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, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, birds of prey, Carnivore, Channel Island Fox, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 8 – The Channel Island Foxes In Depth

As Swift mentioned, we did have plans on doing six videos for the Channel Island Fox species but after a lot of research, we decided to just do one and focus on two very important details.

As we posted back in Part 6, these six species are the descendants of the gray fox, getting a unique chance to evolve perfectly to fit in their island habitats. Each island fox is notably smaller than nearly all of the other mainland foxes, perhaps coming closest to the swift fox by comparison, but weighing between two and six pounds.

For centuries, the various island foxes shared their home with bald eagles and the ecosystem was perfectly balanced. However, as bald eagle populations dwindled due to DDT poisoning, these birds soon vanished from the islands, eventually being replaced by golden eagles.  Being a non-native predator to these islands, the golden eagles preyed upon these small foxes, which caused their populations to crash.

The largest decline took place in the mid-1990s, causing each species to end up on the critically endangered species list. In fact, things became so bad that at one point, San Miguel Island only had fifteen individual foxes left.  Drastic measure had to be taken.

A massive recovery project was launched. Captive breeding and release initiatives for these foxes were seeing major success along with the humane removal and relocating of the invasive golden eagles (and some reintroduction of the once native bald eagles).  Today, these six fox species have made an amazing come back and are now only listed as “of mild concern” on the species list.  It’s incredible how quickly these programs worked in saving these foxes.

And it’s a good thing too, for as Swift pointed out in the video, each of these fox species are keystone species. A keystone species is an animal that is so important to its ecosystem and food web that if it were ever removed, the local environment and even the physical landscape itself can be devastated.  In this case, deer mice populations had begun to rise and plant life was being lost at an alarming rate.  If things had continued along that way, the mice would have destroyed the local vegetation, which in turn would have led to massive erosion problems and a loss of food for other local herbivores.

This type of keystone species loss has already been seen in Yellowstone with the loss of the wolves. Everything in the park was negatively impacted but it took scientists and biologists a long time to put the puzzle pieces together.  Between an explosion in elk populations (which lead to a loss in tree and other plant life) and in the coyote population (which lead to a loss in smaller animals as prey items), the park’s ecosystem was falling apart.  Even the riverbanks and mountains were suffering terrible erosion problems as a result.  And it all changed with the reintroduction of the wolves.  Everything balanced out properly: populations of the animals returned to normal, the plant life returned and even the riverbanks began to take their old shape again.

It really is amazing how these animals, especially these tiny foxes, can be so hugely important.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animals, biodiversity, birds, birds of prey, ecology, education, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Fun Animal Facts: July 21-27 Recap

Boy, it’s been a busy week! It’s amazing how fast seven days can fly by.

Speaking of flight, Kele the Kestrel interviewed Barb French of Braddock Bay’s Raptor Research. Photos of our video shoot are up on Instagram, and a series of videos will be appearing on YouTube as we get them edited.

Now, for the facts:

  • Giraffes’ tongues are black to prevent giraffesunburn! Eighteen inches long, these tongues are exposed to tropical and subtropical UV rays for extended periods when giraffes eat.

    (Photo Credit: Quora.com)

  • There’s debate about zebras’ stripes serving as camouflage against colorblind lions in tall grass! https://t.co/vQ7Sge04hJcapybara
  • Capybaras‬ are the world’s largest ‪‎rodents‬. Native to South America, they’re closely relates to ‪‎guinea pigs‬ & rock cavies.

    (Photo Credit: Rainforest-alliance.org)

  • Fireflies use bioluminescence during

    fireflies

    twilight to attract mates or prey, and produce a “cold light” with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies.

    (Photo from: http://www.audubon.org/…/may-june…/catching-fireflies-camera)turkeys

  • Wild turkeys roost in trees at night, particularly oaks and pines. For extra protection from predators, they seek out areas over water.

    Photo Credit: lakecountynature.com

  • Fun Animal Fact from Barb French at https://t.co/YiefMs6aGG today: genetically, falcons, such as kestrels, are closely related to parrots.otters
  • Like humans, female sea otters tend to live longer than males. In the wild, females live between 15 – 20 years, whereas males live 10 – 15 years. Photo by seaotters.org

 

That’s everything we have for this week. Come back next Wednesday for another recap. Until then: unleash your wild side.

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, Carnivore, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, endangered species, environment, foxes, kit fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, San Joaquin Kit Fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education, wolves

Vulpinology 101 Part 3 – The Kit Fox

kit fox 1

The Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis)

(Photo from FoxesWorlds )

The Kit Fox lives in the drier regions of the southwestern United States and Mexico. It has a slender shaped body, a larger head and larger ears.  Believe it or not, its big ears help keep this fox cool in the hot sun by allowing blood vessels to vent heat through the thin skin.  The fennec fox of Africa has this exact same attribute for the exact same reason.

With a sleek coat of tawny, brown/gray fur and a black tipped tail, this little fox feats on a wide variety of rodents, ranging from kangaroo rats, snakes, rabbits/jack rabbits, birds, mice, voles, and various insects. And, keeping true to the omnivorous nature of all foxes they will also eat a variety of fruits and plants, even going after tomatoes.

The kit fox breeding pairs will often consist of the same two foxes for many years but it’s not uncommon for them to choose a new mate before the start of a new breeding season. Their young are born in the spring and their litter size can range between four and fourteen kits!

An interesting subspecies of this fox is the San Joaquin Kit Fox, living only within the valley area of the same name. They were added to the endangered species list in 1967 and their population is still in trouble despite recovery efforts.  The two big factors are a loss of habitat and competing for said habitat and food with invasive red foxes.  Thirdly, due to the extermination of gray wolves that once lived in the area, coyote populations have exploded and sadly, this little fox is on the coyote’s menu.

Stay tuned to the blog for our next episode of Vulpinology 101!

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

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!

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

Talking Mascots & Tales of Tails

“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!