At a recent assembly, 7th and 8th graders were invited “to take a walk on the wild side,” guided by animal trainer Stacey Johnson from Wild Wonders.
The organization cares for over 150 “animal ambassadors” on its wildlife reserve in San Diego County and provides interactive educational programs, based on grade level and curriculum standards. According to Wild Wonders, “Our goal is to excite the public and foster a desire to preserve and learn about the wildlife and the important role they play in the planet we share."
From their seats, students listened to fun facts and observed the behavior of six exotic animals. Brave volunteers were invited to walk onstage and pet the animals.
Students were surprised to learn that the adorable, furry, and very small African Rock Hyrax is most closely related to the very large elephant, that Green Iguanas are known as "the chicken nuggets of the trees" and can drop and regrow their tails for survival, that Kinkajous enjoy hanging by their tails and replanting the rainforests, that American Alligators can grow up to fifteen feet in length, and that a Boa Constrictor's scales are made of keratin, just like a human's hair and nails.
The greatest surprise of the morning, however, came courtesy of a North American porcupine named Tater Tot. While most students have had an opportunity to see a porcupine, not many have had an opportunity to smell one. Porcupines, notoriously known for their prickly quills, also produce their own “perfume,” as Johnson called it. As Tater Tot’s personal fragrance permeated the room, some students sought protection for their noses. One 7th grader suggested that this "perfume" should be called "J'adore M'anuer by Tater Tot." His unusual signature scent added to his popularity. There were plenty of volunteers who wanted to meet Tater Tot.
Principal Gold knew that getting an up-close look at the animals would be fun as well as informative. When asked if they enjoyed the assembly, a group of 7th and 8th graders gave a resounding, "Yes!" One girl continued, "It was interesting to get to know where all the different animals came from all over the world. My favorite was the Kinkajou."
This assembly is one in a series concerning the theme of wildlife conservation. By exposing the students to wildlife and environmental issues, 7/8 faculty and staff hope to instill a sense of responsibility toward our planet. Stacey Johnson agrees, “If we can bring an animal like Tater Tot to meet these kids, these kids will have a personal connection to that animal, which will cause them to care about the species, which will lead them to want to save the species, and that will lead them to care about saving that species’ habitat. It's better for the animals, for us, and for our world. "