Exotic animals visit MES

Barn Hill Preserve public speaker Sarah Boatner shows her friend, Flower, the white striped skunk, to students at Marlinton Elementary School Friday. S. Stewart photo
Barn Hill Preserve public speaker Sarah Boatner shows her friend, Flower, the white striped skunk, to students at Marlinton Elementary School Friday. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

It was a zoo at Marlinton Elementary School Friday as presenters and four of their animal friends, from Barn Hill Preserve, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gave a program for the students.

Public speaker Sarah Boatner and production assistant Samantha Robicheaux introduced the students to Flower, the white striped skunk; Michelangelo, the wood turtle; Jasper, the ball python; and Charmander, the bearded dragon.

Boatner explained that a lot of the animals at Barn Hill are former pets who were given up by their owners.

“A lot of people like to get a lot of these animals as pets,” she said. “About ninety percent of the animals that we have at Barn Hill were somebody’s pet. People think exotics are the coolest thing ever – which they’re really awesome – but they live a very long time. Birds live anywhere from twenty to eighty years, so that’s literally a lifetime commitment. If you guys are thinking about getting an exotic animal, just know what you’re getting yourself into because a lot of people will get exotic animals and then get bored with them, and they’ll just get rid of them.”

The presenters at Barn Hill travel to schools and talk about the animals in order to educate students on the importance of doing research before deciding to buy an exotic pet.

“We want to try to educate you guys,” Boatner said. “There’s a lot of things you have to have licenses for to do what we do. So for that reason, if you’re looking into getting an exotic animal, just know that they live a very long time and do your homework.”

As Boatner carried around each of her four friends, she shared information on their species, including how long they live, what they eat and some of the traits that are specific to their species.

With Flower, Boatner explained that, although she had her “stinker” removed, skunks have the ability to spray up to 10 feet, but can only spray once a day. She added that Flower and all skunks are omnivores.

“Because you eat plants and meat, you are what’s called an omnivore,” Boatner said. “Her favorite food is actually boiled eggs and berries. She loves them.”

In the wild, skunks only live to be two-to-four years old, but in captivity, they can live up to 15 years.

Michelangelo, the wood turtle, was named for one of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Although he cannot fight crime with nunchucks, Michelangelo can hold his breath underwater for a very long time and loves to swim.

“He’s really good at swimming,” Boatner said. “Even though this guy likes to live in the water, he does not breathe underwater. He has lungs just like we do, so what they can do is they can hold their breath for a very long time.”

Jasper, the ball python, is also known as a royal python, due to a certain queen who had a flair for the dramatic.

“Queen Cleopatra, she used to rule over the Egyptians way back in the day,” Boatner explained. “She used to wear these guys as live jewelry. You see how he’s just hanging around my neck right now? That’s what she would do. Here’s the thing, Jasper is socialized. He’s used to people. She would go out into the wild and pick one from a tree, pick one up from the grass and just put it around her neck. She loved snakes and because famous people and royalty actually used to wear these guys as jewelry, they’re known as royal pythons.”

His other name, ball python, refers to the way the snake protects himself. When he senses danger, he rolls up in a ball and hides his head to protect it.

Snakes are also unique because they use their tongues to smell, instead of their noses.

“Snakes breathe with their nose, but they smell with their tongue,” Boatner said. “They have this organ in the top of their mouth called the Jacobson organ and it helps them smell. They flick air in their mouth and it’s just like when we smell – we breathe in to smell stuff.”

Lastly, Boatner showed off her friend, Charmander, the bearded dragon.

Bearded dragons are native to Australia, so they are used to a desert climate and prefer hot places to cold place because they are cold-blooded.

“He is called a bearded dragon because when he gets mad or sees another lizard, he puffs up really big, his chin turns black and he bobs his head, so it looks like he grew a beard,” Boatner said. “He can run up to ten miles an hour. He can swim and he is really good at digging. He blends into sand very well.”

Charmander was someone’s pet at one time, but once the individual went to college, he didn’t want the bearded dragon anymore. Luckily, Barn Hill took in Charmander, who enjoys eating collard greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, apples, carrots and crickets.

At the end of the presentation, students had their pictures taken with the animals.

For more information on Barn Hill Preserve, visit www.barnhillpreserve.com

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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