Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Aquatic Life, Arts, biodiversity, birds, Carnivore, children's books, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Herbivore, Mammals, Marsupials, Multimedia, Multimedia, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, Reptiles, storrytelling, talking mascots, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolves

The Wildlife Educators Coalition at Rochester’s Fringe Fest 2016

Several months ago, we were asked to be a part of this year’s Fringe Fest. I was quite excited at the prospect of being a part of one of Rochester’s biggest art and performance festivals. We were going to hold two shows, both taking place at the MuCCC on Atlantic Ave. The first was our Animal Expo, an interactive forum, of sorts, in which our animal wranglers explain everything about the various species they were displaying.  I originally was to cover the intermission with a howling demo as our wolf, Howler while set up started for the animal improve comedy, “Cletus’s Critter Corner.”

Plans shifted slightly by the time I arrived this morning. They scrapped the intermission and put me into the Expo, right between the segment on the various birds and before Bu, the serval cat. It was also decided that the Expo would be done in sort of an interview format, with Matt, our emcee, bringing us out on stage and asking us questions and engaging the audience.

With that in mind, I wandered into the front of the house and into the lobby, mingling with guests as they waited for gates to open. Howler was a hit; the prospect of a talking wolf posing with people for photos was too good to pass up.  I did a quick stop out front of the building to wave in folks who were making their way over.  And, just before 11am, I darted back to the green room and warmed up my vocal chords as the reptiles took the stage.

The crowd was thrilled, especially when the talkative exotic birds showed off their stuff during their segment. Once they were finished squawking, Matt announced, “Right, so our next animal is one that used to roam most of the United Sates but not so much now, and he’s one of the biggest carnivores around.  So let’s bring out the wolf!”  And out I dashed, sliding a bit on the smooth stage surface.  The crowd was alive with gasps of surprise, cheers and shrieks of excitement from the kids.

Matt and I hit it off well. He rattled off questions and I gave in depth yet digestible answers, trying to keep myself peppy and making use of the stage.  It felt good to use my improv skills again, something I haven’t done on stage since college.  This was especially good because none of this was rehearsed.

Finally, matt asked the question he had been asking all of the other animal presenters. “Would you make a good pet?”

I glanced about my audience, wondering if anyone was actually going to say ‘yes.’ I responded with a solid, “No. First of all, we STINK.  Secondly, it’s illegal.  Thirdly, we make terrible guard dogs because we’re terrified of people.”

“What about getting a hybrid wolf-dog from breeders?”

“That’s not a good idea,” I replied. “You have two instincts in a hybrid’s head.  The wild side and the domestic side, and they don’t mix well.  So sometimes, that can make them terribly aggressive.”

The crowd took some time to digest that in. so Matt took the opportunity to ask, “What does the wolf say?”

I demonstrated the Lonesome Howl, one of the easiest ones for me to do. Katie managed to get this on video, so I’ll let that speak for itself.

We will be returning to the MuCCC in December for another show and next year, we will be returning to the Fringe Fest. I really cannot wait.

Posted in animal facts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, children's books, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, kestrels, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School Presents: Birds Eye View Episode 1

 

We figured that at this point, we here at Animal School had done a lot of videos and posts about various canine species, especially regarding foxes. So, we wanted to focus a bit on something else and birds of prey (or, raptors) seemed like a good set of species to set our eyes on.  We had our resident kestrel, Kele, interview one of our local bird experts, Barb French, who works as a bander for Braddock Bay Raptor Research in North Greece, NY.

Our first video in the series focuses on the work Braddock Bay Raptor Research does and the purposes of banding, studying raptors and the process to become a volunteer and how to become a certified bander.

Stay tuned for four more videos that will go up over the course of this week. Bird’s Eye View will then take a short break before returning with some really cool new material in the coming weeks.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, Carnivore, children's books, coyote language, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, storrytelling, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Kyp Coyote’s Animal School Debut

Here’s a little bit about our friendly coyote and our plans for his future.

