By Sue Botos
It was a jungle in there at Magnificat High School on Saturday as students, staff and two female animal keepers from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo teamed up with about 60 prospective Blue Streaks for the first MagnifiZoo.
Members of Magnificat’s Animal Lovers Club and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) clubs plus staff members, attired in safari hats, ushered the guests into the school’s large group instruction room. There, they split into 10 teams of 6 led by a high school captain, each assigned an animal to research later in the day.
“I’m not going to touch it!” said members of freshman Maya Williams’ group, seated at a table where a card proclaimed that their animal of the day would be a Childrens Python. Another group claimed their subject, the sugar glider, was one of the cutest critters.
When the teams were settled, zoo keepers Marjorie Ulyan and Adriana De Los Santos took the stage, explaining their how they train and care for over 80 animals, many of those appearing in the zoo’s “Professor Wylde’s Summer Show.” They said that positive reinforcement, such as special treats are used to reward desired behaviors.
“If they don’t do something right, they don’t get their reward,” said Ulyan.
The keepers then introduced the students to 10 animal guests including the Childrens Python, which De Los Santos revealed was named for its discoverer John Children, and not its small size. “If you discover an animal, you may have it named after you,” she told the group.
Stars of the show were definitely the birds, as the group had a close-up look at Warrick the Barn Owl (which are found in Ohio), an Australian Kookaburra, and Beau the Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, who showed off a few dance moves. The Kookaburra showed off her flight skills, winging her way to three volunteers holding her favorite treat of meal worms in their hands. Harley Lemiec looked a bit dubious as the bird settled into her outstretched palm.
After the keepers fielded questions ranging from how long possums live to how many eggs a marine toad lays, it was off to Magnificat’s Humility of Mary Center to research their animals, using the technology available in the school. “Always check your sources when you’re looking up animals,” advised Ulyan, adding that many times, information can conflict.
The teams then assembled Power Point presentations, which they shared with the rest of the group after lunch.
Animal Lovers Club facilitator and Magnificat director of marketing Karen Uthe, hopes that MagnifiZoo will become an annual event. “At Magnificat, we are always thinking of fun, yet educational ways to engage our future Blue Streaks while sharing our school with them. We have reached out to several of Cleveland’s heritage institutions including the zoo to form partnerships; creating unique events that promote holistic education, make use of technology and teach collaboration,” she stated, adding that MagnifiZoo was added as a spring component to the Magnifibot LEGO robotics event held in the fall.
“(We) wanted to balance that with something in the spring. When you think of spring you think of animals so we created MagnifiZoo, a day of animal appreciation for girls in grades 5-8.”