Posted in Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, arctic foxes, Arts, biodiversity, coyote language, coyotes, ecology, education, educational mascots, Farmers Markets, Mammals, mascots, nature, nature conservation, Nonprofit Groups, Omnivore, Uncategorized

The Coyote Upgrade

Dakota Coyote 1

By Nick Hadad, @Hound_of_Music

Back in 2008, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I designed a coyote character to be a storyteller and educator of sorts. The body suit was a refurbished wolf I bought on eBay and a friend of mine built the head.  I named the coyote Kyp, and was really proud of what I was able to put together.

As events increased in frequency, I realized the costume just wasn’t working in the way I had hoped. The mask was very much a traditional mascot-styled head. That is to say, it was made of thick foam and it was very hard for people to hear my voice through it. And, more importantly, it was hard to breathe in.

For those reasons, I shelved the character and focused my attention on other projects. Eventually, once I had come across the mouth-mover masks from Elope Inc., I realized I had finally found a solution to the issue of not being heard at programs. Once we had our red fox, gray wolf and arctic fox, we put out a request to get a second wolf mask donated so I could, in theory, switch the colors around a bit and fashion it into a coyote.

After several months, we had the extra mask. I thought I could apply the colorations with an airbrush, but sadly, it was far too costly to purchase one and I was not able to find anyone locally who had one. So, the head sat on the costume rack for another year.

I was at a standstill on the coyote project until a friend of mine, Erin, who is a professional mascot costume designer, suggested I try just using various permanent markers to apply the colors. Honestly, I was afraid to try, as I feared the ink would smear after use. So, for another few months, it sat there.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was shopping for supplies at an art store in town when I spotted some high quality markers that would work on fabric in the colors I needed. I decided to take a risk and buy them. I quickly returned home and experimented on scraps of faux fur. I worked until I had the results I wanted before trying it out on the mask.

After two days of work, the wolf had transformed into a coyote. It was realistic enough for my liking and once we tweaked the eye color a bit, friendly as well.

We decided to change the name of the character since the new look was a far departure from the old one. Katie and I narrowed it down to four names with the help of our friends and posted an online poll for our fans to vote on.

As luck would have it, we were able to debut the coyote character at the Pittsford Community Farmers Market. We brought a tally sheet with us and invited folks to vote in person as they shopped. At the end of the day, we counted the votes from both polls and announced the winning name the next morning.

Dakota won in a landslide!

Now I’m working hard behind the scenes to rewrite the coyote program. There’s some new information out there on coyotes, yet I’m finding there is a lot of information that seems to be missing. The song dog is quite fascinating, yet mysterious! Once I get all of the pieces together, I can promise an entertaining and engaging program.

In the meantime, Dakota Coyote has been appearing at area farmers markets as we at Animal School celebrate our first anniversary. So keep your eyes and ears open for the newest howler in town!

Until next time, stay wild!

 

Posted in animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, Arts, bird mascots, education, educational mascots, Entertainment, environment, foxes tapping the earth's magnetic field, Multimedia, nature conservation, storrytelling, talking mascots, teaching, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife

My Life as an Animal – Reflections of a Mascot

swift-teaching

Hey, folks! It’s Nick from Animal School. I’m the guy who typically brings our talking characters to life.  I know I’ve said this before in earlier posts but I’m constantly amazed by things I learn or experience in this line of costume work.  While my work as a sports mascot over the last fifteen years certainly has its amusing stories, I’m actually finding that being a talking educational animal ambassador is a lot more interesting.

I realized early on that if I am suited up as a certain species, I need to be well versed in all aspects of that animal’s life. I’m often approached by folks who have a variety in depth questions about current topics on that species, or questions about its behavior, diet and even how certain illness can affect it.  Sometimes, someone comes up with a question and I find that I don’t have an answer.  Experts get stumped more often than one would think!  Thus, I head home after the event and I spend some time researching until I can deliver an accurate answer.

For example, I was performing as Swift the Fox at one of the farmers markets and a couple had a question on alternative treatments for foxes dealing with mange. At the time, I only knew of one type of medicine that could be administered but they had heard that at times, under certain circumstances, it may not be enough to help a sick fox and they were eager to know about new treatments,.  I just had to look into this and I’m pleased to say that after some digging, I did find out there is in fact, a different treatment… and perhaps this will be on a future blog post.

Something else I discovered came to me while I was performing as Howler Wolf at a village fair event. I realized people will freely share their opinions about certain species with me.  Specifically on that afternoon as Howler, I was giving howling demonstrations and I was approached by a local wildlife rehabilitator.  I love the work rehabilitators do and I had spent a few years growing up working for some.  Much to my surprise, he informed me that he hated wolves.

I was a bit surprised but I didn’t get offended and I didn’t bite his head off for how he felt. It did, however, make me think that the public’s perception of wolves wasn’t limited into two categories (i.e., those who like wolves and those who don’t). And, after doing some research, I found there were multiple view points and perceptions, like those who love wolves, those who know what life as a wolf is like, what living with wolves is like, those who see the wolf as a spiritual symbol, those who believe wolves are hurting game animal populations, those who see wolves as a threat to livestock, or in the extreme cases I’ve read about, those who see wolves as a symbol of government overreach…  It was fascinating to learn all of this.

