The zoo comes to Sullivan Apartments
A menagerie of animals, sporting coverings of fur, scales and feathers, paid a visit to Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments recently, causing a happy stir among the young set.
And the older set as well.
The ‘Zoo on the Go’ drew an overflow crowd of nearly 60 parents and children – 20 families in all – to see and touch a parrot, a lizard, a snake, a ferret and a giant rabbit. Forest Park Zoo Educator Ben Stafford brought the animals to the Deborah Barton Neighborhood Center at the SHA family development on Nursery Street.
While children clamored to get close to the animals, Stafford explained that his mission is threefold: To remind them that the zoo is open for business in the southwest corner of the city, that owning a pet comes with serious responsibilities, and that animals have specific personality and lifestyle traits that can be similar to that of humans.
“We try to give people general information about animals we have in the zoo, as well as about the pets they may have in their homes. We make it interesting and informative at the same time,” Stafford explained.
His visit came courtesy of the Forest Park Zoo program that introduces and educates children across the city to animals most don’t often see. The two-hour visit was a joint effort with the nearby Edward P. Boland Elementary School and paid for with a Funders Collaborative Grant.
The event was organized by Talk/Read/Succeed!, a family-based early literacy program that involves two SHA family developments, their two feeder elementary schools, and several agencies, including the Springfield School Department.
Stafford had plenty to explain with each animal, comparing and contrasting looks and personalities with those of humans. His wildlife collection included:
- ‘Poncho’ – A blue and gold macaw parrot, a strong-willed talking bird whose species hails from North, Central and South America. A young adult at 27 years old, Poncho has a several-word vocabulary, but was silent on his visit to Sullivan. He will live to about 80, and enjoys squawking and tearing things apart. He also has a best friend, another parrot, at Forest Park.
- ‘Sal’ – A Chinese water dragon in the reptile family. With a scaly body and a long tail, he is adept at climbing in trees. He is six years old and has a girlfriend, ‘Sabrina’ at Forest Park.
- ‘Logan’ – A furry, friendly two-year-old ferret who sleeps a lot and exercises occasionally. He’s very flexible and likes to steal and hide shiny things like jewelry and coins.
- ‘Pumpkin’ – An orange corn snake, a docile reptile who eats five or six mice a day, and who uses his tongue to smell what is around him.
- ‘Sugar’ – A Flemish giant rabbit, true to his name and on the quiet side. His soft fur and big ears were a hit with the Sullivan audience, and most reached out for a pet as Stafford brought him around the room.
After the demonstrations, audience members confirmed that they liked seeing and petting the animals, and that they learned a whole lot.
“It was actually a fun experience,” said 13-year-old Pharell Smith. “I liked everything about it.”
Xiomara Gonzalez brought her 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to see the animals, and admitted that she had as much fun as her children did.
“I love animals. I grew up with a lot of animals – dogs, rabbits, cats, we even had a ferret. This was great,” Gonzalez said.
T/R/S! Outreach Coordinators Lynne Cimino and Zenaida Burgos said the event was intended to bring Sullivan families together for an educational, fun evening that included a pizza dinner. Visitors were so numerous that they were divided into two groups, with one group eating and discussing reptiles, vertebrates, invertebrates, mammals and amphibians, while the other group was seeing and touching the visiting animals in the flesh.
“Everybody enjoyed it,” said Burgos. “I think they also learned a lot. You can see in their faces how excited they are when the see the animals up close.”
Cimino added, “It was a big success, a good group and everyone was so engaged.”
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