Berryville library presents animal education program

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Mary Beth Gunter of the Natural History Educational Company of the Mid-South tells youngsters at the Berryville Public Library about the prairie dog she is holding as part of an educational program Monday.
Billy Stidham / Carroll County News

By Billy Stidham

Children interacted with different animals while learning about them and how they impact the environment on Monday at the Berryville Public Library.

The Natural History Educational Company of the Mid-South (NHECM) brought some furry friends to meet the kids in the library’s summer reading program.

Mary Beth Gunter started by telling the kids about her prairie dogs Lucy and Ethel.

“Prairie dogs have great claws and great teeth,” she said. “Their claws help them dig amazing tunnels where they build prairie dog towns that stretch for miles. They have rooms that are for different things. they have nurseries for their babies, bathrooms, rooms for when it’s cold and rooms for when it’s warm.”

Prairie dogs are found only in North America, Gunter said.

“[Experts] think that there were probably a billion prairie dogs when Lewis and Clark went west,” she said. “Now there are 10 million or less.”

According to Gunter, settlers in the West would do anything they could to get rid of these animals because they viewed them as rodents and were afraid that their cattle would step in a prairie dog hole and break their legs.

“However, these prairie dogs and the American bison have lived side by side happily for centuries,” Gunter said. “The prairie dogs like to eat tall grass … and bison like to eat the soft green grass. In order for that short green grass to grow the taller grass has to be cut down.”

Gunter said prairie dogs are known as keystone animals.

“Other animals and plants rely on them to stay alive,” she said. “If we lose this animal there are many other plants and animals that go extinct.”

The next fluffy friend the kids got to meet was Edward the Angora rabbit. Edward’s fur is not like you see on most rabbits; it’s much thicker, Gunter said.

“French explorers collected [the fur] to make fur products. It doesn’t hurt them to collect their fur,” Gunter said. “It just comes out with a hairbrush and can be collected about twice a year.”

Rabbits make great pets, Gunter said.

“They have the same temperament as a cat,” she said. “[Edward] will run around and if I don’t immediately say hello and pet him he will pop those back feet on the floor and fuss at me.”

Gunter said rabbits don’t sweat.

“When it is really hot outside they slow down so they don’t overheat,” she said. “They can use their ears to control their body temperature. They put their ears up and let a cool breeze hit their ears which cools their blood and circulates through their body.”

Poppy the pig was a crowd favorite.

“She is a mini pot-belly pig, and you can use mini to classify any pot-belly pig that weighs less than 300 pounds,” Gunter said. “They have the same intelligence and can recognize the same amount of words as a 3-year-old human.”

Gunter said pigs have real emotions and cry real tears.

“Their mothers sing to them while they nurse.” Gunter explained. “If you’re going to have pigs it’s good to have two of them because they’re very social. You also have to be careful with their feed and ration it. They have no self-control and will eat until they’re sick.”

The last pair of animals brought the event back around to the library’s space theme and combined it with the frontier theme of the event. Goats Buzz and Woody are twin brothers and they were real crowd-pleasers.

“[They] are twins but they are not identical,” Gunter said, explaining the goats’ different coats. “Their mom is an African pygmy goat and their dad is a Nigerian dwarf goat.”

Most of the animals in the show were off-limits to petting, but Gunter and assistant Susan Rodgers brought the goats around for the children to see and feel.

Ten-year-old Austin said “Poppy the pig” was his favorite animal to see.

“We do [the event] in the summertime,” Rodgers said. “We hit all the libraries all over Arkansas. [The kids] get to learn about the animals and how they help the environment.”

“Kids love animals, I’m a teacher so I’m used to working with kids, too,” said Gunter. “I’m a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher. Half my year is all about energy and the environment. I teach about how the environment is fragile and how we have to protect it.”

“We try to have a wide variety of programs,” said Julie Hall, director of the Berryville Public Library. “Animals are every kid’s favorite, so I think it’s a fun way. What we love about this particular group is they make it really educational. They’re really teaching the kids. It’s always one of the popular events.”

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