Talking to the animals

A mini menagerie of exotic animals visited Cerritos Elementary Tuesday drawing gasps of wonder from the students.

A boa constrictor, an injured turkey vulture, an endangered slow loris and an African pixie frog were some of the wildlife featured in a presentation, called "The Unhuggables," that Wildlife on Wheels, a nonprofit animal health and welfare organization, put on.

"Today we're going to see some exciting animals because they're unhuggable animals," said Melanie Angeles, who gave a lively biology lesson to the students, sharing interesting facts about how the animals behaved. Oddly, some of those facts had to do with armpits.

Jabba the Hut, a male African pixie frog, was the first animal showcased. Angeles directed the students' attention to the frog's orange armpits, which showed that it was a male.

The slow loris, a furry primate about the length of an adult's forearm, looks like a huggable animal, Angeles said, but people should beware because its bite can be toxic. When faced with danger, the slow loris licks its armpit — mixing the enzymes in its saliva with the enzymes in the brachial glands — to create a toxic combination that the animal uses to make predators sick, Angeles said.

Some students were called up to hold a boa constrictor as Angeles explained how it uses special glands on its tongue to smell its surroundings.

Ralph Mancanes, 12, eagerly raised his hand when Angeles asked for volunteers before he knew he had to hold a snake. When he saw assistant Missy Lamar bring out the nearly 5-foot-long snake, Ralph hesitated and asked to sit back down.

"It was so scaly and scary," he said. "So I had to sit down."

He said the snake's scales felt like they were holding onto his fingers and it just made him feel funny.

"I didn't like it at all," he said.

Carla Ornelas, 11, had no problem holding the boa constrictor. She said it felt smooth and heavy and that the snake's fluid motion was interesting.

"It felt kind of like hard water, like it was water that frozen but kind of hot," she said.

The event is a yearly presentation funded by the school's corporate sponsor, Nestlé, second- and third-grade teacher Susan Geib said.

The wildlife show did not directly relate to a lesson, she said. But because Wildlife on Wheels usually brings exotic and endangered animals, the presentation reinforced the science curriculum by showing students the uniqueness of wildlife and the importance of wildlife preservation, she said.

"They get exposed to different wildlife and get an understanding why we need to protect it," she said.

  • ANTHONY KIM covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at
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