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Despite snow, tropical rain forest coming to Massena

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MASSENA - The weather outside may be frightful, but Mike Kohlrieser hopes to make it a little more delightful when he transforms the Massena High School auditorium into a tropical rain forest on Jan. 7.

Mr. Kohlrieser, founder and current director of “Live on Stage, the Rain Forest,” will perform two shows, each about 75 minutes long, at 5 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person and will be available at the door.

“Back in the late 1980s my wife (Marcia) and I got involved with some groups like World Wildlife Fund and National Wildlife Federation. We started to learn specifically about a lot of problems occurring in the tropical rain forest,” he said during a telephone interview from western Ohio.

Mr. Kohlrieser, who has been working with animals for four decades, said his father was an animal handler, and he was raised “with a lot of unusual and unique creatures.”

“My wife and I got to thinking we could take what we know how to do and turn it into something positive,” Mr. Kohlrieser said.

They created a non-profit organization called Understanding Wildlife, Inc., in 1992. Their goal, he said is simple - to “educate and inspire individuals to get involved and make this a better world for us all - including the animals - to live in.”

They do that by touring under the name “Live on Stage, the Rain Forest” and educating young and old alike about animals facing possible extinction, he said. They’ve done programs in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and as far west as California.

“It took off like wildfire. We do 500 to 600 programs every year. They keep us really business. The kids are great. It’s a fantastic age to get them excited about rain forest conservation,” Mr. Kohlrieser said.

Their shows feature some unique animals not seen in this region, including exotic birds, kinkajous (also known as the “honey bears”), jungle cats, monkeys and snakes.

“We do it in a unique sort of way. The animals we bring are trained, have a great deal of personality, and it’s a very fun, exciting program. The kids can’t wait to see what we’ve got. While we’ve got the kids’ attention, we’re able to drive home some more serious facts about conservation that everybody can do for their part,” he said. “Literally all ages are just totally blown away.”

Mr. Kohlrieser said they’re looking forward to visiting Massena for the Jan. 7 show.

“We’ve come up through your part of the country several times. We play a lot of bigger cities. Sometimes New York City school kids don’t even get to the zoo,” he said.

For more information, visit their website at www.understandingwildlife.org.

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