The holidays are now in full swing, and a special friend of ours has flown into Western New York to help our community celebrate. Listen to the jingle we made about it:
That’s right, Rudolph has arrived! He is available for all sorts of holiday-related gigs across the Greater Rochester Area. Time slots we have available are listed in the video description. Book us now to ensure Rudolph can come to your event!
For more information, or to book Rudolph, contact Nick Hadad at firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer flexible pricing so that our reindeer pal’s presence is affordable to as many people in the region as possible. From being in parades to handing out candy canes or taking pictures with kids and families, Rudolph is game for all sorts of festive, family-friendly activities.
The spring and summer of 2018 will be a very productive period for us here at ROC Animal School. After a successful February, we are eager to keep the momentum going! Here’s what we’re up to!
New Programs in Development
We’ve been hard at work creating new educational content. Obviously, our goal is to spread knowledge and to be as involved in the community as possible. While some programs are ready to launch (see below), we have some others in the works that will be ready to go later this year. Currently in development are initiatives to educate people on wildlife native to our area (county and statewide), a program on being a pet parent/domestic animals, an in depth program on local nocturnal animals, as well as new bird of prey programs.
New Programs Launching
We are adding to our list of available programs! Here’s what’s ready to go!
Curious about “Coywolves?” – The Eastern Coyote: This program will be hosted by our talking coyote mascot, Dakota, and will focus on the amazing eastern coyote, sometimes referred to as the coywolf. This animal is has a mixture of coyote, wolf and dog DNA which makes it quite an adaptable creature with the ability to call both the countryside and urban areas home. Are you curious about coywolves?
Coyote Class: Coyotes are often dubbed the song dog because of their dynamic range of vocalizations. This incredible canine is one of the most adaptable animals of all time, expanding its range across much of North America and making itself right at home in cities as well as the wilderness. Do you have what it takes to live as a coyote? Our mascot, Dakota Coyote will get everyone howling along!
Animal Jams – Nature Rocks! Animals can make a lot of noise! Some animals are more musically inclined than others. Come learn about the songs of birds, coyotes, wolves, owls, insects and other wild animals!
And as always, we can create custom programs to fit your needs. Just let us know what you’re looking for!
Animal School: Out and About!
This year, we will be appearing regularly at the Pittsford Famers Market, showcasing new themes every month. This will give us a great chance to interact with more of you while allowing us to hopefully shed some light on what creatures might be living in your backyard and some local environmental issues you might not know about. Or, you can just pop by to learn some fun animal facts while shopping! We’ll have one of our talking mascots on hand at each appearance to give folks the chance to ask them questions about wildlife and maybe get a few selfies!
We will also be appearing at area libraries over the summer, as well as some area festivals. If you haven’t heard by now, we will be attending this year’s Rochester March for Science and Expo on April 14th. We’re really excited!
New Mascot Characters
We are slowly adding to our roster of educational talking mascots. Oslo the Owl just debuted at the annual Owl Moon event at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We hope to have our lion and Dalmatian up and running by the fall as well. Skye the Eagle, who debuted in October, has been making several appearances alongside our friends from Braddock bay Raptor Research through the month of February.
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!
You never know what information a person is going to divulge when you start a conversation with him or her.
On Sunday, June 18, we attended the Brighton Eco-Fair. Fun fact: this was the first official event Animal School participated in after we began working as a mom-and-pop operation last year. To celebrate our paper anniversary, I crafted up 50 origami animals, packed them in a shoebox and gave one to each person at the event who told us a fun animal fact. We later extended our offer to those who performed one of the wolf calls Howler was teaching.
One of my favorite things about working with Animal School has been meeting so many interesting people. You all have such an amazing breadth of knowledge, experience and creativity. The cute kids and dogs who run up to our mascots, greet them with great big smiles and start playing are high on the list, too. Having fun while learning is what Animal School is all about. We are constantly learning new things from the people we meet, and we strive to share our knowledge with you.
This year’s Eco-Fair focused on the theme of conservation, so we had Howler Wolf talking about why conserving wolf populations is vital. As anyone who has seen our Lupinology presentation knows, wolves are a keystone species, crucial to an ecosystem. Pluck them out of their environment, and all other living things are drastically affected. Everyone’s favorite example of this is the gray wolf’s reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, which allowed several animal species to thrive. It also kept coyote populations in check – ’yotes tend to become invasive species that throw off the balance of an ecosystem when their numbers get too high. Even some tree species that had long been absent started to grow again once the wolves were brought back into the ecosystem.
