Several months in the making-on February 27th we held our first ever regional Black Bear Teacher Workshop. The workshop was a joint effort between the Houston Zoo and the National Park Service Big Thicket National Preserve. We had an outstanding 85 teachers and wildlife educators in attendance representing 7 different school districts in the East Texas region and several Houston ISD teachers as well. Individuals from the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler as well as several NGO’s, Texas Master Naturalists, state and federal agency representatives were participants in the workshop as well.
Educators were given packets including the Houston Zoo’s Educators Guide to the Black Bears of East Texas, as well as many other resources and educational materials pertaining to black bears. Presentations were given by both Houston Zoo and National Park Service staff. Participants learned about the ecology, history and present status of black bears in Texas, participated in activities that can be duplicated in their classrooms and integrated into wildlife education programs. They also earned 3 credit hours of state education continuing credit hours. The morning was rounded out with a leisurely walk in the Preserve lead by park service staff. Pre and Post evaluation surveys were conducted on participant’s attitudes and misconceptions about black bears and their return to Texas.
There were 13 black bear sightings in Texas in 2009 and already a handful in 2010. Education and outreach is the key to the successful return of this charismatic, yet often misunderstood important animal back to our proud state.