Lebanon’s Innocent Feeders Opens Reptile-Focused Summer Camp

Since they moved to Lebanon Valley MallInnocent Feeders changed its model from offering all reptiles to a non-profit rescue with a zoo full of snakes, lizards and even four alligators – including one over 5ft long.

The rescue is operated by Sean and Morgan Innocent, along with a group of young volunteers who help with daily chores, such as cleaning and animal care.

More recently, the rescue introduced a summer camp program to its roster of services. The camp meets once a week on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and allows children to experience being around different types of animals.

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Morgan Innocent said the aim was to teach children to care for animals and treat them with respect. The hope is that some of them will want to adopt by the end of camp. Innocent wants them to learn the habits to give the animals the same level of care that she would provide them.

“Our animals are not just animals to us,” she said, “but a living being that has feelings and thoughts.”

About 30 children attend the camp, some of them coming at other times of the week to volunteer and spend time with the animals.

Parents can choose which weeks their children participate in. If someone is afraid of spiders or snakes and just wants to see lizards, for example, they can.

The camp itself is funded entirely by donations, meaning parents pay what they can.

Each week has a certain theme that dictates the program for the day. The children are divided into groups according to their age, then according to their experience. Children who have gone a few weeks are able to do a little more with animals and act more independently, while new campers receive a more in-depth lesson in how to handle and interact with animals.

The older kids at summer camp stay up front in the rescue with Morgan Innocent while Sean Innocent teaches the younger ones in the back.

Two weeks ago the theme was poisonous snakes, of which Innocent Feeders has over 200 species. The main point of this topic was to teach children to respect poisonous snakes rather than fear them. This fear, she said, is what drives some people to kill them at first sight.

Last week the theme was bearded dragons.

“Did you know that when bearded dragons’ beards turn black, it means they are angry? one student said during class.

Summer camp is almost entirely hands-on, with a little lecture at the start where the kids write notes about the animals, like what they eat and the kinds of things they need in their habitat.

During camp, some animals can move freely on the ground. Last week, a silky chicken named Angel was let loose with a 33-year-old parrot named Guacamole.

Soon after, several baby bearded dragons were brought into a clear plastic tub where children could pick them up, hand-feed them, and clean their backs with toothbrushes.

More experienced children could hold their favorite lizards.

Abby Foltz picked up her favorite leopard gecko named Maggie Jane. Since hearing about them, Abby has been obsessed with leopard geckos and wants to adopt one soon.

Abby Foltz (right) is saving money to adopt Maggie Jane, the leopard gecko on her hand.

“I’m saving money to adopt him,” she says.

Abby said her parents were a bit skeptical, but she said when she wanted a pet fish she did a research project on them to prove she knew how to take care of them, which convinced his parents.

Morgan Innocent said bearded dragons are one of the animals families seek out as pets for young children.

Andrew Nissley joined summer camp the week it started. He planned to buy a bearded dragon or two by the end of the day.

Andrew Nissley wants to adopt two bearded dragons.

“I learned that most animals are really sweet,” he said.

Andrew said his favorite part of camp was hanging out with all the animals.

For more information on how to register for summer camp, you can visit Innocent Feeders The Facebook page.

And after?

Morgan Innocent hopes that within the next five years, Innocent Feeders can move from its location in the mall to a larger property.

They are looking to buy an 8-acre lot either near the “In the Net” sports complex or the new Target.

The new facility would cost approximately $1.2 million. At present, Innocent Feeders are struggling to secure enough equity to be able to make this purchase, which is time consuming given that they operate entirely on donations.

The biggest benefit would be that they would have a lot more space for their larger animals, like their boa constrictor and four alligators, and a more organized zoo, she said.

Part of the reason they need this new property is the same reason they became a nonprofit rescue in the first place. They had hoarded too many animals, either through confiscation, or because people could no longer care for them, or because people blindly left them outside their front door.

Innocent Feeders even started collecting small mammals and birds because people would leave them outside their building, sometimes with notes attached telling them to feed them to the snakes.

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