ROSS TWP. — Usually, school students take a field trip to a zoo, but on Tuesday, the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park came to Ross Elementary School.
The mobile zoo, based in Binghamton, New York brought a variety of animals to share with students, Principal Lori Bednarek said.
The Parent Teacher Organization sponsored the program that spanned over three days starting with kindergarten, first and second grades on Monday, third and fourth grades on Tuesday and fifth and sixth grades on Wednesday, she said.
“Each day they bring different animals,” Bednarek said.
The PTO can support such unique programs due to donations collected from the annual Race for Education fundraiser held in October, said Jolene Palmer, PTO president.
“So far, we have six in-house programs planned,” Palmer said.
On Tuesday, Stretch, Nigel, Uno, Rosie and Toothless came to the Sweet Valley school with the zoo’s Education Coordinator Ian Jensen and Docent Ed Pettengill.
A 17-year-old Russian Tortoise, Stretch was the first to greet a group of 43 students.
“Do you know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?” Jensen asked.
Fourth-grader Branden Mosher was quick to raise his hand.
“A tortoise lives on land and a turtle lives in water,” Mosher answered.
“That is right,” Jensen said. “A turtle has webbed feet and a tortoise has block-like feet.”
Jensen told the students the Russian Tortoise was the first reptile Russians sent into space in the 1960s so scientists could study the effects of space on a living animal.
Jensen also said the shell of a tortoise and turtle is part of their bodies.
As Jensen took Stretch around for students to touch his shell, Pettengill prepared the next guest Nigel, to greet the children.
A gray European Domestic Ferret, Nigel created lots of “awes” from the students.
“Ferrets are long, flexible, very smart and love to play,” Pettengill said.
He told students that native ferrets, called black-footed ferrets, were almost extinct in North America because early ranchers saw the ferrets’ prey, which were prairie dogs, as a nuisance. Prairie dogs competed with cattle for vegetation but their burrow holes posed a health risk to cattle and horses, Pettengill said.
“Ranchers began to poison prairie dogs,” he said.
The practice stopped when the ill effect on the black-footed ferret was noticed, Pettengill said.
He carried Nigel around so the children could pet his back.
Jensen told the group the next animal did not like to be touched so Uno would not be brought around to them. Also, Uno does not like loud noises and Jensen asked the children to keep still and quiet.
A Barred Owl, Uno cautiously stepped out of its travel box and onto Jensen’s gloved hand. Uno was a rescue bird of prey, whose left wing was amputated following a car accident.
Barred Owls are commonly found in Pennsylvania but are so well camouflaged they are not often seen, Jensen said.
Despite his large size, Uno weighs only 1.5 pounds.
“Owls have fluffy feathers partly for warmth and party to fly silently,” Jensen said. “Their bones are also hollow to make them as light as possible for flight.
Next up was Rosie, a copper colored corn snake.
Pettengill allowed Rosie to wrap her body around his arm and wrists while he told the students the snake is a nonvenomous reptile that kills its prey of mice and small mammals by constriction.
“Do you think snakes have bones or no bones?” Pettengill asked.
Many children answered, “Mo bones.”
Jensen and Pettengill had an x-ray of a snake’s body that showed bones.
“They have hundreds of ribs,” Jensen said.
The final guest was Toothless, a 3-year-old Blue-Tongue Skink.
Toothless hails from Australia, Jensen said.
“Do you think his tongue is blue from eating too many blue slushies?” Jensen asked.
The students gave many suggestions that included to protect its tongue from the hot sun or part of the reptile’s camouflage.
Their guesses were wrong.
“It is blue to trick other animals to think they are poisonous,” he said.
At the end of the program, students were quickly dismissed for their next class, but many were chatting about their favorite guest and the fact the skink peed on the gym floor.
“We’ll clean it up,” Jensen said. “It happens when you work with animals.”