Kyp’s History:

Kyp Coyote made his debut for Animal School on July 12th, 2016.  He originally debuted as a storyteller back in 2010 at the Sap, Sugar and Syrup festival at the Genesee Country Museum, performing twice a day each weekend for three weeks.  The body suit was purchased online for less than 80$ and we added some colorations to the chest around the time the head was built.  The feet, believe it or not, originally belonged to a raccoon suit and are now shared between Kyp and Swift the Fox.

It was an exciting moment in my career as a character performer. It was a real break from the norm that had been my life as a sports mascot at the time.  It was an interesting leap from being a silent character to a full on talking character.  I felt like I was gently entering into a world governed by writing, scripts and theatrics compared to the sweaty, fast paced work as a regular mascot.  Honestly, it was something I never saw myself getting into.

From those early performances at the festival, I was eager to promote the character and see what opportunities were out there. Much to my surprise, there weren’t any, until that initial meeting with Karin from the Wildlife Educators Coalition.  And as I’ve said before in previous posts, the idea of a storytelling animal character seemed pretty unique.  Kyp was from then on, a member of the coalition while still remaining a full time character for my freelance work as Mascots United.

Over the years, Kyp Coyote appeared at numerous events for WEC around upstate and western New York. He was eventually joined by our wolf, Howler and two fox characters, Swift and Slyly.  Most recently, Inola the Arctic Fox has joined the canine ranks as well.

Kyp’s Future:

We liked how our “Lupinology” program came together with Howler the Wolf and thus, a similar concept has been in the works for some time for Kyp. Like wolves, coyotes have a unique way of communicating.  In fact, they actually have a somewhat broader range of vocalizations than wolves do and can form simple sentences, made up of “songs” of yips, yowls, barks and howls.  This is something that coyote hunters have known about for decades, but, science has only recently started to study the coyote language within the last thirty-five years or so.  And biologists have only started really digging deep into it within the last ten years.  We aim to have Kyp unravel the mysteries of the coyote language just for you for a better understanding of this crafty canine.

Of course, Kyp needs some changes before the “Song Dog” program launches. First and foremost, he needs a new head.  After years of use, his current mask is coming apart despite many repairs.  Secondly, due to its construction, it is very difficult to heard through the mask, as can be seen in the video.  Not to mention, it’s hard to see out of it, too!

My voice is muffled and no amount of projection can seemingly remove that poor sound quality. I do have a plan to create a new mask with a moving jaw, similar to Howler, Swift and Inola.  However, it may take some time to complete because I need to make the proper color adjustments to the mask and I don’t have an airbrush!

So stay tuned and keep your ears pricked for more news about our beloved coyote!

Until next time, stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education, wolves

Fairytale Fallacies Part 1 – Little Red Riding Hood

howler is not a big bad wolf

Fairytale Fallacies is an ongoing series in which we here at Animal School will separate fact from fiction in our favorite childhood stories, especially those that feature animals as main characters in some form. Our first installment is of course, Howler’s least favorite story: Little Red Riding Hood.

A Little Background on the Story:

This story was made famous by the Grimm Brothers around the 1850s, but several versions of the story existed prior to this, including some that date back to the first century, originating from the Middle East. Later versions emerged from all across Europe and even China, with the earliest published version coming out in 1697 in France.  It was written by Charles Perrault.

Since then, the story has been retold, rewritten and changed quite a bit. The original versions of the story were very dark in tone, violent and graphic.  Over the years, that’s been changed considerably into the more kid-friendly incarnations that we’re more familiar with.

The Story Itself:

While the beginning and the end of the story seems to differ greatly depending on who is telling it, the true meat of the story remains fairly similar. Little Red takes a trip toward her Grandmother’s house and meets a stranger through the woods, who turns out to be the wolf.  She tells him about what she’s doing and unintentionally gives him information about the location of her Grandmother’s house.  So, he steers her off the main path to give himself some time and dashes over to the house, and eats up poor Granny.   Oddly enough, he’s still hungry and thus, disguises himself as Granny and waits for Little Red to arrive.  And upon her entering the house, he eats her up as well.  Usually at the last second, the woodsmen/huntsmen rushes in and saves them, pulling them out of the belly of the wolf.

