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Adopted friends teach kids about nature and giving
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Elachee Nature Science Center animal care specialist Kate Pika holds Goph, a Florida gopher turtle. Goph is up for adoption through the center's Adopt-a-Friend program, which allows kids to donate money for the care of an animal and to visit that animal at the center. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Adopt-a-Friend at Elachee

What: Invest in the care of a creature at Elachee Nature Science Center and give kids the opportunity to visit it
Where: 2125 Elachee Drive, Gainesville
How much: Adoption fees range from $25 to $75, depending on animal
More info: 770-535-1976

If you're a parent with a reptile-loving kid - but you're squeamish about snakes or terrified of turtles - Elachee Nature Science Center has a program that may satisfy both of you.

Adopt-a-Friend at Elachee gives kids an opportunity to "adopt" a variety of animals without actually bringing them into your home.

Robbie McCormac, a volunteer at Elachee who has been heading the program for almost five years, said the center has about 25 to 30 animals available for adoption.

"They run the gamut from salamanders and toads to hissing cockroaches and various types of snakes, tree frogs and gopher tortoises and then red-tailed hawks," McCormac said. "There's a whole range of different animals depending on what your interests or your child's interests may be."

Adoption fees range from $25 to $75, depending on the cost of the care of the animal, and each adoption comes with a bag full of goodies that relate to the animal and a pass that allows kids to visit their new friend.

McCormac said the program gives parents a gift option that teaches kids to help others.

"They're supporting Elachee, but they're also sending a message to their child that there's something out there that they need to go and visit and save and protect," she said.

More than one child can adopt a single animal, McCormac said, because adoption fees only cover a portion of the animal's care.

"What the adoption fee covers is the food for the animal for the year, and also the care that the animal technician has to do within that particular habitat, whether they have to clean it or refurbish it, that sort of thing," McCormac said.

McCormac said some animals are particularly popular.

"I would say, for the boys, any kind of snake," she said. "For girls, it's sort of a trade-off between the red-tailed hawks and the turtles."

The program has stayed popular, according to McCormac, because it benefits parents and kids.

"Moms like it because they don't have snakes living at their house," McCormac said. "They like the fact that we keep them here, but then the kids can come and visit them as much as they want, so it works for everybody.

"I think kids and animals is just sort of a real win-win situation."

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