Have animals, will travel.
That could be the motto for the Ross Park Zoo’s ZooMobile program which brings a variety of critters to areas within a three-hour radius of the Binghamton, N.Y., zoo to provide fun along with an educational program.
The ZooMobile will be at the Marian Sutherland Kirby Library, Montain Top, from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Tuesday. The program will be held indoors.
The program is a mobile education tool that brings a variety of live animals and artifacts directly to a location, according to Melissa Grippin, education coordinator.
And the stars of the show are, of course, the critters, which can get up close and personal with those attending. Grippin tries to ensure that those zoo creatures can be touched and petted by the public.
Michelle Muro, youth services library assistant, said the response has been great to the ZooMobile, which is making its first stop at Mountain Top. “It’s nice to have a program that the children can see the things that they read about,” she said. “They can get a hands-on experience to actually touch them.”
“The live animals entertain and teach people,” Grippin said. “I can stand and talk about an animal, but I can really get your attention if I’m holding something that can be be touched and you can get close to.”
The five creatures selected to make the journey are part of a collection of 31 species which go on the road. This includes mammals, birds and reptiles and amphibians. There may be multiples in any group of species. The zoo has three vehicles which transport the animals along with two trained volunteers.
Grippin said one or two mammals, a reptile, like a snake and a bird, such an owl, are usually selected the day of the program.
Some of the most popular selections are the three-banded armadillo, named for the three bands on his back which enable him to flex his body; owls, snakes, lizards and tortoises. One of the most unique journeyers is the fennec fox, which is the smallest type of canine in the world. It is a tiny desert fox with huge ears. “They look like they’re babies, but the ones we have are, in fact, four or five years old,” Grippin said.
The presentation involves a 30 to 45 minute formal classroom presentation tailored for pre-K through adults. Topics include animal classification, habitats, endangered animals, misunderstood animals, animal adaptations, survival techniques and rain forests.
One animal is brought out at a time for the group to see, touch and hear a presentation about their lives. Some of the common questions include: What does he eat, Does he bite and How old is he?
Reaction from the crowd varies from excitement (oohing and ahhing over the owls) to trepidation (think snakes).
The ZooMobile visits schools, nursing homes, community meetings, libraries, and community fairs/events. The program has been in existence for more than 25 years. “It’s the most popular program we do,” Grippin said.
The animals are used to traveling and the travel time is minimized to a three-hour location. “We have a parrot who loves talking to people,” she said. “She starts to get excited when she sees the crate because she knows that she’s going out to meet a crowd.”