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Needham Library goes wild for Animal Experience

By Lauren Schiavone
Hometown Weekly Staff

The Needham Public Library turned into a woodland habitat for a day as visitors welcomed Matt Gabriel and a few animal special guests. 

Gabriel carefully holds Sugar, a poisonous cane toad, out to the crowd.

Gabriel has always had a love for animals, previously working various animal-centered odd jobs, such as pet store and aquarium attendant, dog walker, and groomer, before starting Animal World Experience, his full-time business, in 2006. Gabriel has dedicated his whole life to caring for and teaching others about animals; his own property houses over twenty fruit trees to provide fresh food to the critters in his care.

The packed audience was first introduced to Ruby, a red-footed tortoise. Ruby was able to wave her arms to the crowd and say hello. Gabriel gave knowledgeable explanations of each animal he showed, letting the audience know what their function in nature is, sharing fun facts, and fielding questions. 

The second animal, a domestic ferret named Spaz, was flexible and furry; Spaz had no stage fright and even played hide and seek with Gabriel using a box in the center of the room, popping his head in and out. 

Gabriel also handled more dangerous animals -- those which are poisonous -- and explained how they protect themselves in the wild. The crowd was introduced to a cane toad, Sugar, whose glands on her shoulders secrete toxins that can be harmful if it gets into a human’s eyes or on their hands.

Pistachio, a venomous flat rock scorpion, glowed once the lights were turned off and Gabriel shone a UV light into its cage. He assured everyone that these animals are not inherently dangerous -- but that we do need to care for them in a specific way. 

A volunteer in a Pikachu dress held Pikachu, the snake, around her neck. 

Amongst the other incredible animals, the crowd met Drago, a tegu lizard so intelligent that he recognized his own name. Mr. Prickle Pants, an African pygmy hedgehog, was shy but adorable and even let a volunteer pet him. Pikachu, a two year old albino boa constrictor, was the final guest. Gabriel stated that Pikachu eats frozen mice, or "mouse-cicles", and would not be able to survive in the wild due to lack of camouflage. 

Gabriel’s mastery of the animal world, combined with kid-centric humor, made for a great evening at the Needham Public Library. 

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