By ERIN PUSTAY
Butterscotch stretched his long, scaly neck and hissed his little pink tongue. He let it wag in the air, taking in all of the smells that swirled through the Emerson Elementary gymnasium. He waited patiently for the students to file in and take their seats, squirming only slightly when he coiled himself around handler Mick Mayne’s broad shoulders.
“It’s a snake!” students gasped, chattering amongst each other. Some girls screamed, startled while others held their hands to their eyes and walked quickly by.
Cindi Huntsman just smiled. As operator of Stump Hill Farm in Perry Township she is no stranger to the reactions like these.
Tuesday, Hunstman and some of her coworkers brought with them three of their most exotic animal friends to introduce to the students as part of an educational assembly at the school.
As Huntsman talked about Butterscotch, an Albino Burmese Python, Mayne carried him over to the seated children so they could reach up and pet the snake’s scaly back. After running their fingers gingerly over the snake’s smooth back they would turn to each other and laugh.
The assembly was a part of the school’s Right to Read Week activities, themed “Read in the Wildest Places.”
The idea of the theme, according to Debbie Smith, a school counselor and member of the Right to Read committee, was to jump start the student’s interest in reading by including some of things they love most – adventure and animals.
“One thing leads to another,” Smith said. “They may start reading a fiction book about animals, but they want to learn more so they start to read non-fiction.”
Getting to the fiction might take a little prodding, though. That’s where Hunstman comes in.
Students just couldn’t contain their excitement as she introduced the animals. They knew the best was yet to come because a large animal carrier covered with a pink, leopard-print blanket was shaking and rattling off to the side.
They knew who was in that cage.
“Obie!” several of the students yelled excitedly when Maria Tilton helped Chrystal, a white bangle tiger, from the cage. The entire gym erupted with applause.
OK, so it wasn’t Obie, but it was Obie’s best friend and that certainly was the next best thing.
As Tilton walked Chrystal around the gym, the students stretched and strained to watch her big, fluffy paws flop silently on the hardwood floor. Occasionally she would growl, plop to the ground and roll around like a over-grown kitten.
“When she was born,” Huntsman told the kids, “she weighed only pounds.”
Students giggled and gasped thinking about how such a tiny cat could grow to be so big in just 11 short months. They listened carefully to her talk about her parents and asked eager questions about tigers living in the wild.
Hopefully, Huntsman said, that curiosity is just the start to the things they will learn about the majestic animals.
“We are here because we want you to learn more about the animals,” Huntsman told the kids. “There are lots of books you can read to find out more about the animals.”