Students at Borland Manor Elementary School in Canonsburg probably never heard of a skink or kinkajou before Tuesday. Thanks to school administrators and the Pittsburgh Zoo, students had the chance to see these tropical rainforest creatures in their school’s own multipurpose room.
The “zoomobile” brought three animals to Borland Manor as part of the zoo’s “Rainforest Rhythms” outreach program to teach children about the layers of the rainforest and the animals that dwell there. Zoo employees Shannon Hilliker and Dave Mintz shared facts and tested students’ knowledge before bringing out the main attractions – a kinkajou, prehensile-tailed skink and boa constrictor.
Hilliker walked along the rows of children while holding Pequeño, the kinkajou with a seemingly timid personality to match his name, which means “small” in Spanish. Kinkajous are related to raccoons and look like a mix between ferrets and monkeys.
Pequeño was once someone’s pet, but he was abandoned by his owner. Employees of a restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh found Pequeño in the kitchen and called police to report a “monkey” sighting, and Pequeño was ultimately brought to the zoo.
Kinkajous are messy creatures that like to sleep all day, Hilliker said. She described how kinkajous throw their food everywhere, and the children erupted in laughter.
“It looks like there was a kinkajou party,” she said. “They definitely would not be good pets.”
Despite their sloppy habits, second-grader Keira Corbett said it was her favorite of the three animals.
“I learned that kinkajous are really messy,” she said.
Mikaela Wachter, a kindergartner, said the seven-foot-long boa constrictor, Squeeze, was her favorite. “I’ve never seen a snake before,” she said, adding that she “kind of” wants to hold one.
Gia Chambers, 8, said she also liked Squeeze. “I just like slimy things,” she said.
Goober, the green prehensile-tailed skink from the Solomon Islands, also was a hit inside the zoo assembly.
In addition to the zoo’s presentation, the Nutrition Group and Reinhart Food Service also discussed healthy eating habits and the reasons why “don’t feed the animals” signs at the zoo are important. Students were served an animal-themed lunch of Zoo Crew chicken nuggets, broccoli trees, “go ape” bananas and animal crackers. After the assembly ended, children boarded their school buses with a bit more knowledge about rainforest animals, and perhaps even a plea to parents for an exotic pet.