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TALKING TALONS YOUTH LEADERSHIP:
A SMALL ORGANIZATION WITH BIG IMPACT

By Amy Goedert

In the town of Tijeras, New Mexico, nestled up against Canyon Crossroads Animal Hospital, is Talking Talons Youth Leadership Center. Many adults do not know it exists, but ask any kid in the area and they will probably tell you all about it. The first thing out of their mouths would be an eager account of how Smokey, an American Kestrel, was found injured in Edgewood, New Mexico; that India, an Indian Flying Fox, has a four-foot wingspan; or how Leo, a Western Screech Owl, can turn his head 270 degrees! A person might think they are all telling a tall tale, but it is all true!

Here at the Center we care for over 25 non-releasable wild animals. These education animals are an integral part of Talking Talons. In fact, the organization would not have started without them. In 1988, Wendy Aeschliman, a trained wildlife rehabilitator and founder of Talking Talons, was working as a school nurse. She noticed many of her students were suffering from low self-esteem, not illness. Knowing how inspirational animals can be, Wendy introduced some students to the birds of prey she had been caring for. The positive effect on the kid was incredible, and voilá, Talking Talons was born.

The animals draw the attention and enthusiasm of over 100 students from Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Edgewood, and the East Mountain region. These young men and women, ages 6-17, are the other integral part of Talking Talons. Students are trained, primarily within their schools, to be public speakers and community educators ("Talking Talons”). Yes, the number one fear of adults is conquered by these students, because they have an important mission: to teach people about the importance of all wildlife and what we can do to make the environment and community safe for all living things. Further, but locating those characteristics in the animals which can be used as models for humans, the students forge a unique relationship which promotes self-esteem and empathy. The messages include encouraging people to stay away from illegal substances and gangs; two very serious problems in our country.

The “Talking Talons” go to schools all over New Mexico to educate other students. This education is not limited to kids. We offer special classes ever month that are open to people of all ages. The most recent class was all about bats and included participants building their very own bat houses. It should also be known that we can always use the help of eager volunteers carrying out tasks such as animals care, office work, carpentry, or gardening.

This summer we will begin “Leadership and Wildlife Summer Camp”. Kids 6-14 get to know our bats, birds, and reptiles through animal care, environmental education, public speaking, hikes, games, and art projects.

If you are interested in a Talking Talons presentation, summer camp, classes, or volunteering, please check our web site at: www.talkingtalons.com

Amy Goedert is Program Educator with Talking Talons.

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1997 issue.

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