Can you dig it?
Animals that dig meet children who dig reading
By Elisha Rivera
Monitor Staff Reporter
SEVEN POINTS–In keeping with the summer reading program theme:
“Dig up a good book,” wildlife educator Allison Blakenship
brought six animals that dig to motivate children to read more
about them at The Library at Cedar Creek Lake in Seven Points
All six animals from Zooniversity – the teaching zoo that comes
to you, are nocturnal, which means that they sleep during the
day and are active or hunt at night.
Monitor Photo/Elisha Rivera
Zooniversity owner and wildlife educator Allison Blakenship
presents a timid Sahara Desert fennec fox named Tasha to library
visitors. Her oversized ears are her “ear-conditioning” to
transfer heat from her body.
All of Blakenship’s animals have been rescued from
life-threatening situations and seem happy educating children
under her tender tutelage. The library has been hosting special
guest educators on Tuesday mornings throughout June and July to
remind children that learning and reading are lifelong
activities, not just reserved for the school year.
The children were asked to sit quietly while each rather timid
and sleepy animal was introduced. Blakenship allowed four
children to come up and pet each animal.
Nocturnal creatures can be found the world over, as were the
animals featured on this occasion, which included a prairie dog,
armadillo, fox, lesser tenrec, bullfrog and a sloth.
Miss Prickles is a lesser tenrec who hails from Madagascar and
is a cousin to the hedgehog. She is four inches long and has
spines that are completely harmless. She spends her nights
hunting for bugs and hides from predators by digging. When
Blakenship took Miss Prickles out of her cage, she smelled like
Samson, a burrowing bullfrog, comes from Africa. This giant
bullfrog is not limited to catching flies and bugs with his
tongue, he’ll eat anything that will fit inside his huge mouth.
Still a teenager, Samson measures seven inches across and has a
girlfriend named Delilah. Frogs do not have upper palates, so
they squeeze their eyeballs shut while swallowing their food.
When he is full-grown, he will be the size of a dinner plate,
Tuck, a three-banded armadillo, was rescued from South America.
He weighs four pounds and rolls up into a tight ball when he
feels threatened. While rolled up in a ball, Tuck is the size of
a grapefruit with the color of a cantaloupe. He digs around for
insects at night – grubs are a favorite.
A Texas native, black-tailed prairie dog named Doggie was
rescued from an Air Force base in Odessa after the prairie that
she lived on was poisoned. Doggie is the alpha female of her
family back home at Zooniversity. Prairie dogs are Texas’ best
A beautiful fennec fox named Tasha was next to be introduced to
the children. Tasha hails from the Sahara Desert of North Africa
and only weighs three pounds. An interesting fact about Tasha’s
species is that the sun can kill them within hours, so they must
burrow to hide from the sun and the heat of the desert.
Monitor Photo/Elisha Rivera
A close encounter with a South American sloth takes place at The
Library at Cedar Creek Lake in Seven Points July 12.
The fennec fox is the world’s fastest digger. She can dig a
hole as tall as a two-story house in less than an hour. This fox
is a carnivore and enjoys snacking on scorpions and snakes.
Tasha can run at spurts up to 30 mph, so Blakenship had her on a
leash. This little fox is famous for her petite body, her
oversized ears, teeny nose and luscious fur. Tasha’s ears are
actually “ear conditioners,” meaning that all the extra heat
that is in her body goes “out” through her ears. Rabbits use
their long ears in the same way.
A couple bought Tasha on-line for $2,000 when she was six weeks
old. The baby fox tore up the couple’s new townhouse in a matter
Blakenship received a call to come get her within the next 24
hours. It is against the law for anyone other than animal
rescuers or zoos to have a fennec fox in the state of Texas.
Baby Sid, a two-toed sloth, comes from South America. He was
born in a rain forest. Sid is 1 1/2 years old and acts just like
a toddler. Blakenship held him on her hip like a mother would
carry her child. By the time he is full-grown, he will be three
times larger than he is now, Blakenship said.
Sloths hardly move at all during the daytime. They climb up to
the top of the tree and sleep for 22 hours a day. They come out
after dark and eat fruits, vegetables and leaves. They move very
slowly. Sloths also are very slow when it comes to digesting
their food. It takes one month for the food to digest, and
sloths go to the bathroom once every four to five days.
Blakenship’s Zooniversity is available for schools, libraries,
scouts, events and birthday parties. For more information on
this program, please call (972) 979-9847 or visit