Swaner EcoCenter reveals exotic animals as ‘Nature’s Ninjas’ | ParkRecord.com

Swaner EcoCenter reveals exotic animals as ‘Nature’s Ninjas’

Ninjas, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, originated in ancient Japan and practiced ninjutsu – the martial art of stealth and deception.

The animal world has its own ninjas, and a few of them are on display at the Swaner EcoCenter through April 28.

"Nature's Ninjas," an exhibit facilitated by Canada's Little Ray's Nature Centres, features nearly 30 animals that have interesting defense mechanisms, said Laura Fox, zookeeper and exhibit manager.

"The animals we showcase defend themselves either by camouflage, venom, armor, or are able to do something quick," Fox said.

He is completely covered in armor and rolls himself up into a ball to protect himself...” Laura Fox, “Nature’s Ninjas” exhibit manager

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"Nature's Ninjas" includes an array of reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, birds and mammals including ball pythons, a bearded lizard, geckos, tortoises, box turtles, toads, frogs, tarantulas, parakeets, African pygmy hedgehogs, a porcupine and a three-banded Brazilian armadillo.

The porcupine is named Quilbur, and the armadillo is named Wilson (after the volleyball Tom Hanks' character "befriends" in the film "Castaway"), Fox said.

"Wilson is our mascot, and the reason we call him Wilson is because he is completely covered in armor and rolls himself up into a ball to protect himself," she said.

Another specimen, a bearded lizard named Toothless, after the dragon the character of Hiccup adopts in the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise.

Photos: Nature’s Ninjas exhibit

The displays for the traveling exhibits include English and Spanish information charts.

"A lot of the animals that are part of the exhibit are interactive, so we can bring them out and show them to the visitors," Fox said.

Quilbur, a two-year-old American porcupine, is one of the main attractions, according to Fox.

"He often likes to feed, so people can get close to him," she said. "He's safe, because porcupines can't shoot their quills, like many people think. They only release their quills on contact."

Quilbur has 30,000 toothpick-like quills, mixed into his fur.

"They all have little barbs on the end, and if he were to swing his tail, the quills would embed in your skin," Fox said.

Porcupines are also not aggressive animals, she said.

"You will never see a porcupine chasing anything," Fox explained. "But if they are threatened, they will show their back, which has a lot of quills."

Fox enjoys showing Quilbur and his friends to the public.

"People can meet animals that they would never have a chance to encounter," she said. "I believe if you get to see an animal up close, you learn to care about it more."

This is important for the animals that are endangered or are victims of habitat shrinkage, Fox said.

"If you learn about these animals, you may be more likely to donate money to help preserve the animals and their homes, or do more research and help them," she said.

Part of Little Ray's Nature Centre's mission is to rescue and rehabilitate exotic animals, and educate the public about them, according to Fox.

"We don't get any of the animals from the wild," she said. "Nearly 80 percent of our animals come to us by families of owners who have passed away or owners who didn't want them or couldn't care for them anymore."

The other 20 percent of the animals were born in captivity.

"Since our animal population has been growing, we have been expanding our work into the United States," Fox said.

In addition to two permanent zoos in Canada, Little Ray's features some traveling exhibits, including Nature's Ninjas, that set up and stay in one area for three months at a time.

"We have one in Miami, one here and we have another American team who travel an exhibit in the upper Eastern United States every weekend," Fox said.

Some of the "Nature's Ninjas'" animals — such as hedgehogs and the armadillo — are nocturnal, said Hunter Klingensmith, the EcoCenter's visitor experience coordinator.

"We are planning to host some nighttime events so people can see these animals in action," she said.

Klingensmith and Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter Executive Director Nell Larson learned about Little Ray's Nature Centre while attending an American Alliance of Museums conference last year.

They met Paul "Little Ray" Goulet, and struck up a conversation.

"He really likes skiing, and he was super excited we were from Park City," Klingensmith said. "He was interested in bringing an exhibit here."

Klingensmith said "Nature's Ninjas" is already one of the Swaner EcoCenter staff's favorite exhibits.

"It is definitely one of the most hands-on," she said. "We're excited about how interactive and personal it is. "

Through April 28
Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive
$9 for adults; $5 for children ages 3-12
435-649-1767
swanerecocenter.org