Lined up on the table was a display of animal skulls, snake skins, and turtle shells. The four and five year-old investigators examined the display with questions reeling through their minds. Holding out a rattlesnake skin for the children to touch, Rudy Mancke saw the familiar expressions of curiosity and wonder on their faces.
As a boy, Mancke was innately fascinated with wildlife and natural places in his hometown of Spartanburg. He recalled how his mother and grandmother would often fabricate answers to his frequent questions about snakes, turtles, and such just to placate his inquisitive mind. Never quite satisfied with their answers, he headed to the library to learn about the animals that lived near his home.
He told students how he once spotted a turtle sliding off a log, and he dove in the water to catch the turtle without a second thought. “The turtle looked surprised to see me,” he said. “I bet he was looking over his shoulder when I let him go.”
During his visit at Spring Valley Presbyterian Preschool on Monday, Mancke connected instantly with his young audience. “I like clues,” he said as he held up a skull. He encouraged the youngsters to think like a detective and study the skull carefully.
Mancke pointed to the teeth on the skull explaining they could learn about the animal by studying the incisors, canines, and molars. The children peered closer and thought about the type of food the animal could eat with its large canine teeth.
“Is it a dog?” one asked. “No,” Mancke replied.
“Is it a dinosaur?” another volunteered. “No,” Mancke answered.
“Bobcat?” a student whispered from the back row. Mancke said, “That’s right!”
Mancke shared how he often can’t resist stopping to investigate dead animals along the roadside just to see what they have eaten recently.
“Recycling,” he said. “Remember that word. When a bobcat eats a rabbit, that rabbit becomes part of the bobcat. When we eat food, it turns into our bones and muscles. Recycling!”
As host of the popular ETV program NatureScene , renowned naturalist Rudy Mancke has taken field trips in all 50 states and in many foreign countries. Since the premier of NatureScene in 1978, Mancke has hosted more than 300 field trips.
Mancke is currently a faculty member of USC’s School of the Environment. During his career, he served as natural history curator at the SC State Museum for ten years, and he was a high school biology and geology teacher. Mancke was also an X–ray technician during service in the US Army.
His curiosity about nature is never–ending and contagious, resulting in a large following of fans of all ages, which now includes the four–year–old class at Spring Valley Presbyterian preschool.
Visit www.TheColumbiaStar.com March 31, 2006 to see another picture of Rudy Mancke and the children.