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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman -Exotic nature


The nature I observed today was not local and not in its usual habitat, but it was very interesting. We attended a presentation by Wild Kingdom’s Peter Gros at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo. Assisting him were several curators from Battle Creek’s Binder Park Zoo with a wide array of animals. The show was aimed especially at children, and lots of them were invited on stage to see or hold the animals. Among others there were an African desert fox whose oversized ears serve as air-conditioning in the hot desert, a scorpion, a king snake, an alligator, and an Asian water monitor. There was also a large screen on stage and a cameraman so that people in the back could see the details, especially on the smaller creatures. That wasn’t a problem for us, though—we had seats in the first row of the orchestra pit!

One of the points Gros made several times to the kids was “No wild animal makes a good pet.” Although some of the animals were cute and looked cuddly, they were still not tame even if they were used to being around humans. Several of the animals had been hand-raised in a zoo, but even so the cameraman had to be advised to take a step back now and then when he got too close.

Along with introducing the animals Gros told fascinating details about them. They brought out a sloth that was carried in hanging upside down on a pole. Sloths are pollinators. In my mind pollinator refers to bees and butterflies, but there are other pollinators in the world, and a sloth is one of them. He also said that sloths have their own little ecosystem: moss grows on their hair and beetles eat the moss and other insects that might be harmful to the sloth. He showed us a young alligator, only about three feet long, and explained that the marshes and swamps they inhabit are nurseries for lots of plant and animal life, and the comings and goings of the alligators keep the brackish water stirred up enough to support these other life forms.

We got to see a king vulture from South America. It was very colorful compared to our local turkey vultures. Vultures have no feathers on their head and feet because feathers would pick up bacteria from the carrion the vultures eat which could later cause infections. Instead, any bacteria that are picked up are quickly killed by the intense sun on their unfeathered heads and feet. Another bird we were shown was the Eurasian eagle owl, the world’s largest owl species. It was neat to see him swivel his head around. They can pivot their heads 270o . And he had the brightest orange eyes.

There was a little mandrill that was quite the character. He raced around the stage and tried to climb up the stage curtains. If he hadn’t been leashed he would have been in the audience in a second.

We also got to see an African crested porcupine. He was a big fellow! Porcupines are rodents, and this one was gnawing eagerly on yams on stage. Gros said that like all rodents, his teeth would keep growing and needed to be used to be kept under control. If he wasn’t gnawing on tough foods to wear them down, his teeth would eventually grow through his lower jaw!

When they brought out the reticulated python, they had six big kids on stage to help hold him, with the animal handler by the head. The python wanted to move and oozed his way out of the hands at the tail end, so some holders had to move further up the snake. It was very interesting to see the way the python just kind of “flowed” from one person to the next. Nonetheless, I’m not in any hurry to meet one in the wild!

One animal they brought out I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing of before. I didn’t even recognize the name, but he said it was also called a bearcat, so I looked it up when I got home and found the name: binturong. He looked like a cross between a medium-large dog and a bear. This binturong hung docilely around the shoulders of the handler. Binturongs are omnivorous, eating earthworms, eggs, birds, smaller mammals, fish, insects and fruit.

At the close of the show, Gros made an important point: all is not lost. It is not too late to help conserve the habitat of these and all the other plants and animals that inhabit this earth. One person with a passion for a particular species can do wonders, and our planet has marvelous regenerative powers if given a chance. Some might say the animals I saw would be better off in their native habitat and not being handled by humans, but if shows like this can awaken that passion in the next generation, then it’s all worthwhile.