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Wildlife Expert Visits ESF

Andrew Simmons shows predators, is well received by audience

Wildlife expert Andrew Simmons, who specializes in predators, brought several animals to ESF's Marshall Auditorium Tuesday and captivated the packed room with his presentation. Simmons emphasized the survival methods of predator animals and factors that contribute to their endangerment, and dispelled popular misconceptions about these animals being inherently violent.

Simmons' presentation featured a golden eagle, Eurasian eagle owl, American alligator, black throat monitor, Burmese python and the crowd favorite, a Syrian brown bear cub.

The lecture began with Simmons describing the trial and error method of learning used by birds of prey. As he spoke, a large, black golden eagle perched on his hand. Simmons introduced the next animal as the same type of owl used in the Harry Potter movies, better known as the Eurasian eagle owl. The owl, which is the largest in the world, initially tried to fly away before settling on Simmons arm. Once it was still, Simmons fed the owl two rodents, much to the audience's surprise. The Eurasian eagle owl has been referred to as the "ghost owl" because of the fuzz-covered feathers that make its flight silent, Simmons said.

He then brought out a 3-year-old American alligator, which can grow up to a foot a year in the wild, Simmons said. As one of Simmons's assistants brought the alligator around the audience, he explained that alligators become a danger to humans only after they are fed and loose their fear of humans.

Simmons brought black throat monitor, a large lizard native to Africa, to the stage next.

"You don't see people on the Discovery Channel wrestling and pinning six-to-eight-foot lizards," Simmons said, referring to the danger of interacting with lizards compared to alligators, which simply go unconscious when flipped on their backs.

Five audience members were then called on stage to assist with the next animal, an 18-foot-long Burmese python. The snake can consume whole animals four times the size of its head and only eat every few weeks, Simmons said. He then taught the audience how to determine the sex of a snake and offered a warning.

"This one was bred and raised in captivity so it's used to being handled," he said. "So don't pick up snakes in the forest and try to see what sex they are."

Once full grown, the python has no natural predators and isn't a risk to humans - usually.

"The only time you have to worry about them is when they are in their enclosure, ready to feed," Simmons said.

Simmons's final animal was a Syrian brown bear cub and a crowd favorite.

"The bear was adorable," said Sabrina Green, a freshmen wildlife science major.

Simmons the belief that bears spend the winter in a deep slumber is false; they are easily awakened. Like the python, brown bears have no natural enemies once they are full grown. He said that bears are incorrectly identified as carnivores and should be labeled omnivores because they eat almost anything.

"The only thing I've noticed that bears won't eat is lima beans," he said. "And I agree with them; it's a disgusting vegetable."

Students in the audience said they enjoyed the presentation.

"I thought it was really interesting," said Tim Hornstein, a junior bioprocess and engineering major. "It gives us more respect for animals."

Simmons' presentation even inspired some students to attempt to follow in his footsteps.

"I love animals so that was awesome," said Brittany Laxton, a sophomore biology major. "I want to have my own zoo now."

By Jessica Lynn Siart ES '12