What Is Spiky, Shy And A Child’S Delight?


Savannah Helms is wide-eyed with curiosity as she examines a leopard gecko during a Phoenix Zoo show-and-tell of nocturnal animals at Julia Randall Elementary School.

Savannah Helms is wide-eyed with curiosity as she examines a leopard gecko during a Phoenix Zoo show-and-tell of nocturnal animals at Julia Randall Elementary School. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The hedgehog tucked its head into Carrie Flood’s gloved hand, and then peeked out again.

In front of Flood and the tiny spiked ball she held in her hand, more than three-dozen pairs of Julia Randall Elementary third-grade eyes peered at the little creature and his keeper.

“He’s just a baby,” said Flood as the hedgehog turned in her hands to hide his face.

Flood responded by simply turning her hands so the children could see the hedgehog’s face. The children laughed.

Flood works for the Phoenix Zoo as the Zoomobile coordinator. For 30 years, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold Company has provided support for the Zoomobile, an outreach program for the Phoenix Zoo.

“If you went to school in Phoenix, you would be able to see these animals in the zoo,” said Flood. “Freeport-McMorRan would like you to experience what Phoenix children see.”

Flood picked four animals to describe the theme of the presentation, “Nocturnal Animals.”

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Carrie Flood, the Phoenix Zoo’s Zoomobile coordinator, displays the underside of a box turtle to show the students at JRE how the turtle got its name.

She asked the students to describe what defines a nocturnal animal.

“They are active at night!”

“Good eyes!”

“Good smell!”

“Echo-location!”

The children called out. Flood told them they all had good answers.

“They also are nocturnal to avoid being eaten and find things to eat,” she said.

The first critter Flood pulled out from its cage looked like a huge cockroach — and it was — Dexter, the Madagascar cockroach to be exact.

“Without Dexter, we wouldn’t have a rainforest,” said Flood.

She explained that Dexter’s sole job involved rooting on the forest floor to find discarded fruit droppings from other animals’ meals and rotting plant matter, then eat the vegetation and recycle it into a form the live plants can use as fertilizer.

Flood took Dexter and walked in front of each child, each sitting quietly on the floor each with their legs in a criss-cross pattern, hands in lap and voices reduced to an indoor level, to show them the tropical cockroach up close.

The students loved the antenna, but asked why he only had one.

“He should have two antenna, but he lives with his brother,” Flood said.

The teachers giggled, those students with siblings rolled their eyes.

“In some ways, this is better than going to the zoo,” said third-grade teacher Pam Jones.

She appreciated how Flood gave the children much more information than the little plaques next to the cages at the zoo.

In a district with a quarter of the students homeless, as defined by the federal government and 70 percent on free and reduced lunches, rustling up the money for a tank of gas and the entrance fees to the zoo can pose a hardship. The grant provided by Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold Company allows rural students across Arizona a chance to experience what otherwise might be an impossibility.

Flood followed up her cockroach exhibit with a leopard gecko and a turtle.

As she walked by each child, their wiggling and giggling immediately ceased as they focused intently on the critter in front of them.

A couple of the children could not help themselves. They had to wave at the animals and gently ask how they were doing.

“He’s so cool,” said one of the gecko.

The last animal Flood introduced to the third-graders was the pigmy hedgehog.

“Just like any baby, sometimes he poops when I wake him up,” said Flood. “Don’t worry though, I will clean it up.”

And she did, after the children had a chance to laugh and look at the tiny spiked creature.

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