Shellie Kalmore, director of Education and Conservation at , quieted students down Thursday as they waited patiently in the cafeteria.
“If I say Kasi, you say...” She waited.
“Mtani!” the students answered in unison.
The names of the , who have become best friends since being , are very familiar to the school’s third-graders, especially those in Tammy Srom’s class.
From the beginning of the school year to March, they analyzed data about the pair provided by Busch Gardens.
“We tracked how much each one eats, weighs, and any changes over time,” Srom explained.
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The idea for the project came from Busch Gardens’ desire to introduce Kasi, the cheetah, and Mtani, the yellow lab, to elementary school students and get them interested in animal conservation.
“When Shellie and her team came up with this project, we were really excited,” said Laura Wittish, curator of Zoological Operations for the park. “We thought it might be a shorter-term project, but it ended up being a long-term project.”
Approximately 30 schools signed up to participate. Busch Gardens supplied data, such as Kasi and Mtani’s weights and caloric intake, via its Kasi and Mtani blog. Teachers could use the information for lessons in their classrooms however they liked.
Earlier this year, Busch Gardens chose two schools that it thought used the data most creatively and decided to reward students with a visit from the animals they had been studying. Temple Terrace Elementary is one, and a Pinellas school is the other.
“We are so happy that they took advantage of the project,” Kalmore said of Temple Terrace Elementary. “That’s what Busch Gardens education is all about: Connecting with our schools.”
Srom said she learned of the project at a at Busch Gardens hosted by the last August. She said the project provided her class the opportunity to experience high order thinking. Plus, her students really like cheetahs.
They used the data to answer questions they had about the animals. In order to find out if Kasi and Mtani were healthy, for example, they used data they collected over a three-week period to find a pattern in the amount of food each animal was eating. They found that Mtani’s eating habits were inconsistent and inferred that her food intake was changing because her appetite was changing as she grew.
“It was a great project,” Srom said. “They liked it so much.”
Third-grader Parker Bennett said he learned a lot about cheetahs during the school year, such as why they have black lines under their eyes.
“They absorb the sun like when football players put black under their eyes,” he said.
For being an outstanding student throughout the year, Parker got a special treat during the visit Thursday: He was allowed on stage with Mtani and got her to wave her paw for students. He described the experience in one word.
“Awesome!” he said.