Kansas City Zoo education instructor Sondra Bowers believes helping preserve the environment doesn’t have to be complicated. Rather, it can start with a little research and simple yet powerful changes to one’s daily routine. This time of year, Bowers highlights a specific example – chocolate.
With Halloween approaching, Bowers encouraged visitors at the Palmer Center to opt for sustainably harvested chocolate this year. That means avoiding companies that engage in clear-cutting to obtain palm oil. According to the organization Act for Wildlife, sustainably responsible options encompass many popular favorites, including Hershey’s, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder, Lindt, Mars, Twix and Milky Way.
However, Bowers didn’t persuade her senior audience on her own – instead, she brought along a cast of animals native to the Brazilian rainforest: a milky toad, a vibrant blue and gold macaw and a rainbow boa.
“For this group of people, their great-grandchildren won’t be able to see some of these animals unless we really start thinking about what we do as adults,” said Bowers.
Bowers and the Kansas City Zoo strive to illustrate this message by facilitating personal interactions between humans and animals with their traveling zoomobile. They place emphasis on a key lesson: Animals aren’t that different from their human counterparts.
For example, there’s 6-year-old Dartagnan, a brightly colored bird who climbs and dances for her audience. Bowers compares her to a human toddler: She chatters, but not on command, and doesn’t know what the words mean. She’s also notable among her species, because – unlike her siblings – she refuses to fly. Her lifespan is also comparable with a human, with it ranging from 75 to 80 years.
The milky frog, named for the poison it secretes to deter predators, even owes its name from a beloved human icon: Beyoncé.
Yet, for some, this theme becomes more difficult to relate to when it comes to snakes. Bowers said the widespread fear of snakes only makes it more important for people to learn about them. She likes to teach that when snakes – like the zoomobile’s rainbow boa Bentley – flick their tongue, it’s not a threat or danger, but merely their way of smelling.
“We want people to understand that snakes are not slimy,” Bowers explained. “They’re very soft. We want people to realize that they have a place in our world, as much as we do.”
Seniors at the Palmer Center grew less tentative the more time Bentley spent out of his cage, with some even reaching out to touch his scales.
The zoomobile event marked Independence resident Carolyn Kline’s first visit to the Palmer Center. While Kline says she’s always been outspoken about her passion for animals and the environment, the zoo’s visit helped reinforce it. Similarly, she hoped seeing the animals could ignite a similar love and joy in her fellow seniors.
“For older people, it’s just the contact,” Kline said. “The presence of these animals keeps our minds going and alive.”