By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Hundreds of children and parents eagerly awaited as animals made their way to the stage during the Henry Ford Centennial Library summer reading program kickoff June 20.
Animals helped spark the interest of children in attendance with presentations including a snake, parrot, alligators, skunk, possum and sloth.
“We hope to encourage everybody to participate in summer reading,” Librarian Susan Jelk said. “There are plenty of animal books and we know it is an appealing subject for all ages.”
A non-profit rescue and educational organization from Ann Arbor, The Creature Conservancy, 4940 Ann Arbor-Saline Road, provided the animals to promote an “exercise your mind” message.
Creature Conservancy President and Chief Curator Steve Marsh presented exotic animals to the crowd while providing information about each.
“The macaw is a common pet for people, but can also be aggressive and hard to keep in its cage because it is so intelligent,” Marsh told the crowd. “They have one mate for life and their screams can be heard from a mile away.”
The boa constrictor drew the most attention from the crowd when Creature Conservancy Volunteer Zach Zielinski walked around the room.
“This snake can smell with its tongue and is a slow mover,” Marsh said. “It uses its head to strike out fast, bite and wrap their body around its prey.”
A local North American animal, the skunk, caused the crowd to move back in fear of being sprayed. Marsh reassured the crowd that his wife, who is a veterinarian, had removed the skunk’s spraying mechanism.
“Once a skunk sees its predator it stomps its feet and begins hissing,” he said. “After they spray, the smell and stickiness can linger for about a month.”
Marsh also explained that the skunk has about two or three shots to release before it has to wait two days and make new spray.
Another North American animal, the possum left those in attendance surprised as they learned new facts.
“Possums use their tail similar to a fifth limb to help them climb,” Marsh said. “They have more teeth than any other mammals in Michigan. This animal is also immune to snake bites and rabies.”
Pregnancy for possums lasts 12 days ending in the birth of 25 babies. Female possums have 13 nipples in their pouch, leaving 12 without milk or development.
“Possums are great educational animals,” Marsh stated. “Everybody would love them because they are great animals.”
Finally, a surprise for the audience came when Marsh and Zielinski brought out not one, but two alligators.
One of the alligators was found in Detroit by police last week and has yet to be claimed, landing it at the conservancy. The second was a rare albino alligator.
“There are only about 50 albino alligators because they are easily spotted and eaten by predators in the wild,” Marsh said. “It has a four-chamber heart similar to humans and makes nests like birds.”
Most children in attendance were fascinated by the presentation and the animals featured.
“My favorite was the sloth because you don’t see them every day,” 12-year-old Rasheed Al-Shwaf said. “Today I learned how possums survive in the wild.
Jennifer Lelek, 8, also enjoyed seeing the sloth along with the boa constrictor.
“I love snakes so seeing the boa close was cool,” she said. “The sloth reminded me of the movie ‘Zootopia.’ It was funny.”
After the presentation, attendees also had the chance to pet the alligator found in Detroit and boa constrictor.
“Giving children and teens first-hand exposure to all types of animals is important,” Zielinski said. “They see the animals they learn about in person and it can spark more interest.”
Each child was told to select a bookmark relating to their age group in order to tally their progress and earn prizes. Grand prize winners will be announced during a wrap up party on Aug. 11 at the library.
Parents can keep track of reading hours, activities attended or Gale Online courses completed through the Dearborn Public Library’s summer reading log online until Aug. 5.
Residents can register for the program by visiting the library, 16301 Michigan Ave., or the library’s website, dearbornlibrary.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)