Aussie creatures descend on Pinon Hills Elementary |

Aussie creatures descend on Pinon Hills Elementary

by Scott Neuffer

Students of Pinon Hills Elementary took a trip down under on Wednesday without ever leaving the school.

Thanks to the PHES parent-teacher organization, Tim Davison of Wildlife Encounters, a nonprofit animal rescue group, introduced students to a variety of Aussie creatures both big and small, feathery and scaly.

Although born into captivity from rescue animals, the different species still revealed the wildness of the outback from which they had descended.

“Australia is a big island, which has allowed a lot of them to adapt and evolve over the years,” Davison said. “These are some of the wildest and craziest animals of all time.”

Up first were two bearded dragons and a blue-tongued skink, which three lucky students had the opportunity to hold in front of their peers. Then came the loud, chattering call of Kooky the Kookaburra, the largest of the kingfisher species.

“They are known to be pesky in Australia,” Davison explained. “If they see you grilling out, they’ll swoop down and steal the hot dog or hamburger right off the coals.”

Students sitting in neat rows went as wild as the animals themselves when third-grade teacher Amy Peraldo was called to the stage and asked to close her eyes.

“My next animal, Fred, is not cute and cuddly, and is not someone you’d want to play with,” Davison said.

Seconds later, he placed a large tarantula in the teacher’s open palm. Students shrieked with delight as Peraldo opened her eyes and beheld the hairy spider creeping on her hand.

A hard act to follow, Dingo, part New Guinea singing dingo, took to the stage next.

“Dingoes are the wolves of Australia,” Davison said. “There is a big difference between pets and wild animals. Wild animals do not make good pets.”

Later, sixth-grader Tyler Lake was one of three students who got to hold Sidney, a bright-green Eclectus parrot.

“Be quiet,” Davison warned. “If you get too loud, Sidney is going to tell you to shut up.”

After the parrot had squawked and scuttled up and down his arm, Tyler returned to his class with a wide grin on his face.

“It was fun!” Tyler declared.

The student who got to hold the last animal was not as thrilled. In an act of sheer bravery, fifth-grader Scout Pope, 10, helped Davison handle a long carpet python, which slithered between their hands.

“It was scary,” she later said. “It’s the animal I’m most afraid of.”

Although she had conquered her fear, Scout still wasn’t ready to bring a snake into her home.

“Not as a pet,” she stated adamantly.

Ron Santi, PTO vice president in charge of assemblies, said such programs play an important role in education.

“Exposure to different cultures,” he said. “This is kind of what it’s all about.”

“These are experiences student might not otherwise have,” added PHES Principal Rommy Cronin.