Empire students get visit from tropical creature | NevadaAppeal.com
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Empire students get visit from tropical creature

TERI VANCE

Empire Elementary School students were introduced Wednesday to a slow-moving visitor, Pokey.

“I wish I had one so I could touch it,” Marisol Lopez, 7, told a group of her friends.

Students were instructed to look at but keep their hands away from a two-toed sloth on loan from the Sierra Safari Zoo in Reno.

The school is holding a penny drive to raise money for the zoo.

“This is one of the animals you’re helping to feed when you bring in money for the penny drive,” explained counselor Hollie Miller. “He’s just a baby.”

Pokey will turn 1 year old in July.

Miller occasionally brings exotic animals from the zoo into the school as part of a program developed by Dale McDaniel, a special-education coordinator and co-founder of the zoo.

“I always try to keep at least one animal in my office,” she said. “Today, I’m lucky to have two. When the children get emotional or out of control, the animals have a real calming effect.”

They are beneficial to the children who don’t suffer emotional problems as well.

“Many of the students here have never had the opportunity to see animals other than dogs and cats,” she said. “They become so attentive and interested in these animals.”

She and the children are raising a parrot, which she takes home every night and brings to school each day.

Pokey, named for his sharp claws and slow-moving nature, is a member of the Choloepus didactylus species. The two-toed sloth is native to tropical rain forests and spends most of its life hanging upside down from trees, coming down once a week to urinate and defecate.

Because of the anatomy of their limbs, sloths can’t stand or walk like most mammals, but must sprawl awkwardly on a flat surface and almost drag their bodies along. They are extremely slow, but are excellent climbers and swimmers.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Ashlie Frerking, 7. “It’s little, and I like it because it hangs on.”

Students described Pokey’s physical characteristics after looking at him.

“He was small and furry,” said Chantal Tores, 7. “I liked his face and his eyes. I like brown eyes.”

Others used their imaginations.

“Maybe he’s real soft and real warm,” theorized Cindy Ortiz, 7. “Maybe he’s sweet. He’s really cute.”

Zoo officials will bring in a variety of animals to for a special assembly April 9 at the school.

Contact Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1272.