I’m sure as I continue to perform as these characters, I am certain I’ll never find a dull moment. I’ll continue to learn, discover and get some insight on how people think and feel about certain animals.  This is the start of some sort of wild adventure, to say the least!

Stay wild, everyone!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, ecology, education, educational mascots, Entertainment, environment, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vultures

Stinky the Vulture

stinky-vulture-4

Through a generous donation, we now have a vulture character to add to our cast of talking critters. Vultures are interesting animals in that they are scavengers, eating dead animals.  Biologists widely consider the vulture a member of “nature’s sanitation crew” along with many other “garbage eaters” like raccoons, skunks, opossums, termites, maggots and a wide variety of other creatures.

So why is a garbage eater a good thing? Well, in the case of the vulture, they essentially help get rid of the carcasses of dead animals.  Without them, it would take a terribly long time for a dead animal to rot away.  They would pile up and thusly spread diseases and fill the air with terrible odors.  Vultures speed up the process, eating the tissues and reducing the carcass to bones.

It was fitting, I felt, that we name our vulture character Stinky. As per his backstory, he will help run the Nature’s Sanitation Crew and spread the message about the good these birds and other animals in the ‘crew’ do for the environment.

Of course, the costume (just the mask and the feet in this case) were designed to be scary, something more for Halloween than nature programs. It was created by Zagone Studios, a very spooky and wild Halloween accessory company specializing in adult sized costumes and masks.  Their vulture, along with a wide variety of monsters, werewolves/big bad wolves, spooky styled birds and even a crazed chicken, is sure to send a chill up the spine of passersby on Halloween night.  So how does one take a scary costume and turn it friendly?

Well, it’s not going to be easy. Vultures, to start with, aren’t pretty birds.  This is especially true of turkey vultures with their big red featherless heads.  And while Zagone didn’t make the mask monstrous, the realism and large eyes are a real sight.  I worked on refurbishing an old black-furred body suit that was donated to us a year ago and made a set of black and gray tail feathers and winged gloves.  Once I had all of that completed, I had to figure out his outfit and get a preliminary photo/video. I thought at first he would look good in an old leather jacket with a red t-shit with a hawk’s face on it underneath but it made him look too much like a punk.

We picked up a plain white shirt and a tan outdoorsy vest today which we’ll try on soon. We’re hoping he’ll look a bit more approachable this way.  Of course, that still leaves his mask.  We might give him a hat or bandana to wear and repaint parts of the eyes—carefully of course so I can still see out of it while in the mask.  And, we might change the voice.  I initially pictured Stinky having a rough, gravelly voice with a hint of a Brooklyn accent but that might still come off as scary from this sort of character.  I might have to really think this over.

Any suggestions?

Stinky the Vulture will debut sometime in late October.

Stay wild!

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

Our Characters

inola 1

As I wrote in our previous post, we came up with the idea of talking mascots several years ago, which resulted in Kyp Coyote’s debut for the Genesee Country Village and Museum’s maple festival. After meeting up with Karin Fires and getting involved with the Wildlife Educators Coalition, the concept of doing educational programs with a talking mascot began to take shape.

I developed some small programs that tied in with the publishing of our first book. Around the same time, I developed our kestrel, Kele, for use both at Braddock Bay Raptor Research and for WEC.  Not long after, a friend in California donated a red fox costume for us to use at programs.

The only problem was that people were having a hard time hearing me through the masks. Kyp had an open mouth but the thick mesh and foam muffled my voice terribly.  The fox, while an awesome looking costume, had the same issue.  This was especially a problem in front of larger crowds.  One can only shout so long before their voice starts to go out.  I scrambled for ideas on how to fix this problem but with limited funds, there wasn’t much I could do.

In late August of 2015, I came across elope Costumes and some of their merchandise at one of the local costume shops in my area. Up on the wall of the shop were both a fairly realistic wolf and a red fox mask.  Much to my surprise, the mouths moved.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  This was something I had been hoping to make a reality, but until this point, I would have had to build it from scratch.

I splurged and purchased the wolf mask first. I tried it out at home and took some video of it to show Karin.  Much to my surprise, it was easy to be heard out of it.  Karin and I returned to the shop the next day and purchased the fox.  I began working on sets of arms, legs, tails and paws to complete the costumes.

The wolf was named Howler and the fox was named Swift (we renamed the other red fox suit Slyly, and made him a nonspeaking character for other events). And since then, we’ve included, through donations, Talon the Hawk and Inola the Arctic Fox (who still needs the majority of the bodysuit finished).

We have lots of plans for more interactive characters like Howler and company. We’ve drawn up plans for creating a raven/crow, a cockatoo, a Dalmatian, a skunk, some sort of lizard/reptile, a turkey, reindeer and rabbit.  We’ve also thought about the possibility of adding a black bear, an owl, a bald eagle, a tiger and a vulture.  Obviously, we don’t have a lot of funds to use, especially since WEC is nonprofit.  We’d have to rely on donations for most of the material costs and/or costume donations as a whole to achieve our goals.  Crowdfunding may be something we’ll be looking into quite soon.  We’ll have updates on this as we go along!

Most of these will be tied in with various books via the Wildlife Educators Publishing and have multiple programs structured around them.  Every character will have a specific use and purpose, along with their own wild personality. It’s exciting and challenging.

So, friends, stay tuned and stay wild!