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Summer on the Wild Side : * Themed Zoo Camp sessions give children of all ages a closer look at the animal kingdom.

June 25, 1993|HEATHER W. MORGAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Heather W. Morgan is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

If you're a parent, there probably are days when you think your children should live at the zoo. For five weeks every summer, the Los Angeles Zoo can make it happen.

The zoo began its Zoo Camp six years ago to get kids involved with wildlife, and the zoo and animals are "a perfect match" for kids, said Cindy Wallace, curator of education for the Los Angeles Zoo. "Especially now since the trend is for parents and children to try and understand nature and wildlife issues as much as possible.

"In my opinion, as far as educational programs go, we peak at Zoo Camp. It's very intense. There's a lot of information being presented and a lot of investigating going on. It's an investment most parents don't regret."

The daily program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is geared to first- through sixth-grade students. A total of 120 students are accepted each week on a first-come, first-served basis; campers are grouped in sets of 10, with one counselor and an assistant.

This year, children can choose between the Rainforest or Reptiles as their weekly theme.

Although the term rain forest is widely used, she said, most people don't really know much about the complex ecosystem that is home to thousands of animal and insect species throughout the world. Students will be exploring a variety of exhibits, collecting and logging research and collectively building their own rain forest.

The other topic, reptiles, may not sound appealing to adults, but the kids love them, Wallace said.

Besides focusing on the larger animals, such as the alligators and tortoises, children will learn about the intricate value of reptiles for the environment. They will also observe and catalogue "wild" species in Griffith Park's rock gardens.

In past years, the camp has incorporated such themes as aquatic animals, endangered species or focused on entire regions such as Africa, South America or Australia. "We try to make it so that children can come back year after year and learn something new each time," Wallace said.

"Some of the more enthusiastic even become camp counselors as they outgrow the program."

"It's been a godsend for us," said Bonnie Harris of Los Angeles. "Before my son went to zoo summer and winter camp, he never really had an interest in much of anything, especially academically. Now his grades have improved and he's working toward applying to the Zoo and Natural Sciences Magnet at North Hollywood High School."

To receive a registration packet for Summer Zoo Camp, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Zoo Camp, Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles 90027. One week at camp is $190, which includes a zoo family membership, or $145 for current members. (The program, initially funded through federal grants, now supports itself solely from tuition.)

In addition to Zoo Camp, the zoo has been expanding its programs for the general public, from preschool and youth sessions to teacher training and adult classes, said Kathy Vorse, assistant curator of education. Most of the workshops concentrate on a specific topic, with games and crafts provided for the children.

Here's what's up this summer at the L.A. Zoo:

* Saturday and Sunday--Friendly Fliers, a preschool program for 3- to 4-year-old children and one parent, looks at flying creatures of the day and night. 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Cost: $20, members $15.

* July 3-5--Family Camping Trip, Sequoia National Forest. Call the zoo for details.

* July 10--Bears of the Ice Age and Today is an adult program, with guest lecturer Shelley Cox from the Page Museum, from 9:30 a.m. to noon. $15, $10 members.

* July 13--Music in the L.A. Zoo features jazz and classical artists throughout the grounds. Visitors can bring a picnic dinner and stroll after hours from 6:15 to 9 p.m. Call for reservations and tickets.

* July 17--Wet & Wild is for 5- to 10-year-old children who want to dive into a class about aquatic mammals, from polar bears to sea lions. The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to noon. $40, $25 members.

* July 19, 20, 24 and 25--Splish, Splash! is a preschool program for 3- to 4-year-old children and one parent, learning about how hippos dunk, sea lions splash and penguins paddle. 10 to 11:30 a.m. or 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday or 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. $20, $15 members.

* July 27--Music in the L.A. Zoo features country & Western bands throughout the grounds. Visitors can bring a picnic dinner and stroll after hours from 6:15 to 9 p.m. Call for details and tickets.

* Aug. 8--Here Kitty Kitty is the youth workshop for children 5 to 10 years old who want to learn more about lions, tigers and other feline friends, from 9 a.m. to noon. $40, $25 members.

* Aug. 16, 17, 21--Lions and Tigers and Bobcats, Oh My! looks at the wonderful world of cats for preschool-age children and their parents from 10 to 11:30 a.m. or 1 to 2:30 p.m. $20, $15 members.

* Sept. 20-21, 25-26--Gracious Snakes Alive! is another preschool workshop for youngsters and their parents who want a closer look at snakes, lizards and turtles. 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Saturday and 1 to 2:30 p.m. only Sunday. $20, $15 members.

WHERE AND WHEN What: Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, at the junction of the Ventura and Golden State freeways. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Price: Admission is $7, $5 for senior citizens, $3 for children 2 to 12 years old; $45 for one-year zoo family membership. Call: For details or tickets for special events, call (213) 664-1100, ext. 392; for general information, call (213) 666-4650.

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