Audience members were asked to quietly raise their hands to help with an Animal Avengers program.

Michael Opferman, a naturalist with Animal Tales of Mayfield, Kentucky, scanned the crowd and pointed to Lexi Willey to come up front.

Willey, 17, a Medora High School student, helped Opferman lift a cage onto a table. Opferman opened the door, and out came an African crested porcupine.

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With the porcupine’s black-and-white quills protruding, Willey couldn’t pet it. But she thought it was neat to be that close to an exotic animal.

“I like how calm it was, and I like that it was just able to walk around,” she said of the porcupine. “I like how it easily would go in and out of its cage because I know some animals are like, ‘No, I don’t want to go back in there.’”

The porcupine was one of six animals with unique characteristics that Opferman showed during the program, which recently was presented at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour and the Jackson County Public Library branches at Crothersville and Medora. In all, nearly 430 people attended the programs.

“I think it was really nifty,” Willey said of the program. “A lot of kids, they learn visually and not just through verbal words. It’s nice to actually be able to see the animals, what it is and where it comes from.”

When Opferman pulled out a male chinchilla named Pikachu to start the show, the audience’s reaction was “Ooh!” He said chinchillas, which live in the Andes Mountains of South America, where it snows year-round, have the softest and densest fur of all mammals, averaging 70 hairs per pore.

“Where they live, it can be negative (temperature) year-round, and it doesn’t matter at all to them,” Opferman said. “They don’t hibernate. They stay alert the whole time. They are nocturnal, so they come out at night, which makes it even colder when it’s snowing out there. But they are perfectly well-adapted to it because of the amazing fur that they have.”

Opferman then put on some gloves, opened a cooler and pulled out a Hogg Island boa constrictor named Diego, drawing more “Oohs” from the crowd.

Boas’ unique characteristic is their strength. Opferman said they average about 60 inches in length but can exert 25 pounds per square inch of pressure when they wrap around something and squeeze.

“There isn’t a single person in here that all by themselves could get Diego off of them if he wanted to stay on. Nobody can lift 1,500 pounds,” Opferman said. “He is incredibly strong.”

Opferman said the nocturnal snakes, which use body heat sensors behind their nostrils and in front of their eyes to find food, were eliminated from Hogg Island and are now found only in pet stores.

The next animal was the 3-month-old female porcupine named Rapunzel. When she walked out of her cage, people said “Whoa!”

Opferman said this type of porcupine is a burrower. They dig in the African savanna for animal bones and bury them to gnaw on later.

“They collect thousands of them, way more than they ever need, but it helps keep the African savanna clear of bones,” he said.

Also, the African crested porcupine has quills on only its backside and uses them to fend off lions, leopards and other animals.

Opferman then pulled out a Von der Decken’s hornbill named Zazu, drawing “Aahs” from the kids and adults.

The unique characteristic of the East African bird is they cannot survive if they don’t work as a team. A female finds a male mate and looks for a hole in a tree for their nest. The female collects mud and mixes it with feces and places that on the inside of the tree, leaving a small hole so her mate can bring food to her and the babies.

As the babies get older, the female jumps out and seals the hole but leaves a small opening so she and the male can bring them food.

“Once they are old enough to fly, they dig themselves a hole and fly away,” Opferman said.

Opferman then brought out his favorite animal and “star of the show,” a 6-month-old female red kangaroo named Eva, and everyone went, “Awww!”

At that age, he said a red kangaroo will stay in its mother’s pouch for more than 20 hours a day, either sleeping or drinking milk. After nine months, the baby will go around on its own.

Once it’s an adult, a female red kangaroo can reach 5 feet tall, jump 30 feet and run 40 mph. While a male is larger and stronger, it can’t jump or run as fast.

The final animal Opferman showed, a black rat snake named Polo, was one everyone could touch.

Wyatt Combs, 9, of Medora, said he came to the program because he likes animals. His favorite was the red kangaroo.

“You got to see animals you probably wouldn’t get to see (on an everyday basis),” he said. “It was good.”

On the Web

For information about Animal Tales, visit or call 800-589-5408.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at or 812-523-7080.