Meet the fearless 7-year-old on the path to becoming a Steve Irwin of the Midwest
ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- “C’mon! Let’s go catch some snakes, lizards, toads, frogs, spiders and whatever else we can find today!”
“Don’t be afraid of any of them because they won’t hurt you. They like us! "
Move over Jack Randall and Coyote Peterson. Welcome to the world of 7-year-old wildlife enthusiast Clark Westhoff. He has been capturing critters in the wild since the ripe age of 2.
During our recent two-hour excursion, this young animal aficionado took us through woods, creek beds, ponds, and up and over rocks uncovering anything and everything that may have led us to the next encounter with an unsuspecting reptile or amphibian.
While most kids his age are on playgrounds, baseball fields, and swimming pools this time of year, Clark absorbs every moment of daylight looking, capturing, and caring for his reptilian friends.
“He has little interest in anything but looking for snakes, lizards and frogs,” his dad Dustin Westhoff said. “It’s usually his brother begging him to before he’ll go to a playground, but it never lasts very long before he’s on the search again for critters.”
Before Clark could read, his dad said he was spouting the exact names of snake species when they’d go to the zoo. He also knows how to look at a snake and can tell by its head and skin pattern whether the snake is poisonous.
“Safety used to be an issue. It took me a while to learn and realize that I can trust that he knows what kind of snake it is and that he knows what to look for to determine whether it’s safe or not,” said mom Tara Westhoff. “Now I’ve become the student and he’s the teacher.”
Clark has educated himself, it seems, to the level of expert through endless reading, asking questions and watching countless videos about wildlife. He’s taught me about the numerous species of bullfrogs and how long they live, how big they get and their origin.
For the majority of us, catching spiders and snakes barehanded is a ghastly thought. How many times have we all heard a blood-curdling scream when some poor soul has a surprise encounter with one of these creatures? Not for this child prodigy, though. He is fearless with the animals he calls his friends.
“We were at a birthday party on a lake and he spotted water snakes all over the place,” recalled Dustin Westhoff. “So he goes down to the dock and jumps right in the water and swims up to the shore and snatches a three-foot water snake with his hand and walks around with it. He knows no fear.”
The passion, vigor and excitement displayed by Clark reminds me of the late Steve Irwin. His incredible compassion for all wildlife is a unique gift. It’ll be fun to follow the next few chapters of Clark’s life. Today it’s a four-foot King snake. Tomorrow it’ll be a 20-foot saltwater crocodile.
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