MANATEE COUNTY — Elvis stole the show at Freedom Elementary School last week.
The 2-year-old alligator adopted by Karen Ciemniecki’s fourth-grade class made his first appearance at the school May 27. His caretaker, Justin Matthews of Matthews Wildlife Rescue, brought the gator and several other rescued animals to the school for a special wildlife presentation and to accept a donation for Elvis’ adoption.
“I was surprised he was squishy and scaly,” 10-year-old Jayde Boykins said after petting Elvis. “I thought he would be a little bigger, but he was awesome.”
Over the last few weeks, children in Ciemniecki’s class raised more than the $35 adoption fee for Elvis by collecting pocket change. The project was the culmination of a months-long study of Florida’s ecosystems and the book “Oonawassee Summer” by Melissa Forney.
“We decided to look at the native animals Mr. Matthews had (up for adoption through his program at Mixon Fruit Farms),” Ciemniecki said. “Elvis was our first choice.”
The 26-inch-long alligator was rescued from a gator farm, where another gator had attacked him.
During last week’s wildlife presentation, Matthews also introduced children to Freedom’s mascot, a Harris hawk named Freedom, as well as a tortoise and a Burmese python under his care and answered questions about each animal.
Matthews rehabilitates animals from his East County home and also runs the Wildlife Care and Education Center at Mixon Fruit Farms.
Ciemniecki said last week’s presentation was a perfect way to end the year and the fourth grade’s study on the environment.
“It’s good to see (students) so excited about going through with it and helping someone who really helps the
community,” she said.
For information about Matthews Wildlife Rescue or adopting an animal at the Wildlife Education Center, call Matthews at 812-1771 or visit www.mixon.com/wildliferefuge.asp.
Contact Pam McTeer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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