From all around the world, exotic wildlife species have come to visit the Reg Lenna Civic Center and more than 1,000 local elementary students.
On Wednesday, the Arts Council for Chautauqua County hosted Peter Gros, a wildlife expert, who showcased and discussed a variety of animals for the students, as well as teachers and community members.
The program served as an interactive educational opportunity for the students, who came from Bush, Love, Ring, Fletcher, Lincoln and Southwestern elementary schools. Len Barry, program coordinator for the Arts Council, said Gros was asked to participate in order to bring something new and different to the Art Council's youth series.
A blue-fronted Amazon parrot perches on the arm of a local elementary student during a presentation of Peter Gros, wildlife expert, at the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Wednesday.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"When Jack Hanna came a few years ago, it was a big success," said Barry. "So we wanted to do something like that for our youth series. We went shopping around, and we found Peter Gros at Chautauqua last year. This is a little different than some of the arts things we do. So, any time you can mix it up, it keeps kids on the edge of their seat, and there's a little bit of excitement there."
During the hourlong presentation, Gros shared several of his personal travel experiences and encounters with some of the more dangerous species of the natural world, while presenting the students with a menagerie of animals he brought with him.
Some of the animals Gros presented to the young audience included a glass lizard, a macaw, a snapping turtle, an African spur thigh tortoise, a blue-fronted Amazon parrot, a Southern brown hornbill, a hooded vulture, a South American king vulture, a falcon, a Southeast Asian binturong, a green anaconda and an African leopard. The audience was also treated with video footage of Gros' encounters with white sharks, crocodiles, alligators and cheetahs.
Gros, who currently serves as president of the Green Valley Center for Wildlife Education, lectures frequently on wildlife conservation and preservation as an ambassador of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom - which is broadcast on Animal Planet. As an ambassador, he said he prefers speaking to school groups.
"That's the age where their minds and eyes are wide open, and you can really affect their attitudes about the natural world," he said.
Gros' programs are designed to reconnect young people with wildlife and the world around them through personal experiences.
"First of all, I want to eliminate fear of the great outdoors," said Gros. "Some of the older stories have created fear about wildlife, but all we really need to do is learn about them and respect them. I want (students) to see these animals up close, closer than they've ever seen them before; so you can really reconnect them with the natural world. It's one thing to see them on the big screen, but it's something else to see one fly over your head, or what it feels like or look one in the eye."
He concluded his program by stressing the importance of creating hope for younger generations that there are still good things happening in the natural world.
"This planet is resilient, it's not going anywhere. It's not too late (for the natural world). There's a lot of good things happening; as long as we work hard and as long as we're frugal with our resources. They're here for us to use. So, the more we learn about the natural world, and the better we take care of it, the better off we'll all be," he said.
Approximately 200 Bush students stayed after for lunch, provided by the Arts Council, and a question-and-answer session with Gros and his associates.
Gros and his wildlife menagerie will give a second performance at the Reg Lenna today at 10 a.m. Barry said elementary students from Sherman, Falconer and Chautauqua Lake, as well as additional students from Ring Elementary School, will be participating in today's event. The event is open to the public, and tickets are available at $5 per person.