Not every March Break program is about crafts, sports or music.
Some are geared towards budding environmentalists and ecologists, offering what Doug Grabinsky of ZooTek calls ‘Edu-tainment.’
ZooTek is a local company that specializes in “wildly exciting” animal shows, allowing kids and adults to get up close and personal with a wide range of native and exotic species, from tarantulas and scorpions to lizards, snakes and tortoises.
“I have 162 pets,” Grabinsky told a rapt group at the Bradford Library during March Break. Among those pets are 15 parrots.
“All of my birds talk. I’m not going to tell you what they say,” he said, noting that all of the animals at ZooTek are captive-bred and hand-raised, and some, like his first bird, a Sulphur-crested cockatoo named Nikki, he watched hatch from an egg.
Nikki sat patiently as kids stroked his back feathers. The feathers are “soft, kind of like marshmallows,” said Grabinsky. The affable parrot then posed on their head, or shoulder.
Nikki is 27 years old, and could live to be 95, the kids were told. That means such long-lived pets are a long-term commitment, not a fad. “They are pets you put in your will, because they outlive their owners,” said Grabinsky.
Franklin the tortoise was a “baby”, at only 62 years old; it will live to be about 120. Even the tiny Indian leopard gecko can live 25 to 30 years.
Grabinsky talked about the various habitats and the adaptations of the animals, from the sticky feet of geckos that allow them to walk up walls, to the mimicry of the Honduran Milk Snake – warding off predators by its resemblance to the deadly and poisonous coral snake.
The Honduran Milk Snake itself was so gentle, it was easily carried around the room by a young volunteer.
Response to the critters was varied. There was no hesitation when it came to touching the big Belgian lop-eared rabbit, or Spike the African pygmy hedgehog, the only pet that is “100 percent” non-allergenic, said Grabinsky. “Even the saliva has been tested.”
But there was hesitation from some, even a little fear, when it came to touching the lizards and, especially, the snakes.
Kids were persuaded to overcome their doubts, and were surprised by how soft, smooth and gentle the animals were - including “Samantha”, a 3-year-old Colombian boa constrictor.
Snakes aren’t slimy, Grabinsky told the kids. “The only snake that is slimy is the sea snake.”
He also shared information on the loss of habitat that is putting more and more species at risk. While the Colombian boa is in no danger of extinction – popular as a pet, it is bred around the world – Samantha's breed is no longer found in the jungles of Colombia.
“It is gone from the wild. It hasn’t been seen for a decade in the wild,” Grabinsky said.
Kids and adults listened, learned, and touched the animals – turning an afternoon at the library into an afternoon of exploration, education - and delight.