“Holy smokes! It’s a turkey!”
A 16-year-old girl wearing a retro Metallica shirt could not believe her eyes.
“I’ve never seen a turkey. He’s so big,” she said.
The young lady was referring to a hefty golden-breasted gobbler we had displayed at Eco-Fest at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX. The tall, docile bird was strutting his stuff and drawing a crowd.
She was not the only one that was shocked to see a turkey.
Hundreds came by to see it and every one of them left hearing that wild turkeys are the epitome of a wildlife conservation success story.
They also learned East Texas is seeing a return of eastern turkeys due to the efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the hunter-founded National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
Our Wild Wishes® program grants wildlife encounters to children with a terminal illness or loss of a parent or sibling. We are mentoring many of them to be conservation ambassadors.
Eleven-year-old Jaxon sat in with the big gobbler and told passers-by about wild turkeys and had lots of fun making turkey calls to incite gobbles.
And if that didn’t get them the baby turkeys did.
We brought two newly hatch bronze-breasted poults and they absolutely blew away everyone who saw them.
“Their wild cousins will be born shortly out in the woods, deserts, swamps and mountains of America. If we want wild turkeys to thrive then we need to make their habitat healthy and do our best to restore them in areas where they are missing,” I told one gentleman.
I’m not saying he shed a tear when I let him pet one of the poults but he was definitely moved.
The wildlife conservation community needs to bring more people in if we want to secure the future for not only wild turkeys but hundreds of other species and their vanishing habitat.
And that will require moving the hearts of the public.
Legendary wildlife host and zoo director “Jungle” Jack Hannah once told me that you must move the heart before you change the mind when it comes to wildlife. He said this while telling kids from our Wild Wishes® program about the value of zoological facilities to conservation and giving props to excise taxes on sporting goods funding everything from game wardens to land acquisitions.
In my opinion, hunting-based conservation groups have done great work in the field but have missed in moving the heart.
I want to conserve turkeys because I grew up in a family that hunted for its food and dreamed of the day I would one day see wild turkeys in the field.
As a youngster there were virtually none in the Pineywoods where I grew up due to poaching, lack of natural fire and habitat loss. Now, groups like the NWTF are helping bring them back.
I first encountered a wild turkey on a day lease in Llano in the Texas Hill Country and since then have had deep reverence for America’s greatest game bird.
Many people left Eco-Fest thinking turkeys were amazing too and were armed with more information about the positive aspects of turkey conservation.
We need to reach a broader audience with a pro-conservation message in ways that people have never considered.
Bringing a big gobbler and some poults to a community event did that and having kids trained up to talk turkey (in Jaxon’s case literally) made people think.
Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our life to helping hurting children and training them to be wildlife conservationists. We believe these kids are not the next generation of conservationists.
They are the NOW generation.
We have just begun this Turkey Revolution and will unveil many more projects spearheaded by these wonderful young people for not only turkeys but many species.
Chester Moore, Jr.