Reptiles visit Conkwright students

Kat Dale Shoemaker gently pulls Henrietta, an Emory rat snake, from a small black crate, and the crowd goes wild.

Hundreds of students in Conkwright Elementary’s gymnasium Friday morning either leaned in with excitement or jumped back in terror.

Overhead, a young girl in the front row says to her classmate, “I don’t like snakes. I didn’t know they were reptiles.”

Teachers begin to shush the students as Shoemaker handles Henrietta with ease. She told the students snakes are almost always afraid of humans, and that’s why they may bite, so it’s best to leave them alone.

“Henrietta doesn’t bite me because I’ve held her hundreds of times,” Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker is a lead zookeeper at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, a nonprofit business in Slade that “specializes in venomous reptiles and the acquisition of venom through a process called venom extraction,” according to its website.

The zoo visited the school as part of the school’s weekly enrichment activity by Conkwright’s related arts staff and counselors.

During two hours, Shoemaker held reptile after reptile. There was Iguazu, the tegu lizard; Miss O, the red-eared slider turtle; Marshmallow, the snapping turtle; Swedish Fish, the baby American alligator; and more.

Shoemaker showed the students Miss O’s shell, someone had run over the turtle in a tractor, breaking its shell, but the zoo healed Miss O. She also talked to students about how far a snapping turtle’s neck can go back; several students craned their necks back to see how far their’s could go.

“It opens up a whole new world for (the students),” school counselor Regina Spencer said. “It’s something they may not be able to experience in their daily lives, so we’re bringing it to them.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email lashana.harney@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0015.

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