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Students Ooh And Ahh Over Animals

Each morning, Tim Davidson and Diana Ruhf load everyone in their minivan and head off to school.

“Everyone” in their case is a colorful bunch — a green-winged macaw, blue-tongued skink, gold-kneed tarantula, Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor, red iguana and some Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

“Cyrano likes to talk a lot when we’re on the road,” said Ruhf of the macaw. Ruhf sings a song to Cyrano and waits for him to sing it back. Cyrano bops back and forth to the tune but this time refuses to make a peep.

“Of course, he wants to do it only when we’re driving.”

The pair tours around the United States with the nonprofit organization Wildlife Encounters, giving presentations on the rain forest and its animals to wide-eyed students.

Wednesday’s stop was at A.C. Houghton Elementary School, before driving to Selah, Wash. for a Thursday presentation.

Third-grade teacher Marilyn Post found the organization while searching a website for animal presentations back in August.

“They were booked a year in advance,” Post said.

When Davidson tells the several hundred elementary school students to listen to the hissing cockroaches, it’s clear why their school reservations fill up fast. Not a word is uttered by the mass of little faces inching forward to hear the black dots on a piece of bark.

“There’s some nice and some not-so-nice animals,” Estella Chavez, 9, said. “I wasn’t scared though.”

Davidson and Ruhf both emphasized that protecting the rain forest is required to protect these animals.

“Most of these animals were brought to us because somebody tried to keep them as pets when they should have been in the rain forest,” Davidson said.

Joey Pringle, 9, said he learned those animals need the rain forest to survive.

“We shouldn’t cut down the rain forest’s trees because animals live in them and because they help clean the earth,” he said.

Davidson said these presentations, just an hour long, can have major effects on a child. They did for him, at least.

“Wildlife Encounters came and gave a presentation at my school when I was a third-grader,” he said. “I went home and got books and went on the Internet and drew pictures, but most importantly I went outside to my backyard.”

Contact Natalie Wheeler at or 541-564-4536.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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