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Akron Zoo animals help with rainforest lesson at Woodland

Woodland Elementary students get an up-close look at Daisy, a three-band armadillo, during the Akron Mobile Zoo visit.

      Todd Boerner brought his one-man, three-critter Akron Mobile Zoo show to Woodland Elementary School Wednesday morning. The result: A lot of fun and an important lesson about the world’s disappearing rainforests.

      Boerner, an education specialist at the zoo, is a frequent visitor to schools.

      “Rainforests are the most diverse habitats in the world but they are shrinking,” he said as he awaited students’ arrival in the Woodland gym. “I want to help the kids understand why the rainforests are at risk and the impact that has on all of us.”

      After the kids had assembled in rows on the gym floor, Boerner gestured toward the table where he had covered three small cages.

      “Does anyone think I brought a lion? A tiger? A bear? he asked.

      “Noooooo,” was the unison response.

      “No, I didn’t bring any dangerous animals, but I brought three zoo ambassadors who will help me explain the importance of our rainforests,” Boerner said.

      During the course of his program, Boerner introduced the students to Chole, a South American kinkajou, a cousin of the American raccoon; Maddie, a snake from Madagascar, and Daisy, a three-banded armadillo.

      “Close your eyes and imagine the rainforest jungle,” he urged the kids. “Have you got that picture in your mind? Now open your eyes. What do you know about rainforests?”

      Students said they are hot, wet, a jungle and lots of animals live there. Some answered correctly when Boerner asked them to identify the five areas of the world’s rainforests: the Amazon, Africa, Australia, Asia and Madagascar.

      “Where do you think all of the world’s animal species live?” Boerner asked.

      “The rainforest!” students shouted.

      “Where do you think virtually all plant life in the world grows?”

      “The rainforest!”

      Boerner explained that many things we use in our daily lives were developed from rainforests, including rubber, scents for shampoos and lotions, coffee, even medicines.

      “Doctors go to the rainforests and ask people who live there, ‘What makes you feel better if you have a cut or your stomach hurts?’ They identify plants that are developed into medicines,” he said.

      Rainforests are important to the entire world, Boerner told the students, “but tragically they are shrinking. Imagine an area the size of Mansfield. That’s how much rainforest we are losing every day. Most of the reason is forested areas being cleared to grow coffee bean plants.”

      Boerner urged coffee drinkers to turn to shade-grown coffee. And he encouraged the Woodland students to learn more about the importance of rainforests and support conservation efforts.

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