Creature Features

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jessica Garcia-Torres is a brave woman--and a good storyteller. This afternoon, parents and children can see this for themselves when she displays a live tarantula to illustrate an African folk tale during story time at the Northridge Branch Library.

The folk tale, "Anansi Goes Fishing," involves a battle of wits between a spider and a turtle, and there will be a live amphibian along to help illustrate the story. But, let's face it, most everyone in attendance will fret more about the creature that looks like a roller skate in a fur coat than the one that looks like a designer salad bowl.

Garcia-Torres won't be among those fretting. Indeed, when it comes to tarantulas, she's a mix of Florence Nightingale and Dr. Doolittle. After earning a college degree in medical technology, she completed the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College.

Recently, in the course of her daily work managing a Sunland animal-rescue shelter, Wildlife on Wheels, she was called upon to take in a batch of tarantulas. Officials with the state's Fish and Game Department confiscated 300 of the fuzzy spiders that a pet trader was hiding in plastic foam hamburger containers. "The species has gone on the endangered list because of illegal traders," Garcia-Torres said.

The Sunland facility, home to 50 species of endangered animals, was one of several animal-rescue shelters that took in some of the tarantulas. One of these will accompany Garcia-Torres to Northridge.

Some of the other tarantulas will go on a similar outing this summer when Wildlife on Wheels presents the "Anansi Goes Fishing" program--in English and Spanish--at more than 50 libraries in and around the Valley.

Garcia-Torres and her storyteller colleague, Michael Fritzen, also give presentations, sometimes involving an alligator, at senior and special-education centers, including the Braille Institute.

According to Ann Morrissey, director of Wildlife on Wheels, this summer's extensive summer library storytelling program owes its existence to grants from the Permanent Charities Committee of the Entertainment Industries and the Ahmanson Foundation.

The goal is to raise kids' awareness of endangered animals and encourage them to read books about animals.

Northridge librarian Katy Cueba has prepared a special display of books for kids to check out at the Wildlife on Wheels program. Her reading suggestions: "The Three-Legged Cat," by Margaret Mahey; "No More Dodos" (how zoos help endangered wildlife), by Nicholas Nigiotis; "The Secret of the Seal," by Deborah Davis; "The Rarest of the Rare," by Diane Ackerman; and "The Orangutan," by Ruth Ashby.

There's also a book version of "Anansi Goes Fishing," by Eric A. Kimmel.

Another recommendation this weekend is the "Raptor Rehabilitation and Release," a special campfire program on the topic of releasing rehabilitated animals into the wild. Saturday, 7:30-9:30 p.m., at Leo Carrillo State Park, Pacific Coast Highway at the Ventura County Line. Free. Call (818) 880-0350.

BE THERE

"Animal Tales" by Wildlife on Wheels at the Northridge Branch Library, 9051 Darby Ave. today, J 2:30-3:30 p.m. Free. (818) 886-3640. For schedule of programs during July and August at local branches, call (818) 951-3656 or (213) 228-7480.

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