Posted in animal behavior, coyote language, coyotes, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Farmers Markets, foxes, foxes of north america, Fun Animal Facts, vulpines, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife education, wolf Awareness week, wolf conservation, wolf howls, wolf reintroduction, wolf species of north America, wolves

Wolf Awareness Week 2019

By Nick Hadad

Wolf Awareness Week takes place during the third full week of October. It’s a great way for folks to become acquainted with wolves and learn about their history, the different wolf species in North America, their impact on the ecosystem and how political their presence has become.

I had hoped to get this posted during Wolf Awareness Week but I never had enough time to sit and breathe with all of the events I was working. Here’s a little bit on how we here at ROC Animal School celebrate this PAWsome week!

Our Wolf Mascot

Four years ago, we acquired our first talking mascot character. It was a gray wolf that we named Howler. Immediately, I started working on an educational wolf program I could offer to schools, libraries, festivals and other events. We called the program “Lupinology,” essentially meaning the “study of wolves.” I wanted this program to be as comprehensive as possible without becoming too slow or boring. I incorporated several interactive activities, taught all of the wolf vocalizations and their meanings and had the audience take part in a faux elk hunt where they learned how to function as a wolf pack.

Howler became our most popular character. The program was a success and we at times traveled for bours to perform for audiences.

The material was constantly being updated as new scientific studies on wolves were published. I felt that it was paramount that the information be up to date but still digestible to the casual listener. I spoke with quite a few experts to clarify on different topics.

Our First Wolf Awareness Week

The first time we celebrated Wolf Awareness Week, I didn’t have any events planned. Instead, I wrote several short scripts, threw on the wolf costume and filmed a series of videos. They focused on the various North American wolf species (one of which addressed coywolves and featured our coyote mascot) and a brief introduction to wolf conservation. These were uploaded onto the ROC Animal School and Howler Wolf Facebook pages.

Our 2019 Event

The Rochester March for Science started an initiative in 2019 called Science Saturday. These were events that would be set at various public places (libraries, farmers markets, wildlife festivals, etc…) and aimed to bring science (and its numerous fields) to folks of all ages. It would feature multiple booths from different scientific organizations with hands on activities.

They were set to host a Science Saturday on October 19th, one day prior to the kickoff of Wolf Awareness Week 2019. It took place at a library on Lyell Ave in Rochester and it attracted quite a few visitors. I suited up as our mascot and set up our wolf info boards, taught howls, explained about the wolf pack dynamis, and quizzed folks on their knowledge of local animal tracks. I took as much time as I could to answer questions about wolves and their canine cousins, coyotes. Folks came prepared with a lot of inquiries and I was very happy to help them! It was a great day!

The Rest of the Week

Once the event concluded, I decided to employ the use of our social media platforms to share knowledge straight from the sources, chiefly from wolf conservation and scientific research groups and recovery agencies. With so much misinformation going around and changes to the Endangered Species Act, I felt it was important to get as many true facts out as possible.

I had to shift my energy for costumed peeformances toward some other nature events happening so I didn’t get a chance to use Howler as much as I would have liked. I found myself performing as our red fox and raccoon more often that week and over the weekend.

Next Year

It’s my goal to redo the videos I filmed a few years ago. By this point, some of the information is outdated and the overall quality of the audio could be improved. I also hope to have our wolf mascot appear at a few more events during that week to truly spread a little wolf awareness!

Until next time, stay wild!

Posted in Amphibians, animal facts, animal games, animal mascots, animals, Aquatic Life, arctic foxes, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, Community Events, conservation, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, End of Year Review, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Exercise, Farmers Markets, foxes, foxes of north america, Fun Animal Facts, Holiday Events, kestrels, learning, Mammals, mascots, Misunderstood Creatures, nature camp, nature conservation, Omnivore, Raptor Research, raptors, Rochester, NY Events, Small Business, storytelling, summer camps, talking mascots, teaching, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf conservation, wolves, Yoga

Summer 2019 Wrap Up

By Nick Hadad

It’s been an amazing summer here at ROC Animal School! Here’s a brief breakdown of all the fun we’ve had!

New Characters:

We appeared almost every Saturday from mid June until the end of September at the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market at their new location behind the Community Center. We covered a new theme each weekend, which required a few new mascots. We debuted a frog, a woodpecker, a skunk (for National Skunk Day), and a raccoon!

Summer Camps

We visited numerous summer camps over the season, including several visits to Nature Camp at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We were able to bring out multiple characters and perform various programs each day at the camps, delighting and educating campers of all ages.

Other Events

We were able to take part in a plethora of other special events between late spring and early fall. As always, we loved being able to perform at Bird of Prey Days for Braddock Bay Raptor Research. This year’s event was red tail hawk themed which gave us a chance to use our red tail hawk character, Talon, for the first time in years. We created the program, “A Red Tail Hawk Survival Guide” and got folks up and soaring with us on stage, locking talons in a mock-courtship demonstration and hunting toy snakes by using their wings and feet.

We also entertained at A Frog’s House in Pittsford, the Wildlife Expo at the Dome, various 4H events, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Science Saturdays with the Rochester March for Science, several events in the community with Braddock Bay Raptor Research, the Genesee County Village and Museum (Owl Moon and Trick or Treating in the Village) and even some craft shows!

Yoga!

While at the farmers market, we teamed up with our friend Erin from Flower City Yoga. We would typically do one family friendly yoga session at noon in the grassy field but there were some Saturdays where we did up to seven! Where else could folks do pigeon pose with an owl, tree pose with a raccoon or unicorn pose with a unicorn? We certainly hope to continue this next year!

Content

With so many events, we had a need to expand upon our program roster and our educational content. This involved a lot of animal behaviour observations, gathering updates on different animal population statistics and learning new vocalizations for various species.

The hard work paid off. Folks enjoyed learning how to dance like a skunk, chitter like raccoons, bark like gray foxes, and play new animal themed games.

Summary and a Look Ahead

As we enter November, it’s fun to look back on such a busy and fun summer. It certainly makes us excited about the possibilities for next year! We do have plans to hopefully create a few new characters, if funds allow, and focus on some species that tend to slip under the radar of the public even if these animals are common in their areas. We will also continue to improve and expand on our programs. Once everything is complete to our satisfaction, we will post an updated list of those.

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, 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 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!

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!