Columbus Zoo animals delight Ripley students


Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Evan Bevins Three-month-old cheetah Damisi plays with her companion dog Cash.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Evan Bevins
Three-month-old cheetah Damisi plays with her companion dog Cash.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — It’s hard to keep a gym full of elementary schoolers quiet when there are exotic animals on display.

But when two Columbus Zoo animal programs specialists asked the students of Fairplains Elementary to turn down the volume so a 3-month-old cheetah making her public debut wouldn’t be too nervous, quiet is exactly what they got.

“It looked so cute; I just want to squeeze its cheeks,” fifth-grader Ivy Green said after the program.

Helping the cub, Damisi, feel at home was a dog named Cash. Animal programs specialists Jen Dew and Kristen Ward explained that Cash serves as a companion to Damisi, who has no siblings, a situation that caused her to be rejected by her mother.

“I’ve never seen a cheetah with a dog,” said fourth-grader Riley Speece. “I’ve actually never seen a cheetah in life.”

Speece admitted she thought the cheetah would be more likely to hurt the dog than play with it. But Damisi and Cash wrestled, cuddled and licked each other as their handlers shared facts about cheetahs with the students.

“They can reach the speed of your car when your parents are driving on the highway,” Ward said, adding that the cheetah’s long tail helps it change direction when chasing its prey.

Thursday’s visit was a warmup for Damisi and Cash, who will be heading to Orlando next week with Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna and will appear on national television – either “The Late Show with David Letterman” or “Good Morning America” – before long.

But Damisi was hardly the only crowd-pleaser brought to the school Thursday in a parent-teacher association-funded presentation that ties in with a nine-week, schoolwide study on animals.

A red-legged seriema, a South American bird with long legs, elicited roars of laughter by demonstrating its eating habits. Named Kevin, the bird scooped up a rubber lizard and smashed it against a rock, causing the toy to fly through the air, after which the bird hopped off the table, picked the lizard up and repeated the process.

Dew and Ward explained that is how seriemas kill and soften up their reptilian meals.

Lucy, a ball python from Africa, was a source of fascination and fear, with some students tentatively rubbing two fingers across her scales on the way out of the gym and others giving her a wide berth.

Speece and second-grader Jameson Carroll were enlisted to show Madagascar hissing cockroaches to their classmates. Speece said she had to shift her hands constantly to keep the large insect from climbing onto her arm.

“It was kind of scary because I didn’t know what it was going to do,” she said. Overall, “it was super fun.”

Students saw and learned about a possum, an African black-footed penguin and a South American porcupine with a prehensile tail.

Principal Liz Conrad said she was pleased with the program and how it was received by students. It’s an opportunity they don’t have every day.

“Short of taking them all to the Columbus Zoo … this is the way to bring the animals to us,” she said.

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