A glimpse at the rainforest | VailDaily.com

A glimpse at the rainforest

Nicole Frey
Nicole Frey/Vail DailyDenver Zoo outreach educator Joseph Wharton uses a macaw as an example of rainforest fauna. Wharton introduced second graders at Meadow Mountain Elementary School to toads and hissing cockroaches, in addition to macaws.

EAGLE-VAIL – The room of second-graders was silent and expectant. Slowly, two brightly colored macaws emerged from a cage and onto the arm of their handler, Joseph Wharton. The children took a collective breath. “Oooh,” they exhaled, still trying to maintain silence so they wouldn’t spook the birds.The youngsters studied the birds, and they in turn warily eyed the children.Plop the green and red macaw left a quarter-sized mess on the rug.”Ewww,” chorused the children, wrinkling noses and giggling. Because of nerves or simply to one-up his buddy, the blue and yellow macaw released his bowels as well, leaving a considerably larger mass on the carpet below. Then, for good measure, he let loose an earsplitting screech. “That was my favorite part,” proclaimed young Dante Hernandez.The kids went wild, roaring with laughter and screaming their disapproval at the birds’ faux pas. Calming the brood down, Wharton told the still stunned children that wild animals, like birds, are allowed a few more bathroom liberties than children. “I try not to make them come across as pets,” Wharton said. “This is really about teaching them about the rainforest.”Wharton and his birds recently visited two classes of second-grade students at Meadow Mountain Elementary School to teach a lesson about the tropical rainforest. Wharton, an educator with the Denver Zoo Outreach Program, travels around the state teaching children about animals.While Wharton came prepared with a plethora of rainforest knowledge, he quickly discovered the kids, who had been studying the topic, already knew most of it. But they hadn’t seen the real live rainforest animals Wharton brought in.”It was good for them to see the animals and reinforce the information they learned,” said second-grade teacher Jaime Passchier. “It’s a treat for us to bring them in.”Don’t touch the toadPutting the noisy and messy birds away, Wharton unveiled his next treasure an enormous, brown and green toad named Esmeralda. Sitting in an inch of water in a portable aquarium, Esmeralda gave the occasional frantic hop as Wharton explained that the children wouldn’t be able to touch her because of her delicate skin. Nonetheless, the students were still able to get an up-close view of the toad. Next, Wharton dressed five children as the sun, a plant, a rat, a jaguar and a beetle to illustrate the circle of life.”Nothing living can live forever,” Wharton told his audience.When the children had taken off their costumes and returned to their seats, Wharton produced his final exhibit something so terrifying that horror-struck Leysa Santoy instinctively grabbed her friend McKella Walsh for support. The Madagascar hissing cockroaches lived up to their name, softly hissing at the children. Some of the kids recoiled as other leaned forward to get a better view. “You guys will all have the chance to touch them,” Wharton said, but Santoy shook her head furiously, her eyes widening. Wharton traveled around the room with a roach. Most kids gave the bug a quick stroke, though some declined. A teacher followed up with a bottle of hand sanitizer. Finally getting to Santoy, the little girl hesitated for only a moment before extended her hand to touch the cockroach. It hissed at her and she quickly pulled away smiling the whole time. Denver Zoo Outreach ProgramTo learn more about the program that introduces children to wild animals, call (303) 376-4808, e-mail registration@denverzoo.org or visit http://www.denversoo.org/outreach. Rainforest fact: Rainforests take up just 6 percent of the planet’s surface, but they contain more than half of the world’s plant and animal species up to 30 million species. Web extrasSee this story on vaildaily.com to see Joseph Warton teach Meadown Mountain Elementary School’s second-graders about rainforest animals. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

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