BEVERLY - Students at Beverly-Center Elementary School were already a bit on edge Wednesday watching fourth-grade teacher Lois Archer hold a three-foot kingsnake handed to her by Mike Kohlrieser, head animal trainer for the nonprofit group Understanding Wildlife.
They shrieked - more in delight than fear - when Kohlrieser then brought out a much longer, and thicker, boa constrictor and draped it over the shoulder of speech therapist Debbie Smith. Kohlrieser told the students the bigger reptile was a native of a tropical rain forest, while the kingsnake is commonly found in North America.
"Things are different in the tropical rain forest," he said.
(Video Icon) Video text — Rascal, a capuchin monkey, “acts up” for Understanding Wildlife’s Mike Koh
Informing students about the vast array of wildlife in tropical rain forests and the dangers those habitats are facing was the goal of Kohlrieser's presentation at Beverly-Center, Salem-Liberty and Lowell elementary schools on Wednesday, as well as an evening show for the community. Kohlrieser promised students who returned for the more elaborate stage show a chance to pet alligators and see big cats and other animals.
The event was organized by the Beverly-Center PTO.
The snakes were a hit with students, as was a female capuchin monkey by the name of Rascal.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Mike Kohlrieser, head animal trainer for Understanding Wildlife, holds up a microphone so Beverly-Center Elementary students can hear Charlie, a Panama Amazon parrot, say “hello” during a presentation Wednesday afternoon on animals found in tropical rain forests.
Debbie Smith, speech therapist at Beverly-Center Elementary School, holds a boa constrictor during a presentation on tropical rain forest animals by the nonprofit group Understanding Wildlife at the school Wednesday.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
"(She) jumped off the cage and was running around," second-grader Malcolm Sargent said.
The presentation opened with Kohlrieser bringing out Kelly, an 18-year-old blue-and-gold macaw who flew in circles high over the heads of the excited students. Kohlrieser told the children macaws can live into their 80s but they must have a home in which to live.
Tropical rain forests are the most diverse locations on the planet in terms of the plant and animal species found within them, Kohlrieser said, including many that have yet to be identified. But they are threatened by strip-mining operations and other endeavors that use their resources and leave the land irreparably damaged.
Part of the goal of teaching children about rain forest animals in shows across the country is to make the issue real to them, Kohlrieser said.
"Things that take place halfway around the world will affect us, right here, in our everyday lives," he said, pointing to the rain forests' importance as a source of oxygen and ingredients for medication.
Bauxite, the primary source of aluminum, is what many strip-mining operations in rain forests are seeking, Kohlrieser said, so one thing children can do to help the rain forests is recycle aluminum cans to decrease demand. He also encouraged the students to read and learn more about such issues.
"The more we read, the more we learn, the more knowledge we gain, the better-equipped we are to get involved and make a difference," Kohlrieser said.