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BI-LO stores across the Upstate are trying to teach their youngest customers about wildlife and conservation through a new campaign designed to make learning fun.

Now through May 3, shoppers who purchase $20 worth of items or more will receive a free four-pack of Animals of America cards while supplies last. There will be 54 collectible cards in total, each featuring an American animal and fun fact.

Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of BI-LO, Winn-Dixie and Harveys grocery stores, hopes kids will collect, swap and keep cards in a collection.

“With the Animals of America program, we have an opportunity to educate our children and get families talking about some of the natural wonders that make our home in the Southeast such a special and unique place,” said Sharry Cramond, EVP of marketing and communications for the company, in a press release.

The program has already made a celebrity fan out of world-renowned wildlife expert Jack Hanna, who spoke by phone exclusively to Upstate Parent about the campaign.

He was quick to point out that he doesn’t give endorsements easily, but he feels the Animals of America cards are an excellent way to teach children about wildlife. One of his favorite memories is of trading baseball cards as a child, he said. He hopes children will trade these cards and learn about as many animals as possible.

“For example, you see here in Greenville, they have cards for the Southeastern states,” he said. “ Then you build it to the other states’ animals — the dessert animals, the mountain animals, all that kind of stuff. I’ve never seen it put that way. I’ve written 12 books — one of my books is something like this but not quite — so I wish I’d seen this before I wrote my last book.”

Hanna grew up on a farm and developed a love of animals when he was a child, he said. In 1978, he became director of the Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio, and gained fame through regular appearances on shows such as “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Larry King Live,” “Good Morning America” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He currently hosts “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown,” which airs Saturday mornings on ABC.

He said he supports the Animals of America campaign because it makes teaching kids about wildlife fun.

“Right now, to go through these cards, these 54 cards, I am learning again,” he said. “It’s so much fun. That’s what I always teach, and if you watch my show — whether it’s Letterman or ‘Good Morning America’ — I try to do it for that audience. What they’re doing here is getting young people involved. Conservation is important, yes, but the No. 1 thing here is exactly what I’ve done in my shows. What’s the show about? It’s a fun show. It’s not a show that talks about the world coming to an end and the animals going down the tubes and that kind of negativity. It’s about educating young people in a fun way.”

Hanna said he lives by the philosophy of “touch the heart to teach the mind.” He applauded BI-LO stores for its history of giving back to its communities, and said today’s youth can be disconnected from nature to the point of almost being indifferent to it.

“The kids now with cell phones and everything, a lot of them are deprived of what’s really out there,” he said.

He said customers who spend $20 in the store will receive packets that contain posters, cards, quizzes and other activities, which can be enjoyed by children as young as 3 and adults of any age.

“It also teaches responsibility. It teaches love and compassion for these creatures and where they live, and once you start that, it takes off,” he said. “It teaches a responsibility to take care of that frog you see in the backyard. It teaches you that garter snake isn’t going to hurt you, but the cottonmouth, it’s venomous, so stay away from it.”

Hanna said he doesn’t like teaching kids anything with negative connotations.

“When you teach kids like that — ‘Guess what? Global warming is going to take the earth down’ or ‘Global warming is going to kill all the animals’ — that’s negativity,” he said. “If you’re taught that way in school, then you’re going to say, ‘Why should I help? I don’t care about my own backyard.’ These cards tell you how much fun it is. They’re being educated and they don’t even know they’re being educated.”

He advises parents interested in teaching their children about conservation to keep it casual.

“Parents have to understand if they go to a child and say, ‘We’re going to teach you conservation today,’ that will set them back,” he said. “You have to say, ‘Know something? Look at that frog. He’s so cute. He eats insects. Oh, look at those bats. Without bats, the whole world would be a mess right now.’ Keep it fun. That’s how kids learn.”

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