By CLINT FOSTER
It’s not every day you see an Argentine Red Tegu or an Eastern Swamp Wallaby in Mineral Wells. But kids in Boyce Ditto Public Library’s summer reading program got a special treat on Friday morning.
Zooniversity, a Dallas-based exotic animal rescue program with traveling educational shows, visited the library with six unusual animals – “teachers” for kids and their families to see and learn about.
Zooniversity owner and wildlife educator Allison Blankenship traveled about 67 miles from Grand Prairie with a Tailless Whip Scorpion, a Brazilian Short Tail Possum, a Ball Python, a Groundhog, an Argentine Red Tegu monitor lizard and a young Eastern Swamp Wallaby named “Tilly.”
“We have now over 100 animals – over 50 different species – and they all have stories about how they came to us,” Blankenship said. “They’re either orphaned, injured or former pets that have been surrendered to us. What we do to raise money to pay for our staff and all the vet and food bills is we travel all around Texas doing educational shows. We go to schools, churches, libraries, private events and teach people about wildlife.”
Blankenship, who founded Zooniversity in 2001, taught those in attendance all kinds of fun facts about the animals. She explained how the Whip Tail Scorpion defends itself by flicking vinegar out of its tail and how baby wallabies and kangaroos spend the first two days of life climbing up their mothers’ stomachs and into the safety of her pouch. Kids got to learn this and more, all while getting an up-close and personal look at these animals.
Blankenship said Boyce Ditto is one of 72 libraries her program will visit this summer alone. Youth Librarian Chasity Hull was the one who made sure that Mineral Wells would be on Zooniversity’s list of 2013 destinations.
“The first year that I was here [five years ago] we had [Zooniversity],” Hull said. “I’ve been wanting to get her back, but we didn’t have the funding. We had a lot of contributions from the community, so we were able to get her again this year.”
Hull heads up Boyce Ditto’s summer reading program, which rewards kids with different prizes for reading. The program also holds various weekly performances and craft projects for fun, educational activities. Hull said she hopes kids and their families found the presentation informative and enjoyable.
“Hopefully they learned to respect animals. I think they did a good job following the rules and hopefully they learned a lot about habitats and things like that. Hopefully they’ll remember it,” she said with a smile and a wink.
Next up for the summer reading program is their summer ending party on July 26 at 10:30 a.m at Lamar. Hull said Snake Encounters will be back for the third consecutive year.
“It’s the most popular [show] that we have,” she said.
To schedule Zooniversity for your next event, simply visit their website at www.zooniversity.org or call (972)-979-9847.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55