to begin in the United Kingdom, Australia and Eastern Europe.
The multiple choice questionnaire, designed with the help of retired teachers, is fun and easy to do.
Oak Bay high school teacher Rod Carmichael, whose science students participated in the survey, said teachers can play a vital role in developing young people's appreciation for other creatures.
"If you get them interested in what does this organism like, where does it live and why does it do this, their fears are lessened by just looking at them in a different light.''
Orchard plans to unveil his findings at an international symposium on herpetological education in Quebec City next October.
To participate in the survey or to find out more information, call Orchard at 595-7556 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.