If the tree canopy starts to look a little thicker, the air feel more humid, and strange animal calls surround you, don't be afraid. You may not have left Lebanon County, but the rainforest may have come to you.
The Amazon rainforest is coming to Southeast Elementary School in Lebanon on Friday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. with a comedy animal show featuring the sights, sounds, and animals of the region.
The show, entitled "Live on Stage: The Rainforest," will bring the experience of being in the Amazon to the school with live animals and scenery. Tickets will cost $5 and will be available at the door.
Not only will the performance showcase a number of exotic animals, it also hopes to promote awareness of serious issues facing the fragile rainforests, a founding goal.
"This program began when Marcia and I got involved with the World Wildlife Fund and began to realize what was going on in the tropical rainforests of our world," said Mike Kohlrieser, founder and director of Understanding Wildlife, Inc.
It was throughout the 1980's when he and Marcia Kohlrieser became more and more aware of a need for activism, leading to the formation of the non-profit organization Understanding Wildlife, Inc. in 1992. The organization had the goal of promoting awareness of problems affecting the rainforest.
"Almost half of the Earth's original forest cover is gone. This has a huge impact on the future of many plants and animals," said Kohlrieser.
With his background in animal training and care, he found himself an able and willing candidate to don the mantle of entertainment and activist.
"We realized we could provide a unique experience to students all over the country and educate them on the need to live our lives more responsibly," said Kohlrieser.
Rather than just speaking about the issues, the show brings live animals to the event. Audience members will be able to witness firsthand the diversity of the region and sympathize with the endangered animals.
And audience members will be treated to plenty of animals.
"There will be birds, monkeys, snakes, alligators, lemurs and a few other surprises. All of our animals were born in the U.S.," explained Kohlrieser.
Those concerned for the welfare and quality of life of the animals in the show need not fear. Kohlrieser described their well-maintained living conditions.
"The animals are transported in a 68-foot long custom made semi-trailer complete with heat, air conditioning, fresh air exchangers, and hot and cold running water," he said.
With this setup comes the potential for trouble, especially when dealing with variable cross-country environments.
"Probably the most difficult thing about traveling with the animals is dealing with winter weather, especially these last three years," said Kohlrieser.
The animals even have an iPod, allowing them to accompany their lives on the road with their favorite tunes.
Of course, the opportunity to spread knowledge about an endangered ecosystem and promote environmental welfare is not the only reward, and neither is the satisfaction of working with rare and endangered animals.
The program often receives rave reviews and personal thanks, which Kohlrieser finds to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of his show and work.
"We receive many packets of thank you letters and drawings from the children we visit. It's great to read how much they enjoyed learning about the animals of the rainforest," he said.
With these letters and drawings, those involved with the show can see their message spreading, influencing the next generation in whose hands human interactions with the environment will ultimately fall.
"It is up to us to be good stewards by contributing to the sustainable production of all the goods and services that our tropical rainforests provide," said Kohlrieser.