Whidbey News-Times


Encounters with snakes, skunk, fox and lizards help Whidbey Island children relate to nature

Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
January 9, 2013 · Updated 3:18 PM

As Dave Coleburn from Predators of the Heart wheeled cages and more cages into Coupeville Library Friday, the meeting room filled with children wiggling with excitement to see what was inside. The library program Animal Encounters promised snakes, a skunk and other scaled and furry creatures, but the families were in for a surprise.

Predators from the Heart is an Anacortes-based animal sanctuary. It offers traveling wildlife shows that teach children how to relate to nature.

“The reason I do this is it changes kids’ lives when they can connect with nature like that,” Coleburn said. “We think it’s really important for kids to connect with nature because if we don’t have wildlife, we have no life.”

The anticipation heightened as Coleburn opened the first cage, preparing to begin a journey that would take families from the swamps of Georgia to Australia, Malaysia and beyond.

The crowd “oohed” as Coleburn brought out the first predator: an alligator. Coleburn asked for a child from the crowd to pet the alligator then brought it closer so the audience could see its powerful tail that aids in hunting.

“There’s nothing on the planet that bites harder than an alligator,” Coleburn said.

Next, Coleburn brought out an alligator snapping turtle, a dark-colored turtle that lays on the bottom of lakes and opens its mouth, displaying a worm-shaped protrusion on its tongue.

“When the fish comes to get what it thinks is a worm, bam! It shuts its mouth,” Coleburn said. “And the scientists say that if all other animals were to go extinct, this would be last.”

The next animals elicited a few gasps of fear from children in the front rows as Coleburn brought out a cottonmouth snake, a western diamondback rattlesnake and a venomous lizard. The rattlesnake’s warning rattle continued even after it returned to its cage. Coleburn explained that an enzyme in the lizard’s venom can control blood sugar and it may become part of a medicine to help diabetes.

Coleburn moved on to his furrier friends, showing Awesome the Opossum, a skunk and an armadillo to a chorus of “awws.”

It took three kids to hold up the boa constrictor Coleburn brought and everyone seemed to be in awe of the green anaconda.

When Coleburn asked for a number of female volunteers, they had no idea they were going to take part in a tegu kissing contest.

“It’s kind of like kissing your dad but not so gross,” Coleburn said, hefting the long-tongued reptile. The girls closed their eyes and puckered up for a kiss from prince charming. Amid laughter from the audience and a few cries of disgust from the contestants, Coleburn moved down the line of volunteers as the tegu flicked its tongue over each girl’s face.

“It felt sort of weird and it felt sort of squishy and soft,” Hannah Mayne, 7, said later about the one-of-a-kind experience.

Next was a crowd favorite: Pepper the arctic fox. Children “awwed” and reached to pet the soft fox. They were also excited to pet an owl from Missouri, but not so much when Coleburn brought out a green mamba, the deadliest snake in Africa, and a blood python from Borneo. The presentation ended with a 13-foot king cobra. The venom in one bite can kill 20 people or one grown elephant, Coleburn said.

“It’s the only snake in the world that will build a nest and guard it, and it can growl like a dog,” Coleburn said.

Children gathered to hold a turtle and pet a huge toad after the presentation. Mayne said it was her first time seeing the animals in the presentation.

“They were cool,” she said, adding that the owl was her favorite and she also enjoyed petting the fox.

Jake Jarrell, 8, laughed as Coleburn placed a lizard on his head. He enjoyed holding the turtle.

“It was really cool to actually hold some,” Jarrell said, adding that his favorite animal was the alligator.

For more information about Predators of the Heart, visit www.predatorsoftheheart.com. To find out about more events at Sno-Isle Libraries, visit www.sno-isle.org.


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