The results of this reintroduction teach us two things. One: wolves are imperative to their ecosystems. Two: we can never be entirely certain how a plant or animal affects its surroundings. Therefore, we should never assume that adding infrastructure, plants or animals to an ecosystem will be perfectly safe. Even when scientists and environmentalists perform studies to project what will happen when we build architecture in an ecosystem, there can still be unanticipated consequences. Nature exists in a delicate balance, and we must be mindful of that so that we can conserve it and flourish for generations to come.
Wolves used to live all around North America. However, when hunters started becoming overzealous, particularly as myths about wolves attacking livestock and people without provocation rose, the lupines’ numbers plummeted. Today, there are only a handful of areas in the U.S. where wolves live. Here in upstate New York, there are no known wolves roaming around, though there have been some unconfirmed sightings in the Adirondacks and extreme upstate region. The good news is that wolves are slowly being reintroduced to various states across the U.S., so there is still hope of reviving their grand ecosystems of centuries past.
Now, moving on to fun animal facts, we got a good number of responses from people at the event. Some of our favorites are:
Owls’ wings are structured in a way that prevents other animals from hearing the birds coming. There are a couple of mechanisms at work here. First, the broadness of owls’ wings keeps them from flapping too much, which reduces noise. Furthermore, as How Stuff Works states, “When most birds fly, turbulence – created when air gushes over the surface of their wings – causes noise. Owls’ wings, however, are unique because they reduce noise caused by turbulence. An owl’s primary feathers are serrated like a comb. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents called micro-turbulences.”
We learned from Braddock Bay Raptor Research that you can tell the age of a broad-winged hawk by its tail feathers. Juveniles’ tails have narrow bands of color, whereas adults have broad black and white bands on their tails. At about one year of age, a hawk reaches adulthood and will molt its feathers, allowing its new plumage to come in. This is similar to how humans lose their baby teeth and have adult ones grow in their places!
As we mentioned above, in 1995, humans reintroduced gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which changed the park’s entire ecosystem. Someone informed us about a documentary she saw regarding Yellowstone, which showed how even the bends and path of a river changed as a result of the wolves’ presence. Remember: wolves are important to an ecosystem because they bring vitality. Ask Howler Wolf if you would like to learn more.
There is widespread misconception about how two species crossbreeding is a symptom of climate change, global warming and habitat loss. However, as one woman mentioned to us, creatures have been mating with other species for centuries, so these hybrids are not necessarily a result of negative effects on our environment. I will have to do additional research before I say anything conclusively, but it is probable that the convergence of certain traits between species could produce evolutionary advantages and be examples of adaptation. On the other hand, there are animals that breed with other species due to loss of habitat and human interference. Pugs, for example, which humans have and continue to selectively breed, have severe respiratory distress throughout their lives due to the shapes of their skulls. (Yet another reason it’s always better to #AdoptDontShop, because some animal breeders inbreed cats and dogs for their purebred status, which can cause severe and lifelong health problems for the animals.) Other possible concerns for interspecies offspring are health problems, infertility and shorter lifespans. A few common examples of hybrids species are wolfdogs, coywolves, coydogs and grizzly-polar bear hybrids.
The best response of the day, however, came from a young man with a vivid imagination and knack for storytelling. He said that snails and ants are two of the strongest creatures in existence, and that a snail-ant hybrid could take over the planet by invading power plants. These snail ant assailants would be the ultimate destroyers and overtake the earth!
This kid captivated me. I just stood there, eager to hear more, engrossed in the yarn he spun. So many questions came to mind, including: where would these hybrids come from? Why is this not already an amazing splatstick B-Movie horror flick? Where did this elementary-school-aged kid come up with this dystopian future filled with Godzilla-like super bugs? (Thinking back, I don’t know if he ever said they were giant monsters, but I was definitely getting a Mothra vibe from what he described.) Which parts of the snails and ants would be the strongest? How do the two fuse into one species? Genetic engineering? Would they be able to naturally reproduce, or be infertile like mules, the horse-donkey hybrids? Would these creatures stay their original sizes, or adapt to support their larger and smaller sections? Which sections of each animal would make the evolutionary cut? Would they be giga-snail ants, or under-the-radar mini assailants? Would it be a gradual takeover or a snowballing situation? Where would the takeover start? Would the world end up like the “true” ending of Little Shop of Horrors, with these devious creatures we unknowingly nurtured taking over humanity? How intelligent would they be? Are these snails intentionally seeking out power plants, or just looking for shelter and sustenance? What draws them in? How do they get in? Does their slime make machines and electricity malfunction, or does this massive wave of them get into nuclear reactors, which turn them into Hulk-like beasts? Where do the ants fit into this equation? Do they become snail ants before or after taking over the power plants? Can this be avoided if we switch to greener energy? Do the snails feel malice towards humanity? Do they have an agenda? This scenario prompts a lot of thought-provoking questions, and I want to know more about the world this little guy created with his words. Most importantly, where did he come up with this idea?
