Wild hissing guests and a veritable smorgasbord of African animal relics captivated kids and seniors alike during a Sedgwick County Zoo presentation Thursday at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro.
Several Madagascar hissing cockroaches elicited a chorus of intrigued but repulsed spectators as zoo educators spoke about the creatures, allowing Hillsboro youth and Parkside residents a tactile close encounter.
One child asked why the hissing cockroach was not hissing.
“Lemurs eat these guys like snickers bars,” ZooReach program educator Max Lakes said. “In the wild, sometimes they hiss to keep lemurs away.”
Coaxed by the curious hands of the audience the hissing cockroaches soon lived up to their name, as they generally hiss when disturbed or alarmed.
When presented with a 3-inch hisser, a startled resident exclaimed, “Oh mercy, that’s a big one.”
The 12-inch sand boa provoked murmurs and anxious smiles, causing many children to shift in their seats and lean in for a closer look as educator Laura King said, “No, it is not venomous but it does have teeth just like you have teeth, and you are a giant to this little guy. They only bite for two reasons: To eat or tell you to ‘leave me alone.’”
King explained that sand boas spend much of their lives underneath sand and dirt, and their heads look very similar to their tails to confuse predators.
Educators presented numerous fun facts and spoke on serious issues about various animals using an assortment of animal parts as visual aids.
While discussing African painted dogs, educators answered a little boy’s question about how zoos get their animals.
“How do you capture them?” he queried.
Educators explained that they do not actually catch their animals from the wild anymore.
“Sometimes people want pets like these painted dogs because they think they’re cute, and they are when they’re small, but then they get bigger and the owners can’t take care of them anymore,” Lakes said. “Some ask zoos to take them. Sometimes authorities confiscate them.
Mortality also entered conversation when educators explained that most zoo animals die of old age.
“When an animal dies our veterinarians look at it to see why it died,” King said. “They also clean and save some of the remains.”
She said that most wild animals die when their teeth break or become too dull to chew food.
Some audience members wanted to know if animals had ever escaped to which educators replied that they have animal escape, drills where some zookeepers pretend to be a certain animal and other zookeepers work to get the role-players back in their cages.
An elephant tusk and a hippopotamus foot with copper toenails and a copper cap over its stump prompted conversation about big game hunting, poaching, and endangered species.
“Elephant tusks never stop growing,” King said. “They are the reason why some are endangered. Years ago, ivory like this is what people used to put on piano keys or make cue balls; it’s worth more per ounce than gold.”
A Parkside resident recalled how she once purchased a carved tusk from a French woman before it was illegal to kill elephants.
The resident said the tusk is now on display at Sioux Falls Heritage Museum in South Dakota.