OTTUMWA — Area residents didn’t have to more than an hour to see a zoo. They just had to go to the Hub.

Children and families sat at the edges of their blue chairs ready to see the animals brought over from the Blank Park Zoo.

Many expected a zookeeper to be the one to show the animals to the children, but that wasn’t the case. Community Engagement Specialist Keiza Knight was the speaker. She teaches about animals worldwide and those at the zoo.

Knight was ready to give an engaging show. Before she showed off the animals she told everyone how donated money cares for zoo animals. She also talked about how to keep animals stress-free. “It all goes back to enrichment,” she said. “This helps animals out in the wild conservation. To make them stress-free — stay as quiet as you can to make them feel relaxed.”

Knight showed off animals and answered questions. Children mostly wanted to know how old the animals were, their origin and what they ate. She also gave history for these animals and the efforts to preserve endangered animals.

She first showed off a 20-year-old burmese star tortoise named Chuck. She said Chuck usually eats vegetables and fruits. Some kids wanted to know where Chuck came from. “We got Chuck here from another zoo,” Knight said. “He was bred in human care and we did not take him from the wild. He’s been in a zoo all his life.”

She also said Chuck is endangered. “Coming into the United States they have found these guys with smugglers and tagged them and put them in the wild,”she said. “A few months later they came back with smugglers.”

Knight said it was sad to think about what happened to tortoises, but also talked about ways to protect them. “There are efforts in their natural habitats with conservationists working hard to make sure they have protected space and that these guys thrive in the wild as much as they can. As a result these numbers have gone up as much as they can. They were in the low hundreds and now in the high hundreds.”

Knight also talked about how the different animals handle weather. “Tortoises don’t prepare for the temperature. They go into hibernation. Their body rate and heart rate slows down. They can’t wake up unless they get warm.”

The second animal Knight was a female parrot named Zombi. Kids wanted to know if she could talk, but Knight said she only makes noises.

The third animal shown was a bearded dragon named Beaker. She said Beaker eats crickets and talked about said his the quickness of his tongue is what gets him his food.

Donel Ghastalani said she enjoyed the show. She brought her children as she did for the last three years. “The set up was different in previous years,” Ghastalani said. “The kids really enjoy it. There’s a lot of information.”

Ashley Reynolds and Patti Perdue agreed. “I thought it was pretty neat,” Reynolds said. “I like that they have these.”

“People can never learn too much,” Perdue said. “It certainly was a great learning experience for all the kids,” It’s interesting to see what they have.”

Perdue’s granddaughter Kiersten had a fun time as well. “I liked it,” Kiersten Perdue said, “I love all animals. I like learning about the different ones.”

Parents and children weren’t the only ones to enjoy themselves. Knight also had an amazing time. “I’ve been doing programs since the fall of last year,” Knight said. “I love talking to people and love the animal aspect. I love teaching people that not only zoos are bad. The people care about the animals. The world is cared for with AZA accredited zoos.”


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