I am going to have to do some research into snails and ants to see if they are like cockroaches and can allegedly survive a nuclear blast. I also want to see if I can find media that may have inspired this kid, because I am now invested in finding answers to this hypothetical scenario, and maybe making some concept art.
The funny thing was, after this kid told us all about the snail ant takeover, he didn’t even want an origami animal! So we ended up giving one to his brother instead.
It is amazing what you can uncover when you have an inquisitive mind, a thirst for knowledge, natural curiosity and the ability to problem solve creatively.
Sixteen years in a mascot head will give you such a crick in the neck!
Yes, I just made an Aladdin reference, but how better to introduce a person who puts on masks for a living? Nick has dressed up in many different personalities and donned countless names during the past 16 years, all for the amusement of others.
Living with a mascot is a unique experience. Trying to address Nick as his character(s) of the day ends up with my sounding like a frazzled parent, just cycling through the pile of names until I land on the right one.
He has been a lot characters, each with a distinct personality. It’s neurotic and annoying how much thought he puts into a character’s persona, minutiae that 99 percent of people would never notice or care about. Frankly, an existential crisis seems imminent with how often he switches personalities.
Hence, making a pun with the Three Days Grace song, “Animal I Have Become,” we compiled some fun animal facts based on the creatures Nick has been over the years.
Coyotes are omnivores, eating both meat and vegetation. They will eat anything they find. Their favorite food include: rabbits, rodents such as rats, mice, and squirrels, antelopes, lizards, birds, cactus fruits, flowers. They will even eat dead animal carcasses and garbage if they cannot find anything else.
The red-winged blackbird, a North American songbird, changes its diet with the seasons.
During the breeding season it eats mostly insects. As the babies fledge, the bird switches to eating more and more seeds, and can become a problem for farmers. During winter, the bird eats almost entirely seeds.
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!
Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the Animal School blog. We have been busy behind the scenes, getting ready to transfer apartments, so Animal School has taken the back burner for a few weeks. Fortunately, we’re almost moved, so our creature features are back in action, and my pun game is back on point.
First off, we had a marvelous time at the 7th Annual Harvest Moon Festival in Walworth yesterday. Swift the Fox was out, teaching skulks of kits — or groups of kids — about gekkering and other lupine and canine noises. We also crafted a display of fox faces that shows people the different species of foxes around North America, as well as an info sheet that highlights details about those species. We had so many enthusiastic art students at our coloring station! It was truly a great time, and we look forward to returning next year.
In case you missed the event and would like share our handouts with your kids or students, we have:
And don’t forget our Vulpinology series on YouTube! Down the line, we do want to get better recording equipment and mics, but we are working with what we have for now.
Other good news: Fun Animal Facts return today! This week’s theme will be Girls Versus Boys, in which we explore the similarities and differences among species in the Animal Kingdom. Next week will be Close, But No Babar (a pun of “close, but no cigar,” with an homage to the cartoon elephant). In there, we will look at animals that have several overlapping features but are not the same. Think cheetahs and leopards, buffaloes and bison, snakes and legless lizards, etc.
Now, on the flip side, we’re going to have to take a hiatus from Turtles Around Town. Scouting out areas and driving around for a new picture every week has taken too much time and money. We considered Photoshopping the turtles into pictures, but we wanted to keep the shots authentic. We may continue with the feature sporadically, but, for now, the upkeep is too great for us to handle.
However, that doesn’t mean we’re calling our operation quits! Quite the opposite. We have a vulture character, Stinky, in the works, and Nick recently acquired a buffalo mask, so our family of furballs is growing! A horse costume and skunk costume are also on deck. Stay connected with us to see the work we’re doing. We’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
In the meantime, remember that both the Wildlife Educators Coalition and our Animal School program are available for events and programs around Western New York throughout the year. School visits, library programs, community center activities, bookstore readings, scout meetings, birthday parties, senior center enrichment activities — you name it, and we can craft a customized program for your group! WEC has the live animals for demonstrations, and Animal School has the talking animal characters (mascots and puppets). You can also have both the live animals and mascots show up to your event. We offer a sliding price scale, so no one gets denied our unique, hands-on educational experience because of his or his income or location. We are always eager to work with other groups, so join in on our animal antics, already!
For more information about booking us, contact Nick Hadad at email@example.com for Animal School and Karin Fires at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Wildlife Educators Coalition (our parent group with the live animals).