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Kids enjoy Zoo Atlantas ZooMobile animals
Children learned about reptiles and mammals
Emily Jones, 11, a rising sixth-grader at DaVinci Academy, pets Pumpernickel, a domestic rabbit, Wednesday as part of the Zoo Atlanta’s ZooMobile at the Spout Springs library in Flowery Branch. The Hall County Library System was chosen to host the ZooMobile by the Georgia Public Library Service, which began a partnership with the zoo in February. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Barb Reardon's co-workers are Thor, Pumpernickel and Saphira.

Those aren't nicknames or book characters. They're animals — a gopher tortoise, domestic rabbit and bearded dragon, to be exact.

Reardon and the animals paid a visit Wednesday morning to the Spout Springs library as part of a Zoo Atlanta ZooMobile presentation.

"If kids don't get to experience them firsthand, and just see animals on TV or in a movie, they don't have the love they do if they see them," said Reardon, an education instructor with Zoo Atlanta.

Close to 400 kids entered the Hall County Library System's lottery to win a seat at the ZooMobile program. Kids who had their reading logs checked in early July could fill out lottery tickets. Only 60 kids — plus their siblings and parents — could win.

Gainesville resident Brittany Dauphine brought her two children, Deneshia and Demetric Newberry, ages 5 and 4, to the ZooMobile. She said though they only have beta fish at home as pets, the kids enjoy animals and try to catch lizards around the house.

Deneshia said handling Saphira was similar to touching other lizards, but she is spinier in texture. She and her brother couldn't wait to touch Pumpernickel.

Reardon demonstrated the "scientific touch," a two-fingered touch best used to pet the animals. A one-finger touch, she explained, is just a poke, which no one enjoys.

"Saphira is definitely one of my favorites," Reardon said.

Another favorite is Mel, a blue-tongued skink from Melbourne, Australia. Other animals brought on the ZooMobile can include tarantulas, snakes and even an alligator, which Reardon said is difficult to catch.

To get hold of the alligator, she said she has to go into the pond to get him. His tail must be secured beneath one arm and his jaw in the opposite hand.

Madison Tithof, 6, wasn't particular about which animals the ZooMobile brought. She wanted to see them all.

"I like animals. They're cute and the babies are really cute," the rising first-grader at Spout Springs Enrichment School said. "The bunny is my favorite. The tortoise was very hard. It's different from a turtle because it has a bigger shell."

The difference between tortoise and turtle was just one animal fact Reardon passed on to the audience.

"We do talk about rabbits as a prey animal, and we don't call them bunnies. Bunnies are pets and Pumpernickel is a worker," she said.

She also told them how to distinguish reptiles from mammals, why animals are important to the environment and a little bit about endangered species.

"It's a good experience for them to have a hands-on experience with the animals," Dauphine said. "It's something they earned by reading this summer. It's a good way to prepare for the zoo."