Mike Kohlreiser of Rainforest Live and Kelly the parrot at Brayton School on Monday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — How do you get a kid to recycle? Reward her by letting her touch an alligator.
Making a personal contact with the creatures that inhabit the fragile eco-systems of the tropical rainforest is way to impress upon children what's at risk.
That's the purpose of the nonprofit Rainforest Live.
"We want you to come away from our program with an appreciation for animals like this," said Mike Kohlreiser, director and founder of Rainforest Live, as children seated on the auditorium floor at Brayton Elementary School squealed at the corn snake wrapped around his arm on Monday.
"If you think they're cool, if you think they are funny, if you can get an emotional connection to them, I think you're going to be more willing to help them out in the wild and that's what our program is really all about."
Part wildlife exhibit, part environmental lesson, Rainforest Live offered up a menagerie that had the children alternately screaming and laughing. The short presentation, sponsored by the school's Parent-Teacher Organization, was a taste of the full program being held Monday at 5 and 7 p.m. for the general public.
"We want them to see what we're going to lose if we don't take care of it," Kohlreiser said after the half-hour program.
Kohlreiser introduced Kelly, a blue macaw that circled above the children several times to their squeals; a young green Amazon parrot named Charlie who squeaked out a "hello" and a toucan; a bundle of snakes, with the help of fourth-grade teacher Marie McCarron, to the delight of her students; two kinkajous named Jack and Jill who wowed the crowd with the their climbing skills and prehensile tails.
The showstopper was capuchin monkey named Rascal who had the crowd roaring when she proceeded to "monkey around."
Rainforest Live has been criss-crossing the nation for 21 years from its headquarters in western Ohio, bringing its message of environmental responsibility to a waiting list of schools. It was last in the region about five years ago. The animals, while found in the rainforest, were all bred in captivity in the United States.
Along with the animal antics, Kohlreiser delivered a sing-song lecture on the importance of the rainforest, its teeming species and the flora and fauna treasures yet to be uncovered. Slash and burn agriculture, exploitation and mining are all endangering its unique ecology, he said.
"Habitat destruction - that's the No. 1 problem for animals in the wild today," Kohlreiser told the children, encouraging them to study up on the rainforest. "But it's a problem we can all be part of the solution of, too ... The more knowledge we get the better equipped we are to make a difference."
He encouraged them to think about energy conservation and recycling as ways that they could help.
And the alligators? Children who come to Monday night's presentations with the "reminder" note being sent home can, yes, touch an alligator.
"Recycle! We have to take care of our Earth if we want the Earth to take care of us," Kohlreiser said.
Monday night's presentations are at 5 and 7 p.m.; cost is $5 person to support the organization, with children age 3 and younger free.
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