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North Salem Senior Takes On The Wild Ones

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – This fall, North Salem High School ’s Dan Belcastro did community service at the Pace University Environmental Center . His duties there included feeding, tending, and cleaning the cages of some of the animals.

Not just any animals. Among others, Belcastro attended to two Burmese pythons – a 13-footer and a 9-footer, three corn snakes, two leopard geckos, one emperor scorpion, one hog-nosed snake and a big handful of birds of prey.

There was no partridge in a pear tree.

But there were Chinese water dragons. “They were pretty crazy,” Belcastro says. “They’re off the wall.”

The high school senior was at Pace to fulfill a requirement of the BOCES Walkabout program. Walkabout is described as an “experientially-oriented program,” designed to instill confidence, skill and self-direction in college bound students.

It involves academic classes – English, government, economics, environmental science and more – internship and community service at one of 500 cooperating businesses and institutions. Students also spend a couple of weeks backpacking. Along the way, they receive career counseling and earn academic credits.

This was Belcastro’s second experience with Walkabout and with the Pace Center. He completed the program in his junior high school year and could not resist the opportunity to return as a senior. He said he is fascinated by the birds of prey, and has consequently developed great admiration for his mentor, James Eyring, assistant director of the center.

After college, where he plans to study environmental law, Belcastro said he hopes to continue his work with birds of prey and aims to take on falconry as a hobby.  He would like to spend more time working with, and learning from, James Eyring.

“He taught me about sport falconry,” Belcastro said. “It’s been around for centuries. It was very popular with the European nobility in the Middle Ages.”

Aside from his passion for birds of prey, Belcastro was most interested in the mali uromastyx, “a type of desert lizard,” from the Mali Desert in Africa.

“He was almost like a person,” he said. “He had a very friendly attitude. If he could speak, you could have a great conversation.”

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