By MORGAN MANNS
The Performing Arts Center at Fostoria Junior/Senior High School will be transformed into a tropical rain forest come Thursday.
The sounds and sights of the rain forest will come alive during a public performance of “Live on Stage, The Rainforest” beginning at 6 p.m.
The plot to bring the show to Fostoria began last year when the Animals Leadership Team at Longfellow wanted to bring knowledge about different animals to the school in an interactive way.
“The purpose of the leadership teams is to do an activity or service toward something. But with (Longfellow) kids being so young, we offer it more as a time where students are exposed to something they might not learn in an everyday school setting,” Longfellow and Riley elementary schools’ Principal Kelli Bauman said.
Each team is given the task of creating a goal for the year or a project they’ll complete.
The group of approximately 15 students were able to discuss, research and decide to invite Understanding Wildlife, Inc. out of Wapakoneta to perform one of its shows locally.
While students have interacted with animals in other ways — such as field trips to the zoo — she said this particular event will provide a learning experience as well as give families an activity to do in town.
“I like that they found something local that could be a benefit to the whole school district and the community that we could also learn from,” Bauman said.
Although the organization was not able to make it last year, the Animals Leadership Team was able to organize an event to take place this fall.
The show will promote rain forest conservation featuring a variety of birds, snakes, monkeys, alligators and more. The interactive program will provide education as well as entertainment for area families and students.
“Our goal is to share some of these really awesome, amazing creatures with everybody and let them see basically what we stand to lose if we do not take care of our earth right now,” Mike Kohlrieser, head animal trainer, said. “No one wants to be lectured to so we present the show almost in a way where it appears the animals are running the show as opposed to the trainer. There’s a lot of comedy intertwined throughout the show to keep kids and adults interested.”
As an accredited facility with Zoological Association of America, Understanding Wildlife, Inc. receives its animals through the association and are kept at a 7-acre compound in Wapakoneta. Kohlrieser said the compound is not a touring facility and doesn’t provide the option for visitors; however, the organization has a trailer in which the animals travel to and from events.
The animals are transported in a custom-made transporter that is climate controlled and equipped with fresh air exchangers, multiple backup heating systems and refrigeration for the variety of unique diets prepared daily for the different species.
Kohlrieser’s interest in these exotic animals began before he could even walk. His father was an animal handler and he spent his days working and helping with the animals.
In the 1980s, Kohlrieser and his wife Marcia became involved in organizations such as World Wildlife Fund and became increasingly aware of problems specifically in the rain forest. In 1992, Understanding Wildlife, Inc. was formed with a goal to “educate and inspire individuals to get involved and make this a better world” for humans and animals alike to live in.
It started offering shows in Ohio, then Michigan and Indiana before requests came pouring in from all over the country. Now, the organization performs approximately 500 times per year, traveling coast to coast.
Over the past 25 years, Kohlrieser said various school officials have reached out to them more than a month after performing to tell them their students continue to talk about the show.
“We love nothing more than to hear things like that,” he said. “Not only are we making an impact on these children but it sticks; they lock into this message when they see how cool these animals really are. And that’s our goal. We offer a fun, exciting yet educational program and deliver a message that will make a lasting impact.”
Fostoria students in grades preK-6 will have the opportunity to witness the show during the school day Thursday. They will offer free showings at Longfellow, Riley and Fostoria Intermediate elementary schools for students and staff before the main event at 6 p.m. at FJSHS, 1001 Park Ave.
The one-hour performance is open to the public. Tickets are $5 each and free for children ages 3 and younger. Tickets will be available for purchase at the doors, which will open about one hour prior to showtime.
For more information on the show or the organization, visit therainforestlive.com.