Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Animals Go to School; Kids Get Up-Close Wildlife Lesson

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Animals Go to School; Kids Get Up-Close Wildlife Lesson

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Times-Union staff writer

It will go down as the day the Siberian tiger, bear cat, grizzly bear and ball python came to school. And they left students at Hendricks Avenue Elementary School goggled-eyed and enthralled.

Jim Fowler, host of Wild Kingdom and Spirit of Adventure, brought the animals to the Southside school Friday for a wildlife lesson in the flesh. There were no rhinos for Fowler to charge or water buffaloes to wrestle by their horns.

But there was a 400-pound black grizzly that stood on its hind legs and an alligator snapping turtle whose powerful jaws snapped a stick in two.

Fowler, a world-renowned naturalist, regularly visits schools to "let the animals represent themselves" and slip in a conservation message. While in Jacksonville, he went to Hendricks Avenue and Windy Hill Elementary, also on the Southside.

During his more than 35 years on television, Fowler has been a regular on The Tonight Show and a wildlife correspondent for NBC's Today Show. He now has a program on the Animal Planet network.

Leaning on a table in Hendricks Avenue's courtyard, Fowler began his presentation. "What would you do If a 500-pound gorilla started beating his chest and running down a hill toward you," he asked a group of kindergarten and first-grade students.

Their answers were: Run, stay still, be quiet or wrestle it.

Fowler told them not to look a gorilla in the eye because he will think he's being challenged.

He pulled a ball python out of the pocket of his safari suit, draped it around his neck and said he had nothing against snakes. But he noted they've never smiled at him and said, "Good day."

On the other hand, they can be a great way to get a seat on the subway, said Fowler, who grew up in South Georgia and lives in New York.

Next up was a binturong, better known as a bear cat, who demonstrated that he could drink from a bottle while holding it himself. …

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