A teen in the camp’s Animal Specialist-in-Training program gets some playtime with a two-toed sloth.

What do you get when you combine up to 1,500 campers, more than 200 animals and 240 acres nestled in the Ozark Mountains? The answer is Cub Creek Science Camp at Bear River Ranch, an experience that fuses science, animals and traditional camp activities for nine weeks each summer. “Children are naturally drawn to animals,” says camp owner/director Lori Martin. “We have such a positive response when our campers and animals interact. The kids learn that animals are somewhat predictable when people are patient and kind, and they are rewarded with the animal’s trust.”

Located just an hour-and-a-half from St. Louis, Cub Creek Science Camp in Rolla is in its 16th year of offering science- and nature-based activities with the help of critters of all shapes and sizes. “When we first started, we had just a few animals that would fit into a 10-gallon aquarium, like rabbits and gerbils. Later on, we added a pot-bellied pig. When we bought the ranch, we got more exotic animals,” Martin says. The camp is now home to a family of wallabies, 3-foot tall animals that resemble miniature kangaroos. “We had our first wallaby born at the ranch this past summer,” she beams. Other exotic animals include a two-toed sloth, a 15-pound anteater and an African-crested porcupine named Spike. She says the camp also has an assortment of llamas, ferrets and gerbils, tortoises, snakes, lizards, and parrots and other birds that are housed in free-flight aviaries. In all, the camp has six animal areas consisting of indoor and outdoor cages, barns and fields.

Campers ages 7 through 17 can stay for one, two, four or six weeks in the summer, and can choose from 21 week-long courses, including Animal Safari, Culinary Science and Survival Skills. Martin says the most popular course is the Adopt an Animal program, which allows campers to choose an animal and be responsible for its care during the duration of camp. “They learn the animal’s survival needs—how to provide food, water and shelter. They’re also taught enrichment activities for the animal, as well as how to keep it healthy and groomed,” she says.

Another favorite among campers is the Junior Vet course, according to Martin. “They learn what it’s like to be a veterinarian: They read X-rays, look through microscopes to see what kinds of internal parasites animals may have and learn how to suture,” she says. “We also have a local vet come and perform surgeries that kids can watch. Usually, these are shelter puppies and kittens that are being spayed or neutered.” Martin says campers can sign up for two courses each week. They also choose two classes or activities for each day at camp. “On a typical day, campers have four activities, a free period, a cabin group activity and a large group activity in the evening.” She says more than 150 different activities are offered on any given week. “We have realized that learning happens when it’s based on a camper’s own interests, that’s when things tend to ‘stick.’ We call this ‘curiosity-guided learning,’” she says. “Since the beginning of camp, we have used the motto, ‘Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.’” Martin says each summer, campers enjoy various activities, make friends, boost their self-esteem and build problem-solving skills.

Cub Creek Science Camp has 50 counselors and other staff on hand. The campground has 12 modern, air-conditioned cabins that house 14 campers each, with semi-private rooms and private bathrooms. Cub Creek Science Camp for 2008 begins June 1 and runs through Aug. 2.