by Susan O’Neill
A Macaw that plays jokes on its caretaker; a python that rests quietly across seven pairs of arms; two baby alligators that seem to enjoy being pettedâ€”these are just a few of the animals Kaneland John Shields Elementary School students experienced during last Thursday’s rainforest assembly.
â€œI think it’s safe to say I have seven of the bravest people in the room up here,â€ Mike Kohlrieser said as the children held the python.
The Macaw flew over the crowd and swoops down to grab a dollar bill out of an audience member’s mouth. The python playfully pokes his tail out from behind the leg of his assistant to wave to the audience.
â€œHe’s so charismatic and so good with the kids,â€ Parent Teacher Organization member Carolynn Abruzzo said of Kohlrieser.
Abruzzo, who arranged for the traveling show to perform at the school, said the rainforest assembly was probably the most well-attended family night the school has had. She estimated that about 700 children and parents came to the two showings.
â€œI think everybody had a blast,â€ she said.
But more importantly, she said the message made an impact on the children. Abruzzo said that ever since the assembly, her 5-year-old daughter Sammie has been reminding family members to turn off the lights when they leave a room.
She said Sammie recently learned about conserving energy in her kindergarten class. But when Kohlrieser spoke about conservation in relation to the future of the animals, the connection hit home.
Kolhrieser’s Ohio-based company, Understanding Wildlife, books assemblies in schools across the country, bringing his menagerie to delight and educate the students and their parents about the vanishing rainforest.
He alternated his antics with the animals with facts about the rainforests and how cutting them down is hurting the animals that call them home, depleting the medicines found there, the ozone, the air and the water supply of the earth.
â€œIt’s really up to you and me and how we live our lives as to how much longer these animals will be around,â€ he told the students. â€œTogether we are going to make a difference.â€
For more information about Understanding Wildlife, visit www.understandingwildlife.org.
Photo: Isabella Gartside, of Elburn, called this python a ‘good snake.’ She held it with help from her father during the Understanding Wildlife assembly at Kaneland John Shields Elementary School in Sugar Grove. Photo by Mary Herra