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Corwin captivates audience with animals

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012 11:11

Environmental conservationist, Jeff Corwin, best known as executive producer and host of “The Jeff Corwin Experience” on Animal Planet, amused students with jokes and live animals as the third and final speaker of University Lecture Series (ULS) event Thursday night.

Within the first ten minutes of his lecture, Corwin brought out his first of a wide range of animals to present to the audience.

“I brought some really cool critters,” Corwin said before presenting a kinkajou, a South American mammal similar to a raccoon, which enjoyed gummy bears and tropical fruit while Corwin explained why the species was in danger.

The audience was captivated as Corwin presented animals and explained about the dangers of extinction — an issue he said is closest to his heart.

“As you know our rainforest is in danger … we lose 3000 acres every hour. We live in a world where 50 percent of species could be gone in a decade,” he said. “We are not far away from something iconic and symbolic (disappearing).”

Many of the “critters” that Corwin presented, including an American alligator, a kebu, two red foxes and a Burmese python, have either been endangered or have had a significant impact on their environment.

“I wanted to bring an animal that really encapsulates Florida,” Corwin said of the 4-year-old alligator he held on stage. “This is a part of our landscape; this is a keystone to where we live.”

Corwin, who has spent his career filming television shows, documentaries and sometimes working as an environmental correspondent, said he does not consider himself a biologist or environmentalist.

“In my core, I am a naturalist,” he said. “I’m someone who is really inspired by nature to want to tell its stories…television is my vehicle to do that.”

The lecture was not all serious though. Corwin cracked jokes and responded to the audiences cheers and laughs, including responding to one audience member’s shout of “I love you” when he first got onstage.

“You love me? Ain’t that nice,” Corwin said.

With the help of animal handlers, the audience was able to interact even more closely with some of the animals. A red fox, held by a handler, was circled throughout the crowd so attendees could get an up-close view of the animal.

Cela Sosa, a local seventh grader at Gates Junior High, joined Corwin onstage, who then wrapped a Burmese python around her shoulders.

While Corwin explained how pythons like these have changed the environmental landscape of Florida, Sosa and a handler held the snake.

“It was really cool,” Cela, who attended the lecture with her mother and brother, said.

ULS lectures are open and free to the public, though USF students get first priority when it comes to seating.

“I didn’t think we were going to get in, so I was really excited when he picked Cela,” Mercedes Sosa, Cela’s mother, said.

Sosa said she was surprised by the lecture.

“He raised some really insightful points about the lack of attention to the environment and climate change,” Sosa said.

Some students also got a more one-on-one experience with Corwin. Various students had VIP access prior to the lecture and were able to eat with and meet Corwin.

Corwin also shared experiences he had over the years, including spending the night with a scared orphaned elephant calf, being reminded of the experience years later, when his daughter couldn’t sleep.

“There is so much we share in common with the natural world,” Corwin said.

His goal, he said,  is to educate his fans on species and their plights across the world.

“You can’t (help) what you do not care about, and you can’t care about what you do not know about,” Corwin said. “The world we have today, we do not inherit from our ancestors, but we borrow from our children.”

— Additional reporting by Alex Rosenthal

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