Dogs can be great therapy animals, but you know what other animals can help you to de-stress and are even more accessible here on campus? Squirrels. That’s right. These little critters can be spotted on any walk to class, and watching them can provide hours of fun, according to the UConn Squirrel Watching Society president Benny Gardiner.
“It’s a good de-stressor,” Gardiner said. “When the weather was nicer, I would sit out on the [Student Union] patio and just watch the squirrels run around. It’s a good relaxing thing.”
The third-semester environmental studies major founded the club just this semester. In fact, it was born out of some disappointment that Gardiner harbored upon learning that his UConn tour guide had been mistaken. When Gardiner had toured the school, his guide informed him that UConn had a squirrel-watching club, but he was joking. Gardiner took him seriously.
“I was like ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’” Gardiner said. “And then I came to UConn, and they’re like ‘Oh yeah, that doesn’t exist.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’”
Gardiner has always had a passion for squirrel-watching. He was able to cultivate this pursuit as he grew up. While Gardiner would do homework, he would sit near the screen door at his house and observe the squirrels in his backyard.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching squirrels,” Gardiner said. “I would sit there [near the screen door], do homework and stuff. And you look around, you look out the window and you see squirrels doing their thing. I always enjoyed that. We had a bird feeder outside, but it wasn’t for the birds, it was for the squirrels.”
When Gardiner’s roommate encouraged him to get a squirrel-watching club up and running this semester, Gardiner posted on the UConn Buy or Sell Facebook page to see if anyone would be interested. He got over 200 reactions and 100 comments, cementing his idea that the university needed a squirrel-watching club. As of right now, the Squirrel Watching Society already has 45 people signed up.
Nevertheless, Mother Nature is proving herself to be an obstacle to the Squirrel Watching Society. Gardiner says that the end of daylight savings time has made it hard to schedule meetings since it is now darker earlier. Additionally, poor weather also limits the club’s ability to hold meetings. For now, Gardiner suggests that club members share pictures of interesting squirrels they’ve seen in the Society’s group chat.
When it gets nicer, Gardiner hopes to hold 30-45 minute meetings where club members walk around campus on a squirrel watch. Gardiner says that there are two prime spots on campus for squirrel watching: South Campus and North Quad.
University squirrels are different from any regular old squirrel, Gardiner says. They’re fearless since they are used to being around humans. Unlike forest squirrels, campus squirrels will approach people and will linger around longer.
“They have, not to be incorrect, but big balls, you can say,” Gardiner said. “They have the guts.”
Gardiner hopes that the Squirrel Watching Society can be a fun place for people to de-stress and appreciate campus wildlife. Though people might not have ever thought about spending their free time observing animals that they can see every day, Squirrel Watching Society provides some needed time to relax and have fun.
“It’s one of those things that people didn’t know they wanted,” Gardiner said.
Students can contact the Squirrel Watching Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Mathew Schwartz from Unsplash.com
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.