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Preschoolers see – and hear – critters up close during wildlife visit

Preschoolers took a walk on the wild side Friday, when a veritable zoo from Tarzana-based Critter Squad Wildlife Defenders paid a visit to Crescenta-Cañada Cooperative Nursery at Lutheran Church in the Foothills.

Daniel Noble, director of operations and tour guide, explained his company takes in animals that were once pets but became too big or unruly to keep at home. One visitor, a Burmese python named Mr. Long John, used to be a tiny baby but grew and grew.

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"In the wild, Mr. Long John can go a month without eating," Noble said. "Now he eats rats, once a week."

Students waited patiently to touch the menagerie of reptiles, insects, amphibians and mammals, reaching out with two fingers or making flat "pancake hands" for them to sit on.

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They learned from Oreo the rat that her species is actually quite clean and were taught distinctions between turtles and tortoises. Bobby the leopard gecko can store water and food in his tail, while Chilly the chinchilla has up to 80 hairs in each hair follicle.

Throughout the lesson, grunting could be heard from a pet carrier at the front of the room. Students wondered what was in the box. After the other animals had been put away, it was time for the main attraction, Ms. Penny the micro pig.

"Ms. Penny already had her snack for the day, but she always wants more treats so she may get loud," Noble said, presenting a gray and white swine.

Ear-splitting bellows filled the room. Some students cried and were escorted out, while others plugged their ears. A brave few approached Penny, with teachers nearby for backup.

"That's the only way she knows how to talk to us," Noble explained.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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