Exotic animals highlight Earth Day program in Janesville

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Anna Marie Lux
Monday, April 21, 2014

JANESVILLE--Maybe a hissing cockroach is just what we need to appreciate the world anew on Earth Day.

Noelle Tarrant is counting on it.

The licensed animal educator is bringing her cockroaches and a menagerie of animals from around the world to Rotary Gardens on Saturday, April 26. She is hoping the exotic creatures will kindle interest in faraway places, where the survival of many species hangs in the balance.

Before you turn up your nose at the cockroach, let Noelle explain:

“This is an insect that a lot of people would step on,” she said. “But they are important to the rainforest in Madagascar, where they break down material on the forest floor.”

Like 99 percent of all cockroach species, the hissing cockroach is not a pest. And it does not inhabit human dwellings.

Stay close to Noelle and you are sure to learn more.

Before the Westfield woman became an animal educator she taught nursery school in New York. In the early 1990s, Noelle started giving animal programs full time. Today she has about 40 mammals and reptiles representing 20 species.

“I'm about education,” she said. “I don't want people to walk away from an insect or an animal without knowing something about it.”

Did she mention you will be able to hold one of the hissing cockroaches, which are shiny brown, oval shaped and fill up most of a child's hand? Yes, they really do hiss, but only when they fight or want to warn other roaches of danger.

“I like to watch how people shy away from the insect and then all of a sudden they want to hold it,” Noelle said.

In addition to cockroaches, she is bringing a monitor lizard, bearded dragons, a chinchilla, kinkajou and coatimundi. The kinkajou and coatimundi are both mammals related to raccoons.

Noelle also will bring a baby wallaby.

“The wallaby is on a feeding schedule every three hours, so she stays at my side,” Noelle explained.

Noelle will use the wallaby to explain how marsupials are born no bigger than jelly beans and how they develop in their mother's pouch. She also will show how the coatimundi loves to adorn itself with smells.

“In the wild, they rub flowers or berries all over themselves,” Noelle said. “I'll bring some perfume for them to rub on their bodies.”

Noelle is leaving her 15-foot python at home because he is getting too old to travel. In his place she will bring a young, 6-foot  Burmese python, and she'll talk about how many people are afraid of snakes.

Many of Noelle's animals are rescues and cannot be released into the wild. Some, like the coatimundi, are often unfamiliar to people in the United States.

“I've had animals that people don't even know exist,” she said. “But once you know about them you care more about the world where they live. We need to realize there are people and animals all over the planet, not just where we are.”

Noelle loves her job even though she works every day.

“I can't take a vacation because I have to care for the animals,” she said.  “I'm working every minute from when I get up in the morning to take care of them. But they make me happy. I can't imagine doing anything else.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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