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Zoo Gets Families in Touch With Wildlife

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The giant African frog generated a chorus of oohs and ahs, a baby rat won the heart of a 12-year-old and nobody realized they were petting a chinchilla.

“Close your eyes,” Tish Flynn instructed the adults and children at the Santa Ana Zoo on Saturday. “The saying goes, if you touch a chinchilla with your eyes closed you don’t know you’re touching it.” Sure enough, as Flynn brushed the animal up against their outstretched fingers, not one person felt the animal’s soft hairs. So soft was the fur, all insisted they had touched nothing.

The occasion was “Family Adventures,” a workshop designed to allow children and their parents to get a look at, and hands on, some zoo animals outside of their cages.

Flynn, an education specialist who conducts monthly workshops at the zoo, said the classes were organized to promote awareness and enjoyment of animals. The animal-handling workshop is one of a series at the zoo.

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In addition to the oversize frog (“he looks like an alien or something,” said Ed Galisewski of Trabuco Canyon), baby rat and chinchilla, there was a host of animals to touch--Charlotte the Pig, Khaki the duck, a silkie chicken, a red tail hawk, an opossum and an assortment of goats.

“So many people come to a zoo, and they never get a chance to talk to someone who works with the animals,” Flynn said. “It’s a good time to learn a bit more about all the special animals.”

Many of the animals in the zoo’s educational programs are discarded pets or wild animals that have come into contact with humans and have lost their ability to survive in their normal habitats, Flynn said.

Flynn allowed the parents and their children to pet a large rabbit and feel the spiny hairs of a hedgehog.

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On this day, even rats, the long-tailed rodents usually associated with contagious disease, didn’t seem so repulsive.

“Ooh. It feels like hot rubber,” exclaimed Lauryn Doesburg, 12, as she ran a forefinger over the body of a newborn rat. “He’s really soft and cute.”

Lauryn attended the workshop with her mother, Michal, and her brother, Chris, 8. Michal Doesburg seemed as fascinated by many of the animals as her children and eagerly stepped up to touch, except when it came to the snakes.

“I’ve never really been around snakes like this before,” she said, shuddering as she quickly handed a California king snake to her son.

Doesburg may not have been enamored with the snakes, but Greg Brown, 13, of Fullerton loved them, especially a South American boa constrictor that weighs 20 pounds and stretches out to 6 feet, 6 inches.

“I liked the snakes,” said the Fullerton teen-ager. “The big boa started to wrap his head around my neck and that kind of got to me, but I’d still come back and see it again.”

Flynn said other workshops offered by the zoo include “Birds of a Feather,” which explores the creatures using live birds, feathers and microscopes, and “Breakfast with the Beasts,” a continental breakfast, guided tour and feeding session with animals.

For more information about workshop dates and costs, call the zoo’s educational department at (714) 836-4000.

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