As a wildlife educator for the last 26 years, a significant part of my mission has been to encourage people to get out and explore nature. This past summer, I was excited to see the Downtown Square filled with people milling about even though there was no event going on. Now, granted, the Square is not a state park or other wilderness area, but it was brimming with people enjoying the beauty of the outdoors in the heart of Denton.
Before long, I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be looking at their phones. I even witnessed a few pedestrian-on-pedestrian collisions. When I heard shouts of excitement, I thought there must be something big happening, so I checked my phone. Nothing stood out from any news service or social media, so the question lingered: What was going on? My answer came the next day, when the Internet was abuzz about a new app sweeping the nation – Pokémon Go. Based on its massive popularity and the fandom I witnessed the day before, I realized that this might be a bridge to get people to enjoy their surroundings. After all, it was getting people out and about chasing and “capturing” Pokémon – now they just had to look up!
Critterman poses with an American alligator during one of his educational presentations. (Photo by Sam Boyd)
I have always embraced technology and pop culture and, whenever possible, incorporated them into my teaching to make things as fun and relevant as possible. After that day on the Square, I told students at my wildlife school assembly programs that there was a secret level of play. In order to access this hidden level of play, they had to go outside to one of the area parks. Once there, they were told to put their phone into camera mode and begin to walk. I told them they didn’t have to hold the phone up until they discovered creatures, but the phone wouldn’t buzz to let you know that they were near something cool. Instead, they would have to focus and closely scan their surroundings. If they did that, they would actually see them: real life “Pokémon”. To “capture” them, they would have to take their phone out and take a picture. Once that was done, they should put their phone back into their pocket and enjoy the nature surrounding them. After all, your first priority should always be to live in the moment and enjoy your surroundings.
Texas is a great place to be for nature lovers, and it’s home to the greatest diversity of wildlife in the United States. My family and I have been Texas Parks & Wildlife Department annual pass holders for decades, and you’ll find us exploring a different park in Texas any chance we get. From Canyon Country, Prairies and Plains, The Big Thicket, Hill County, Rio Grande Valley to the Coastal Shoreline, Texas has so many inspiring places to explore.
In Critterman’s Corner, I will discuss everything about our native wildlife and its inhabitants. I will also use this corner of the Internet to dispel myths, share fun facts, and answer questions from readers. Where is the best spot to see wildlife? How do you identify a venomous snake? How do I get rid of the crazy opossum under my deck? I will answer those and much more. E-mail comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with Critterman’s Corner in the subject line. In the meantime – go, get out, and explore!