By Ben Rodgers
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park Animal of the Month. Each month The Press will bring readers a new animal featured at the NEW Zoo in Suamico.
SUAMICO – He likes to sleep, play with his toys and teach visitors to the NEW Zoo all about himself and his animal friends.
Rollie, a three-banded armadillo, is this month’s animal of the month.
Native to South America, the three-banded armadillo is a nocturnal, bug eater with some tough skin.
“He is a great example of a species with built-in protection, so we talk a lot about his armor,” said Angela Kawski, education and volunteer programs coordinator at the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park.
Rollie’s armor is not a shell. It’s made from the same material as fingernails, keratin.
“Their armor and their muscles are so strong that they only have one natural predator, which is the jaguar, when they’re fully grown,” Kawski said.
The three-banded armadillo is actually capable of rolling into a ball to avoid predators, while the nine-banded armadillo that can be found in the U.S. uses its muscles to jump in the air and scare off predators.
Rollie has been a zoo fixture since 2005. He likes to nap during the day. But when he is awake it’s a different story.
“He’s so energetic and playful,” Kawski said. “He loves to play with his toys.”
As a nocturnal animal, Rollie’s eyesight isn’t the greatest, so he would use his whiskers to help find food in nature.
Because he is so different, Rollie is one of the most popular Ambassador Animals at the NEW Zoo.
There are 35 different species that are Ambassador Animals and their roles are to help educate the public.
“Education is something that’s important to the zoo,” Kawski said. “As an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institution, it’s something that’s always been at the heart of our mission.”
Visitors to the NEW Zoo have numerous opportunities to learn with and about the Ambassador Animals.
Most programs are available in the summer and include amphitheater chats, exhibit chats and animal encounters.
But those who want a more personal experience can pre-schedule classes, tours, camp programs, homeschool workshops, overnight programs and more.
“This is part of a bigger picture,” Kawski said. “Part of the reason we exist as a zoo is to connect people with animals, and when they connect with them it helps them want to make a difference to save animals.”
The NEW Zoo is a firm believer that once someone gets a first-hand experience, his or her perspectives change.
“Getting to see an animal is one thing, but going to touch it, or feed it, or to have it make a painting with you, that’s one thing that will stick with you forever,” Kawski said.
Every year close to 30,000 people partake in educational programs at the NEW Zoo.
Rollie is only part of those programs. Other ambassadors include a porcupine, penguins, turtles, hedgehogs and more.
Programs can be tailored to anyone of any age, and with so many animals the possibilities are endless.
“There’s always something new and every program has a different purpose,” Kawski said.
For more information about the Animal Ambassadors and the programs offered at the NEW Zoo, visit newzoo.org.