“Animal School” started by chance.
The idea to be a mascot came to me in middle school when I saw my first AHL hockey game. I watched the mascot about as much as I watched the game, realizing that I might like a job like that. I got my chance my sophomore year of high school as a greyhound back in 2001. After moving a few times, I got involved with local sports teams, bringing their mascots to life and at one point, working for seven teams at the same time in and around Rochester, NY. By 2008, I started to branch out from just doing sports. I got involved at a bird research group as their hawk and soon took part in an educational event at the nature center in Mumford, NY that served as my first speaking role as a mascot.
At the time, this nature center held an annual educational event showcasing nocturnal animals. We were stationed along a trail, having memorized scripts, setting them in motion as our field guides approached each of us with a flock of people in tow. I played the role of a red fox. I really dove into character, leaping about and teaching my audiences how foxes pounce on their prey. I found that this sort of performing was incredibly fun. It was unlike anything I had ever done before.
From there, we developed a coyote character who would serve as a storyteller for an upcoming maple syrup festival. A kestrel soon followed, doing events with Braddock Bay Raptor Research. And in 2011, I met Karin Fires.
The nature center asked me to bring out my coyote for a program they were hosting in conjunction with the Wildlife Educators Coalition about the canine family. I was impressed by the array of live animals the group had and after the program, I spoke with their founder, Karin, still dressed as the coyote. The prospect of a talking canine seemed to be an intriguing addition to their programs so we arranged to meet and discuss things.
It wasn’t long before we had Kyp Coyote traveling across western New York, telling stories about how animals use their keen senses to survive, adapt, how they fit in their ecosystems and how we as humans can coexists with them. As time went on, we added more costumes, expanded our programs and started to publish educational and entertaining books for children. And it was at this point in 2014 we realized that this was something unique that we could bring to audiences everywhere. By autumn of 2015, I started to focus more on developing characters, creating and upgrading costumes, researching material to present about various animals (including their languages!) and drafting stories and guides for publication. It was at this point that the idea for Animal School was planted.
And at last, in May of 2016, Animal School: A Paws-On Experience is fully fledged with a menagerie of talking mascots and an eagerness to take this to as many places as possible. And to think that if I had never suited up as the coyote for that event in 2011, I might not have ever met Karin and this program might not have ever been a reality.
So why start a blog? We wanted something to not only spread the word about what we do but to also give kids a way to learn about plants and animals in a safe and fun way, hosted by some of our wild characters. This will also serve as a place to check out for updates, upcoming events and other fun things.
So, friends, stay tunes and stay wild!