‘Hanna’s Animals’ captures attention with exotic species

Lisa Hlavinka

Promotions assistant Jo Christopher shows off Toddy the palm civet. Its natural home is in the Himalayas, and he is an expert climber. STEVEN MANTILLA| DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

What is a palm civet? Hint: It’s not an automobile.

Last night more than 300 people gathered in the Kiva to see endangered species and rare animals, including an armadillo, a dingo and a legless lizard. Animal trainers from the Columbus Zoo presented “Jack Hanna’s Animals,” sponsored by Kent Student Center Programming.

Toddy, an adorable palm civet, is a South American mammal that looks like a lemur. As he sat on top of an animal trainer’s shoulder eating a banana, promotions assistant Beth Nagoba explained that while Toddy’s favorite food is grapes, he is no longer allowed to eat them in public. Because Toddy likes the juice in the grapes better than the skin, he spits the skin at people, whether they are animal trainers in work clothes or a business man in an Armani suit.

That was just one example of how difficult it can be to train exotic pets, which remain wild even if raised by humans from birth. Jo Christopher, another promotions assistant, said she fears people looking for exotic pets do not understand the risks.

“Any animal as a baby makes a cute pet, but they all get older, and once they go through puberty, they pretty much revert to their natural instincts,” she said.

Exotic animals are often obtained illegally although, some can be bought by trainers. Often when people buy exotic animals, they want to give them away once they realize how difficult they are to train. This creates a problem for zoos and conservatories, which have limited finances to care for these animals. A common example is the American alligator, which is only inches long when it’s born but can grow to 14 feet.

“After (they reach) 4 feet, we don’t even work with them anymore, and that’s our job,” Nagoba said. “Personally, I wouldn’t want an 8-foot alligator in my house. Where would you put it?”

Jag, a 4-month-old clouded leopard, was a crowd favorite. But Christopher said not to be fooled by the cute face and cuddly fur as she pulled her left sleeve back to reveal several scars.

Clouded leopards are believed to be descendants of the saber-toothed tiger, and Jag’s canines will grow to three inches long. Only 500 clouded leopards live in the jungles of Southeast Asia, meaning more are in captivity than in the wild.

A poacher can get about $3,500 for a leopard skin, and in poor Asian countries, it is often a choice between endangering a species and feeding families. The decision is obvious, Nagoba said.

However, Christopher notes that purchasing animal fur and skin is usually more insidious than a leopard fur coat, which most people are against using anyway. For example, the snake skin used in clothing requires the snake to be skinned alive.

“Just think of the horrible death it goes through just for a pair of boots, high heels or a purse,” she said.

Christopher said traveling with the animals impacts people better than a pro-conservation poster. When people see why they are saving the rainforest, they are more likely to act.

“There’s so much that students can do just by themselves, like recycling and reusing, and also being conscious of not buying animal skins,” she said.

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Lisa Hlavinka at [email protected].