Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Sunnybrook residence, visitors enjoy learning about animals from Blank Park Zoo

Program part of monthly Lifelong Learning series open to the public
Jul 02, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Blank Park Zoo educator Hannah Stater brings a giant turtle around for everyone to see during a Lifelong Learning program at Sunnybrook on Friday, June 29.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Turtles, salamanders and alligators, oh my! Sunnybrook residents were in for a treat on Friday as experts from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines brought a few friends to visit as part of the assisted living facilities Lifelong Learning series.

Olive the tiger salamander, Donatello the box turtle, Hagrid the giant Flemish rabbit and Notch the American alligator were ogled by Sunnybrook residents and young, chatty visitors as zoo experts introduced them one by one.

The animals are part of the education department at the Blank Park Zoo, traveling to schools, nursing homes, daycares and anyone else requesting them. Hannah Stater, zoo educator who originally grew up in Mt. Pleasant, said that the program spreads the message of conservation across Iowa.

“Imagine a world without animals and imagine how much better the world is with animals,” Stater said.

Animal ambassadors like Notch were rescued from the Animal Rescue League and are trained to be comfortable around big crowds. As Stater held him across her forearm and he wiggled to readjust himself, she assured that he was very relaxed in the somewhat-chaotic atmosphere.

Stater assures they are all well taken care of. “They’re pretty good guys,” she said.

After the presentation, everyone was invited to line up single file to pet Notch’s scaly back with two fingers. Zoo educator Sara Bazyn even held an alligator head for people to get a feel for the teeth and jaw.

Bazyn explained that what makes Notch, an alligator, different from a crocodile is his toothy grin. When his snout is shut, his teeth are clearly visible on each side of the lower jaw that sticks up over the upper lip. The other difference is the snout shape. Alligators have wider, U-shaped snouts while crocodile’s snouts are more pointed into a V-shape.

The other animals struck a pose but the curious audience was only able to look and not touch. Stater said they typically choose one animal at each event for the audience to touch, except for the salamander, which would dry out if too many hands felt his slimy back.

Approaching the wriggling alligator, Tate Dorothy, 9, admitted he was a little scared to reach out his hand and rub his fingers down Notch’s back. When his 4-year-old sister Aubree Dorothy said she wasn’t at all scared, Tate said, “Oh that’s baloney!”

Carsen Dorothy, 6, also fearlessly touched the alligator.

Emily Dorothy, Tate and Aubree’s mother expressed gratitude to Sunnybrook for opening up their doors to the community for the Lifelong Learning series. This is the first she has attended, seeing an invite on Facebook and thinking it would be a good opportunity to get out of the house while still staying in the cool air-conditioning on a day with a 100-degree heat index.

Sandy Breazeale used the event to surprise her mother and Sunnybrook resident Jean Turner, bringing along Turner’s young great-grandchildren Scarlett and Stella Manfredi.

“I didn’t know the kids were coming out,” Turner said delightedly. “I would have gotten a front-row seat.”

Bryce Kelly, with Sunnybrook, said that Lifelong Learning events are once a month and always open and free to the public. They always enjoy a packed house, whether the topic is conservation or local history.

Next month, Airport Road Vineyard and Winery will be doing the presentation.

“It’s just a part of regular life here at Sunnybrook,” Kelly said.

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