By Jessie Forand/ECHO
Saying hello to the fennec fox (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
We at ECHO were thrilled to have Wild Encounters join us for ChampFest.
Based in Rochester, New Hampshire, Wildlife Encounters offers educational programming with live presentations using animals that were injured, found by law enforcement, abandoned or abused, or were bred specifically for educational and conservation efforts.
On Saturday, Feb. 21, Owner/Director Derek Small and Wildlife Educator Jennifer Gibbs brought a few special guests, the CHAMPions of Conservation.
In his presentation Small drew connections between the efforts of us in the Lake Champlain region, who work to keep our waters healthy for ourselves and our lake monster, and other creatures who work to make the world a vibrant habitat for all.
Before bringing out his friends, though, Small asked audience members to take the conservation pledge, committing to the planet and promising to protect it.
Since small was born, he said the world’s animal population has dropped by about 40 percent. Some species have had success stories, but others are disappearing at alarming rates.
One happy ending took place in Yellowstone, where wolves, reintroduced in 1995 after a 70-year absence, had a positive effect on both the ecology and geography and helped other species thrive.
Cajun the American alligator (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
Small introduced his friend, Cajun, who was found by police in 2007. North America is the only continent that acts as habitat to both alligators and crocodiles.
Alligators live mainly in the south and can survive in icy waters, though Small said they likely wouldn't thrive in Lake Champlain, which is currently completely frozen.
The American alligators’ story is a sad one, but with a happy outcome. Small explained hunters preyed on the animals and their crocodile cohorts for food and clothing. Water quality was also not maintained during the last century.
Because of this, American crocodiles became endangered.
American alligators, though, have made an incredible comeback, Small said. Once water quality – and peoples’ habits – changed and hunting became regulated, the alligators were not considered endangered.
This offers a life lesson, according to Small: if we have bad habits and know there is a better choice, we can do better for ourselves, other animals, and the planet.
“New habits can do great things,” he said.
Bennett's wallaby takes a stroll through the crowd (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
As European explorers took to the seas centuries ago, Small explained, they were surprised to find in Australia something similar to animals at home. The Bennett’s wallaby was seen grazing and depositing its waste much the same way rabbits did.
This act makes the wallaby a CHAMPion in conservation because it works to maintain a balance of life, by grazing on carbon-based plants then reusing that carbon to fertilize soil.
When other animals arrive and step in its waste, they push it – and seeds on the ground – into the earth. This helps plants grow, Small said.
Cute overload: the fennec fox (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
Just as invasive aquatic species continue to harm Lake Champlain, pests cause problems all over the world.
Small said the fennec fox has a diet made up mainly of these pesky bugs and by eating them it helps keep populations in check.
Thanks to its diet, the fennec fox can survive in the desert without having to drink water, Small explained. The water inside the bugs it eats provides enough to live.
Another fun fennec fact: it naturally and without selective breeding has the largest ears of any animal when compared to its head size.
The frosty February isn't this guy's fault! (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
This creature has gotten a lot of backlash lately, faulted for its prediction of six additional weeks of winter.
But, Small said, that’s not really fair.
In German folklore, when the hedgehog was spotted emerging from hibernation, spring was surely just around the corner.
When settlers made their way to America, they celebrated seeing the similar-looking groundhog.
Those listening in on the Wildlife Encounters presentations, were invited to get up close and personal with the hedgehog, while the other critters were meant to be admired from afar only.
Checking out the hedgehog (Jessie Forand/ECHO)
Check back soon for info on Wildlife Encounters’ next visit during Mudfest in April and be sure to come to ChampFest before it ends March 3!