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Students make donation to zoo while learning about native animals in Nebraska

December 21, 2018

GERING — Lincoln Elementary Students are putting the spirit of Christmas into action with a large donation to the Riverside Discovery Center.

The zoo was making a visit to the school on Thursday to introduce education animal Bonnie the bobcat to the students. The third and fourth grade students decided to not have a gift exchange and, instead, gave gifts to the animals at the zoo as part of the zoo’s Jingle Paws program.

Student Isidra Castro thought it would be nice for the zoo to have gifts.

“Normally, the zoo animals don’t get as much as other people,” Castro said. “We wanted to be able to give to others.”

Cara Schlothauer and her classmates felt it was a good idea for the animals to have some toys to play with.

“I think it’s special because we get to help the animals,” Schlothauer said. “We are able to give stuff to them to be able to play.”

The students agreed it was important to give back to the zoo because they have provided a lot of joy to the children at Lincoln Elementary. Among the items donated were a light up hula hoop, cereal, oatmeal and dog toys.

“It always warms our hearts when people give to the animals at the zoo,” said Michael Gillen, assistant head zoo keeper.

Gillen, Alex Henwood, education curator, and Bethany Morlind, education intern, were grateful for the donation and brought Bonnie the bobcat to educate the students for the day. It was Bonnie’s first time being around so many people at once.

Bonnie arrived at the zoo last fall after it was determined she could not be returned to the wild.

“She was sick for a long time and, because she was around people, she has no fear of people,” Gillen said. “Anytime she sees people, she comes running and that is not something you want in a wild animal.”

The rehabilitation center in Indiana had taken Bonnie in when she was found. She had pneumonia and her recovery took a long time. At that point, she had imprinted on humans and it would no longer be safe for her to return to the wild.

“The rehab center was looking for a spot for her and we were fortunate that we could bring her here and have her become part of our zoo family,” Gillen said.

Bobcats, which get their name from having a bobbed tail and being a cat, are native to western Nebraska and can be found throughout the state. In the wild, they normally run and hide from people, only hunting at dusk and dawn. They like to eat birds, but their favorite food is rabbit. They occasionally catch something as large as a deer, but that is too much food for one sitting.

“They will bury what they don’t eat and come back to it for several meals,” Gillen said.

Gillen said Cyrano, a 19-year old bobcat who lives at the zoo will still display this behavior.

“One of his favorite things is he takes hay and buries his food until sunset and then ‘hunts’ for the food,” Gillen said. “He rarely eats with the keepers there.”

Gillen was appreciative of the gift from the students, which will enrich their lives at the zoo.

“Imagine staying in your classroom a whole year and nothing every changes,” Gillen said. “We introduce them to different smells and things to play with that will make their life at the zoo better.”

Henwood said the school is a big supporter of the zoo and the gift on Thursday was complete surprise to her.

“It helps the zoo tremendously in providing enrichment and treats,” Henwood said.

Bonnie’s visit was not only an educational outreach opportunity, it was to show how well Bonnie has been around other people.

“She did a really good job,” Henwood said.

Henwood said even though Bonnie is an education animal and views people as food and a fun time, people should not keep one as pets.

“They do not make great pets, but it is nice that we can show the importance of bobcats in nature and provide education about wild animals,” Henwood said.

Donations to Jingle Paws can still be made. The zoo will also host Wild Lights at the Zoo Dec. 21 and 22. For more information on either program, contact the Riverside Discovery Center at 308-630-6236.

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