Grateful animals and their keepers pay a visit to some generous pupils.

Zoo diplomats visit the world of learning

April 20, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Children at Severna Park's Benfield Elementary School have collected items to combat a familiar evil - boredom - for an unusual community.

Their gifts of salad dressing, aerosol deodorant and sisal rope will be given to zookeepers at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, who use the items to enrich the lives of the animals in captivity.

To reward their efforts, an "animal ambassador" from the zoo visited a school assembly Monday with several black-and-white guests: two African black-footed penguin chicks and a laughing kookaburra, an Australian bird with a penchant for chortling.

Pupils in first-grade teacher Dee Stehl's class were the first to form a relationship with the zoo.

Stehl's daughter, Amy Bauer, is a member of the zoo's board of trustees. The class adopted an owl, and Bauer said they wanted to do more.

The board member suggested collecting items from the zoo's wish list, developed by zookeepers and published in the zoo's newsletter.

Soon, Benfield's human relations committee adopted the project as a schoolwide activity. For a little more than a week this month, students filled 15 boxes with items such as canned sardines, fruit cocktail, and dog toys. Families also collected half-used perfume bottles.

Kids and their families also donated more than $500 to the zoo. Six classes and 11 families joined Stehl's class by "adopting" animals, contributing between $20 and $1,000 toward their veterinary expenses.

On Monday afternoon, children and school staff eagerly awaited their visitors, wearing animal clothing. Pupils in Stehl's class wore kookaburra hats they had made.

The first guest was Bloke the kookaburra, which Amy Eveleth, the zoo's animal programs manager, said was related to the kingfisher, a native to Maryland.

Kookaburras are territorial, she said. When Eveleth told them to laugh and they did, the animal threw back his head and joined them "so he can let everybody know he is the loudest and the best-looking kookaburra in Severna Park," Eveleth said.

Next, a pair of 4-month-old penguins - Tux and Tails - toddled into the school's multipurpose room. The penguins are not toilet-trained, which delighted the Benfield kids.

"He poops. That's what penguins do," Eveleth said.

First-grade classmates Jack Ravekes, 7, and Mackensie Hackett, 6, said they especially enjoyed the penguin visit.

"We got to see the animal we adopted," Mackensie said.

The need for stimulation resonated with the two children.

"Everybody gets bored," Jack said.

Added Mackensie: "They need toys and balls and stuff to kick around."

Eveleth explained after the assembly that zoo staffers use different scents such as musky men's deodorant in the enclosures of animals such as big cats and primates.

Changing the animals' environments provides stimulation. Both the American Zoo Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require the documentation of such efforts for primates, she said.

Gift cards for home improvement stores help the animals also, because zoo staffers use them to purchase items such as screws for parrot perches, Eveleth said.

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