The morals of the story are:

  1. Don’t wander off the path if you’re not sure where you’re going
  2. Don’t talk to strangers and certainly don’t let them into your home.
  3. Even charming strangers can be dangerous, especially to young girls

The Point of the Story:

As I pointed out in the morals of the story, this tale serves as a “stranger danger” type of story, originally intended to warn young girls of the dangers of prowling older men. The Perrault version of the story even says:

From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

Essentially, this means that it’s not so much real wolves you should be afraid of, but rather, people (or men in this case) who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The Unintended Consequences:

Despite this being a cautionary tale, folks took it literally and their fear of wolves reached an unprecedented apex. A lot of people thought that the story was about the dangers of real wolves and that they could actually eat you.  While in reality, worldwide, wolves don’t normally attack humans.  They’re often so afraid of people that they’ll do anything they can to avoid them.  But obviously, if you ever ran into one in the wild, it is best to give them space and respect.

Sadly, this fear of wolves spread across the world and it had its most devastating affects here in North America, where the US Government for a while actually paid people to exterminate wolves for fear of loss of livestock, and loss to human life.

Truth be told, wolves do look intimidating. Their sharp teeth, large body size, their loud and haunting vocalizations and the fact they travel and live in packs that can number between three to fifteen but can reach up to near 60 members, is rather sobering.  The reality is, however, wolves rather keep to themselves than bother people.  I won’t deny, however, that livestock could make a meal for a hungry and desperate pack but that aside, you haven’t much to worry about from wolves.

Truths from Fiction:

  1. Again, wolves don’t normally like interacting with people. The wolf in this story is a metaphor or even an allegory for predatory people and predatory behavior.
  2. The Grimm Brothers’ version, along with other earlier versions, featured a lot of violent, gory and morbid scenes that at first glance, might not have much to do with the story as a whole. It’s possible these scenes were intended to serve as metaphors or symbolism for puberty, night and day, or even death and rebirth.
  3. There is a sequel to this story in which Grandmother and Little Red intentionally lure a wolf into their home and kill it in a pot of boiling water. This can be found in various collections of Grimm’s works.
  4. It’s interesting to note that the wolf character is alone in each version of the story. Wolves tend to live and hunt in packs. A wolf alone is either looking to start a pack on its own or is sick and is distancing itself from their pack. If I wanted to be more critical, the “solo-hunting” this character exhibits is more akin to a coyote or any type of large wild cat than a wolf.

In Closing:

It’s important to know that all fairytales and fables are fiction but are intended to teach a lesson. The characters, including the villains, are symbols, metaphors, or even allegories to real life situations, problems and behaviors.  The wolf, in this case, is just that and does not reflect real wolves in the wild.  So while it might be fun to dress up as the Big Bad Wolf for Halloween, you can at least have some peace of mind that no one will actually be eaten up!

Stay tuned for our next episode of Fairytale fallacies!

Stay wild, my friends!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, Farmers Markets, kestrels, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Birds of a Feather – Our Avian Characters

talon 1

kele 1

Our canine characters, Swift, Howler and Inola have been getting a lot of the attention lately. We didn’t realize just how well received they’d be.

In addition to these lovable foxes and wolves, we currently have two bird characters, both of which have been involved in programs years before we had formally put together our Animal School programs. They are Kele Kestrel and Talon the Hawk.

Kele was built by two friends (Dan made the bodysuit, Erin from Keystone made the head) and debuted in early 2010.  Kele was to serve as a talking character for stories and interactive educational events.  This project was done in conjunction with Braddock Bay Raptor Research, a group I was and still lending my wing to when I can.  Kele’s first event was telling folktales I had written to school groups who came to the Braddock lodge on a chilly winter morning.  He made a bigger splash during that spring’s Bird of Prey Days festival, teaming up with some of the area sports mascots to perform an elaborate storytelling session in front of a large audience.

Kele has since appeared at many elementary schools, various bird events at Braddock Bay, the Palmyra Bird Fest, the NY Power Authority Wildlife Festival, the Seneca Park Zoo, and has since become a staple in our Animal School programs. Being the most colorful bird in the group, he’s easy to spot at events.

