By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Collegeville Welcomes Wild Guests
It wasn't exactly lions, tigers and bears ... but the Wild Things did pay a visit to Collegeville Elementary School on Thursday.

With an assortment of wildlife that included a Burmese python, American crocodile, a kinkajou, an iguana, and a golden spider monkey, wildlife specialists Gabe Kerschner and Patrick Harback displayed the animals and presented an interactive program.

Kerschner was the animal handler, detailing information about the life and challenges each animal faces in the wild and how they came to be a part of the Wild Things animal rescue and educational organization. Based in Weimar, near Colfax, Wild Things utilizes animals that can't be returned to the wild in their traveling educational program.

First up was Linguini, the iguana, followed by an appearance by Cookie, the golden spider monkey.

"There are only 3,000 of these animals left in the world," Kerschner told the elementary students. "Cookie should be in a family group in the rain forest."

Instead, the money was rescued from a home in Placerville, where it was being kept caged up.

Steve, a young American crocodile, was described by Kerschner as "the most aggressive animal I've ever worked with" and despite his small size, still "wants to attack, kill and eat" every other animal he meets.

Just that morning, Kerschner said, Steve attacked his shoe as he went to get him from his habitat.

Noting that crocodiles have become coveted for their skins, which is used for items including belts, wallets, boots and suitcases, Kerschner said Steve was just on loan to Wild Things and being used as part of the educational program.

The nocturnal kinkajou, Nike, lived up to his billing as a shy one, staying close to handler Kerschner and munching on a banana while the youngsters enjoyed his facial expressions.

Then it was time for some audience participation, with the 15-foot, 110-pound Burmese python, Miss Piggy, brought on stage. It took several volunteers to help hold up the huge snake and then all children that wanted to had a chance to pet the snake as they exited the program.

"She's a big snake but she can only eat something the size of a rabbit," Kerschner said, noting that movies often do a disservice to animals by making them seem more ferocious than they actually are.

For instance, the snake cannot eat a human, he said.

"She eats once a month," Kerschner explained. "They're not fast ... they hunt by camouflage, waiting for animals to come to them."

And while he enjoys working with the wild animals, Kerschner told students that it's unfair to take them out of the wild just for personal gain. The animals he works with have been rescued but he said his favorite one is his personal family dog, which wants to be with him.

He also urged students to do their part to help the animals by working to protect the environment.

"Number one, recycling," he said of steps the youngsters can take to help. "Number two, pick up garbage and help keep the earth clean."