Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 12, 2013

Program introduces Taylor students to exotic animals

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Elizabeth the African baboon climbed walls and hung from basketball goals in the Taylor Primary School gymnasium Tuesday.

Kids giggled and screamed at her antics.

“She’s probably the biggest troublemaker we’ve ever seen,” said Larry Battson, as Elizabeth climbed to his shoulders and grabbed his hair.

Battson, his wife and a host of animals from around the world made the drive to Kokomo Tuesday to teach Taylor Primary students to appreciate nature and the animals that inhabit it.

The team from Wildlife Educational Services near Greenwood speaks at 200 schools across the country every year.

“We realize there’s a future generation of scientists and zoologists here,” Battson said. “We want to give them an appreciation of the outdoors.”

And he hopes to inspire a few of them.

He said the head veterinarian at the Buffalo Zoo saw his program as a child and was inspired to pursue a career helping wild animals.

It was the wild animals who were helping the children learn Tuesday.

Battson walked around the gym holding a gila monster. The black and orange lizard looked like it was made of hundreds of tiny beads woven in an intricate pattern.

Battson said the Navaho Indians used to use the gila monster’s skin to get ideas for bead patterns for their jewelry.

But it’s not wise to get too close to them.

“They’re the only poisonous lizard we have in the United States,” Battson told the kids. “They’re rare. They’re hardly ever seen in the wild.”

They stay in underground caves during the day and come out at night to eat, he said.

Battson showed the children a timber wolf before bringing Elizabeth out to play.

The baboon was a favorite among the children — including third-grader Quinten Tucker.

“It kept crawling all over and jumping on the basketball rim,” Quinten said with a laugh.

He learned baboons are the world’s smartest creatures, he said.

The python, on the other hand, might be the world’s scariest, he said.

Was Quinten afraid when Battson pulled Itty Bitty the python snake out of a box?

“Very much,” the third-grader said.

Robert Dunn was a little bit braver. The Taylor student volunteered to hold Itty Bitty.

He held his arms out like tree branches and stood perfectly still as the snake wrapped itself around his neck and arms and legs.

Other students screamed as the snake slithered around his body.

“Robert, you look good in snake,” Battson said as he laughed. “Let’s pretend that we were in a rain forest, and this snake was in a tree. We’d probably never see it because of the color of its skin. They’d blend in.”

The children learned the snake can taste the air when it sticks its tongue out.

Meanwhile, the school principal and three teachers got a taste of the snake.

Last week, the primary school students learned about helping others by raising money for Battson’s animal rescue, which he’s operated for 35 years.

They knew that if they raised $500, the principal and three teachers would kiss a snake. The children raised $550.

So the four women puckered up and, one by one, took their turns giving Itty Bitty a smooch.

“It was squishier than I thought it would be,” one said.

Another described it as a cold experience.

Battson said the money the children raised for the rescue would help him greatly.

He already has rescued more than a dozen alligators being raised illegally in the state, he said. And it takes money to care for those animals.

“We really appreciate the love our friends at Taylor Primary have showed us,” he said.

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