Animal Embassy brings global diversity to libraries

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Voluntown - posted Tue., Aug. 9, 2011
Makayla, 11, of Griswold, pets Inca, the spectacled owl held by Chris Evers. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Makayla, 11, of Griswold, pets Inca, the spectacled owl held by Chris Evers. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Global diversity can mean cultures – or it can mean critters. Animals from several continents brought the summer reading theme to life for children at both the Voluntown and Killingly public libraries Aug. 2, with a visit from Animal Embassy, a wildlife rescue and education center in Stamford.

Animal Embassy director and founder Chris Evers introduced eager children at both libraries to Gemma, the blue Swede duck; several varieties of tree frogs; Inca, the spectacled owl; and an Arizona mountain king snake, among other creatures.

The diversity of animals – whose cages were each covered with a cloth from their countries of origin – blended well with this year’s Collaborative Summer Reading Program theme, “One World, Many Stories.” Libraries throughout the country designed this year’s program around literature that takes readers to many corners of the globe.

Evers introduced Okeechobee the alligator, whom he found one day dumped on his doorstep. She was likely obtained as a very young pet and then abandoned when her care got too complicated for her owner. A female alligator like Okeechobee could grow to be 25 feet long, he said. While the creature’s toothy charm was hard to deny, Evers pointed out the drawbacks of having an alligator as a pet, which is illegal in Connecticut.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s legal to keep an alligator as a pet,” he told the children. “Does that mean it’s a good idea? No. That’s when common sense comes in.” Wild creatures like the alligator belong in their home habitat, Evers said. “If you truly loved animals, would you want [them] to be far from their home? If you want to work with [wild] animals, get a job that involves working with animals. If you want a pet, get another animal.”

Okeechobee is being cared for and will be “a great animal to use in nature programs,” said Evers. “Wish her luck. Wish me luck.”

While no one was allowed to pet Okeechobee, plenty of eager hands reached for Chile and Argentina, the male and female chinchillas, from South America. The creatures were endangered for many years, due to their sumptuously soft fur, which was highly coveted for coats.

“But who really needs a chinchilla coat?” asked Evers. “The chinchillas do.”

Laws making it illegal to trap chinchillas, combined with other conservation efforts, have helped the animals begin to bounce back. “I think in your lifetime there will be chinchillas back in their four home countries,” Evers said.

Inca the owl, also a South America native, stared down her young admirers with her round, glowing eyes, but allowed them to stroke her back gently. Evers held her on a tether, explaining that the view of the outdoors through the windows at Voluntown Fire Hall would confuse her and she might try to fly through the glass.

Evers ended his presentation by displaying some paw print plaster casts he’s made during his global travels, including one from a polar bear. He explained that this was a way of “collecting” animals without removing them from their habitats.

Animal Embassy’s visit was one of many summer reading events at both libraries, which also featured multicultural crafts projects, story times and guest speakers.


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