Our second bird friend is Talon the Hawk. Talon was built by Erin from Keystone Mascots and is fashioned to be a bit more realistic and natural, sporting accurate red tail hawk/coopers hawk type plumage.  He debuted as well at Braddock Bay but has attended birthday parties and given presentations to our local Audubon Society.

Kele and Talon at the moment can be interchangeable for Animal School programs, depending on the needs of the program or client. Although, it would make sense to have Kele lead our “Kestrel Simulator” program!

We do have plans to create/develop other bird characters which will include a raven, cockatoo, turkey, an owl, a bald eagle and a robin. We are looking into crowdfunding pages to make this a reality as costume construction sadly is not cheap!

So give us a chirp in the meantime if you’re interested in a visit from one of our feathered friends!

Until next yime, stay tuned and stay wild!

Posted in animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, Farmers Markets, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

The Importance of Farmers Markets

Swift at MFM 16

You may not think the subject of Farmers Markets has much to do with wildlife but you’d be surprised. First, let me tell you a bit about famers markets in general.

The idea behind a farmers market is simply to give local farmers a chance to sell their produce and/or meats directly to the public. This is great because often, this produce is organic, which means it was grown or raised without the use of chemicals, hormones or other not-so-natural elements.  While the nutrition content of organic and conventionally grown produce is about the same, a lot of people prefer organic foods because the chemicals in pesticides, herbicides and other sprays can be harmful over time and may not come off completely after being washed.

Farmers markets offer a lot of local foods, which reduces the need to have the same items shipped to stores over great distances. This reduces the use of fuel, which is good for the environment.  To put it simply, it is easier to buy tomatoes from a local farmer than it is to buy tomatoes that are grown from out of state.

Also, the selection of goods and foods at farmers markets is often greater than that of most supermarkets, especially during peak periods of the growing season. You can find a greater variety of meats, honey, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and even mushrooms at these farmers markets.  It is often amazing to see what’s on hand.  You can try things you’ve never had the chance to try before!

So where does this tie into our wildlife?

Well, the local bees benefit from local farmers! This means more flowers pollinated that will lead to more fruit and veggies.  Not to mention, this could help strengthen the area bee populations as a whole, which have been struggling.  Some farmers have man-made bee hives near their fields.

Recently, we at the Wildlife Educators Coalition have been touring the area Farmers Markets in Brighton, Pittsford, Charlotte, Churchville and Macedon. When I’d bring out our character, Swift the Fox, I would often teach folks not only how foxes hunt, but about some of the things foxes like to eat. Foxes are omnivores, which means they eat both animals and plants.  A farmers market has a lot of the things a fox would like to eat.  For example, many farmers and vendors have had strawberries for sale over the last few weeks, along with early season honey, fresh eggs and even ducks.  Now that is some prime fox food!  It was my hope that by having Swift teach this to families who were passing through the market, it would encourage them to perhaps purchase something from the farmers as well.  We certainly ended up picking up a few items.

So check out your local farmers market! There is always something new there and produce changes with the passing of the seasons.  And who knows, maybe you’ll see us there, too!

Until next time, stay tuned and stay wild!

Posted in animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School at Area Farmers Markets!

howler FM

A few weeks ago, the Wildlife Educators Coalition made an appearance at the annual ColorBrightonGreen Eco-Fair.  We set up a booth, Hiawatha the Umbrella Cockatoo entertained and I gave howling demonstrations as Howler the Wolf.  Despite some rainy and windy weather, we had a good time.  This event was happening in conjunction with the Brighton Farmers Market, who seemed to enjoy seeing Howler mingling and howling with market patrons.

The market is run by the good people at Impact Earth, whom invited us to attend four of the other markets they manage. We visited the Pittsford and Charlotte markets thus far, and we’ll be visiting the Churchville Market on Tuesday, June 28th from 330 to 7 and the Macedon Market on Wednesday, June 29th from 2 until 6. We will also make some appearances at all five of these markets over the summer and fall, so stay tuned for dates and times!

So come out and say hello to Howler as he gives some howling demonstrations and get the scoop about our paws-on programs as well as the Wildlife Educators Coalition/Publishing as a whole.

Stay tuned and stay wild!