GALLIPOLIS — Washington Elementary School students got a little taste of the jungle Tuesday afternoon as nonprofit organization Understanding Wildlife brought a few tropical rainforest animals to visit with students in the school auditorium in Gallipolis.
Mike Kohlrieser, Understanding Wildlife founder and director and of Wapakoneta, travels the country with his colleagues and animal companions to speak with students about animals, conservation and the importance of appreciating rainforests through the program “The Rainforest Live.”
“Officially, we became a nonprofit in 1992 so we’ve been at it for a few years,” said Kohlrieser. “It’s simply really. Our goal is to get this message in front of as many kids as possible and get them excited about conservation. We are going to be bringing out several animals. Some of those animals have some real personality and the kids will get a real connection to them. We’ll have a macaw fly around overhead in here. I’ve got an Amazon (parrot) who is just learning but she will do a little talking on the microphone.”
While displaying the flying abilities of the macaw, children awed at the animal. The Amazon parrot was able to say “hello” to the students to a chorus of laughter. Kohlreieser also displayed King and Corn snakes before exhibiting a kinkajou and lastly he chased a Capuchin Monkey around the stage as part of the program’s fun antics.
Later in the evening, the public was welcomed to see a larger performance.
“The kids get very excited about the (animals),” said Kohlrieser. “In a mild way, we let the kids know that this is what we have and this is what we lose if we don’t take care of our planet.”
Kohlrieser’s father was also and animal handler. The program said he grew up around a variety of animals his whole life and had been involved with them in various capacities. He said in the late 1980s, he and his wife got involved with the World Wildlife Fund and the National Wildlife Federation and started to realize just how many problems were happening with tropical rainforests. The pair decided to take their skills on the road and turn it into something positive in an effort to educate children and families.
“It started small at first with a few shows in Ohio and a little in Indiana and Michigan,” said Kohlrieser. “Probably within two or three years, we were going coast to coast. The demand is just really out there and schools are hungry for some good quality programs. We’ve got a mix. You can’t lecture to children. You lose them pretty quickly. It’s got to be fun and exciting. If you have their attention, then maybe you can drive home some points about conservation and what we can do on our level to help.”
“It’s a great program because the kids love the animals,” said Washington Elementary Principal Helenlu Morgan. “The last time they did their (evening) performance here, it was a packed audience.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.