Gators, snakes and hedgehogs, oh my!

February 03, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Troy Yaukey admits he was a little nervous when he looked down and saw the head of a 10-foot Burmese python in his arms Sunday afternoon.

The 12-year-old McConnellsburg, Pa., youth was one of five who helped handle the 40-pound snake during a wildlife program at James Buchanan High School.

"I was nervous. It started to crawl up and kept coming back and coming back toward my face," Troy said afterward.


But despite the opportunity to get up close and personal with the yellow python, Troy said his favorite animal at the program was the Amazon parrot, Nemo.

"I liked how he talked," he said.

The parrot is native to the rain forests of Central America, and at the urging of Carla Sullivan, education coordinator for the Catoctin Zoo in Thurmont, Md., he would say "gobble, gobble," in his high-pitched voice.

Sullivan brought five animals, including a chinchilla, African pygmy hedgehog and a baby alligator. Sunday's program, "Habitats of the World," was held in conjunction with the monthly open houses at the Charles E. Brightbill Environmental Center behind the high school. It was sponsored by the Tuscarora Wildlife Education Program.

Kaitie Linebarier, 7, of St. Thomas, Pa., said her favorite was the baby alligator.

Alligators, native to the southern United States, tend to grow a foot a year, Sullivan said. She brought 3-year-old, 3-foot-long Nubs.

Kaitie said before Sunday, she'd only seen alligators on television. She and her friend, Amanda Fiddesop, 7, of St. Thomas, were able to touch each of the animals after the program.

"The hedgehog was not that sharp. It was almost like scissors," she said.

Amanda was partial to the python.

"I touched it today. It felt soft, like a blanket," she said.

Two-year-old Caley Eyler, of Mercersburg, was excited to see the python also and began making an "Ssssss" sound when she saw it.

"She talks about animals and she wants to see a snake," said Lily Eyler, Caley's mother.

TWEP Director Liz McClintick said she estimated there were more than 400 children of all ages and their parents in the high school auditorium.

This is the first time the organization sponsored such a program, and McClintick said she would consider doing it again.

Sullivan said the zoo has nearly 400 animals, but they are not all currently on exhibit.

During the program, she talked about the habitats the animals come from, including rain forests, deserts, savannahs, marshes and woodlands, and described how difficult it is for animals to change habitats.

The Charles Brightbill Environmental Center is open from 2 to 5 p.m. the first Sunday of every month from September to June. The Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to wildlife education and natural history, was founded in 1987 by teachers in the Tuscarora School District.

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