Wildlife up close

By DIANE R. CHODAN

OBSERVER Staff Writer

BROCTON – Mike Kohlrieser entertains and educates. He said his non-profit organization Understanding Wildlife does about 500 shows a year, from New York City to California.

Recently he was in Brocton, providing a program for the elementary students during the day. That evening, joined by other animal handlers, he presented two performances of “Live on Stage the Rainforest” which was open to the community at large.

During the day, the children were introduced to a variety of animals from the rainforest. Kelly, a 19-year-old blue and gold Macaw, flew around the auditorium to the delight of the children and then returned to Kohlrieser. Kohlrieser told the audience that this species can live to be 60.

The children became silent waiting for Oliver, a young Panama Amazon, to say “hello.” The children learned this type of animal is called a “mimicking bird” because it can repeat sounds and speech.

First-grade teacher Kristin Zappie held a kingsnake that was black and white. In response to questions from Kohlrieser, she said that snake was “not slimy” and was cold. Kohlrieser explained that snakes are reptiles and therefore “cold-blooded.” He joked that Zappie was acting as a heating pad for the snake.

Middle school special education teacher Elizabeth Parra held a colorful cornsnake while Kohlrieser explained this species does not eat corn, but rather the rats and mice that are often found near corn. If not for snakes, he said, the world would be overrun with rats and mice.

Introducing Jack and Jill, a pair of kinkajous, Kohlrieser explained that this animal is not a monkey but more closely related to a raccoon. He told the children this animal is “nocturnal” meaning it is active at night rather than during the day. One kinkajou hung from Kohlrieser’s finger, using its prehensile tail to grasp.

“It’s holding on to me; I am not holding onto it,” he said. Explaining that dogs and cats do not have prehensile tails, he warned, “Don’t try this at home with your dog or cat!”

Student Keara Kinkaid was chosen to come on stage to feed Loco, a keel-billed toucan. She tossed a grape up in the air and the bird caught it. The toucan likes grapes but swallows them whole. Its beak is not muscular enough to split the grape into smaller pieces.

Rascal, an 18-year-old capuchin monkey, delighted the children with his antics. Rascal climbed over Kohlrieser, apologized for being naughty by hugging him, and in general lived up to his name. The capuchin monkey comes from Brazil and can live as long as 35 years.

The program had a serious message. “We are losing the rainforest at an alarming rate,” Kohlrieser said. Without the rainforest, the world will lose the amazing mysterious animals and many of the plants which are ingredients for medicines.

One of the things everyone can do to help is recycle. Kohlrieser said aluminum cans are made of bauxite and the strip mining of that metal destroys many acres of rainforest. “Habitat destruction is the number one cause of loss of animals,” he said. The more cans that are recycled, the less bauxite is needed.”

He also suggested the students read about endangered animals and the rainforest in their library so that they become more informed. “The more we read, the more we learn. It’s up to you to take advantage of the library,” he said.

After the program Kohlrieser explained how he began doing this work. “My dad was an animal handler so I grew up with animals.” While his dad’s work was for entertainment, Kohlrieser in the 1980s saw an opportunity to marry entertainment with education concerning the rainforest.

“These are beautiful creatures and I show what we are going to lose if we don’t conserve,” he said.

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com