Video: Exploring students report at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Chris Peters
Omaha World-Herald Exploring Adviser

Students in the Omaha World-Herald Exploring program visited the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on March 25, interviewing a trio of zookeepers in a press conference-style atmosphere.

The students then broke into small group interviews with zookeepers and, finally, watched a zookeeper explain how she uses animals such as opossums for education in the Wildlife Kingdom Pavilion.

Students had the opportunity to interview, write a story, take photographs, shoot video and publish to social media as a means of getting firsthand experience in journalism.



‘Dumb, ugly, filthy’ opossums a surprising inspiration for zookeeper, students

Flaunting Ophelia the opossum, Henry Doorly Zoo keeper Sarah Stoltenberg discusses animal care with a group of Omaha World-Herald Explorers on March 25. LOGAN TUNINK/EXPLORING

Rick Ruggles
Omaha World-Herald Exploring Adviser

Sarah Stoltenberg knows all about the contempt opossums inspire, because she disliked them herself at one time.

Growing up in rural Nebraska, Stoltenberg had the impression opossums were dumb, ugly, filthy creatures. Many people also fear the animals carry rabies.

Then she was assigned to work with an opossum named Orville in her job as an animal keeper at Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and, wow, did her view of the little marsupials change.

Stoltenberg spoke Saturday to 13 members of the Omaha World-Herald’s Explorers, a group of high school students with an interest in journalism, writing, photography and video.

Flaunting Ophelia the opossum, Henry Doorly Zoo keeper Sarah Stoltenberg discusses animal care with a group of Omaha World-Herald Explorers on March 25. CHRIS PETERS/EXPLORING
Flaunting Ophelia the opossum, Henry Doorly Zoo keeper Sarah Stoltenberg discusses animal care with a group of Omaha World-Herald Explorers on March 25. CHRIS PETERS/EXPLORING

Two other animal keepers, Jordan Anderson and Jessica Conroy, also spoke to the group.

Stoltenberg was disappointed a few years ago when she was assigned to work with Orville. It seemed like a crummy assignment.

In her hometown of Cairo, in central Nebraska, people disliked opossums.

“It’s a backyard animal and everyone seems to hate them,” she said.

Orville was a rehab mammal, sent to the zoo after he had suffered an injury in the wild.
Stoltenberg had to learn about opossums to work with Orville. Orville also taught her things about his species.

She learned they are meticulous self-groomers and are clean. She learned they are bright and often out-perform rats and cats in maze exercises.

Cross-eyed, Ophelia the opossum crawls about the stage in the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s Wild Kingdom Pavilion. CHRIS PETERS/EXPLORING

She learned they eat ticks and other pests. Not only do they not carry rabies, but they rid the environment of some insects that do carry diseases.

Stoltenberg spoke to several Explorers about her experience with Orville. He might have been picked up and dropped in the wild by a hawk, she told them, because Orville’s spine began to fail.

And so he had to be euthanized.

“I was a hot mess for about a week after that,” she said.

But opossums had become one of her favorite species. On Saturday she displayed to the Exploring group another opossum, named Ophelia.

“I’m sure they’re lovely, but I just can’t handle them,” said Kassie Kizlin, a Millard South junior.

Opossums are, in fact, odd-looking. Ophelia’s claws splayed, and her eyes were crossed. Her long tail was snake-like. That tail helps opossums with balance and to hang from tree limbs.

Ophelia lay passively in Stoltenberg’s arms. A few times she sat her down to roam about slowly.
Exploring students took photos and video of Ophelia and Stoltenberg.

“If you get to know any animals, they become cute and awesome, in a way,” said Colin Leick, a Fremont High School junior.

“I like what her tail does,” said Kim Mendoza, a Columbus High School junior.

Exploring, a co-ed program, is administered by the Boys Scouts of America. It is basically a career-exploration program for high school students.

Shruthi Kumar, a Marian High School freshman, and Samantha Aguilar, a Burke High School sophomore, said the visit to the zoo helped change their perception of the place.

A jellyfish undulates in its tank at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on March 25. LOGAN TUNINK/EXPLORING
A jellyfish undulates in its tank at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on March 25. LOGAN TUNINK/EXPLORING

They said they were unaware of the zoo’s conservation efforts and had newfound respect for the zoo’s mission.

The three animal keepers proved to be fine ambassadors for the zoo, just as Orville and Ophelia were fine ambassadors for opossums.

Profile: Yousra Abdulrazig

Yousra Abdulrazig

Lesly Lopez

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Sophomore Yousra Abdulrazig attends Westside High School and enjoys watching movies and reading books.

Abdulrazig says she would like to visit India for the tasty food and fascinating culture.

One thing that Abdulrazig doesn’t like is animals.

In second grade, she was in Girl Scouts, and on bring your pet day, only one girl brought her dog. Abdulrazig was at the playground, and all of the sudden the dog starts chasing her, she trips and falls and the dog attacks her. She says it’s her dog horror story.

Profile: Magdalena Vidal

Kimberly Mendoza

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Many people are into the entertainment business, while others are not.

Magdalena Vidal is among those who loves it.

Magdalena, soon to be 16, is from Chile. She now lives in Omaha and takes online schooling. She is interested in art, photography, crafts, and playing with makeup.

She has big dreams. She has gone from aspiring to be a teacher, like her older sister, to longing to be a rock star, like Hannah Montana.

Although her dreams always seem to change, there is one thing she is certain she wants to be, and that is a professional writer. She has written stories about anything that has come into her mind.

Along with being a writer, Vidal would like to produce movies and television shows. When she was a little girl, she would grab a camera or phone and make short movies with her cousins.

She would like to bring her stories to life and make a movie or TV show out of them. She would love to show people what she is capable of doing in the near future.

With a talent like hers, she might even create something for the silver screen someday.

Profile: Lesly Lopez

Lesly Lopez

Yousra Abdulrazig

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Lesly Lopez is a quirky and easy going girl from a small family of four.

Her mother originates from El Salvador, and her father from Mexico. She enjoys listening to music, running, and watching movies with her family.

She might seem like the ordinary teenage girl, but something that sets her apart is her love for agriculture. Her older sister basically peer pressured her to join their school’s agriculture club, but now she couldn’t imagine her life without it.

“People don’t know enough about it,” Lopez said. “They think it’s just farming, but there’s so much more to it.”

Some of the parts of agriculture people don’t know much about, she said, include marketing, business, science and, of course, farming.

The science behind agriculture is really what drew her in and keeps her going. She loves agriculture even if it makes her seem like a nerd.

Profile: Peter Krenzer

Peter Krenzer

Kali Stamp

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Peter Krenzer was born on August 13, 1999, in Omaha and never left.

He is a junior at Westside High School, where he plays soccer and live-streams sporting events. That consumes much of his time outside of school.

He also drives his siblings around because his parents spend a lot of time working.

His dad works in law and his mom is a pediatrician.

Profile: Chris Peters, adviser

Colin Lieck

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Most would give up, most would be different. Most would just become worse, and worse, and worse. It’s a vacuum really, but sometimes a small bit escapes from that vacuum, and when it does, it shines.

In the beginning he had the responsibility, he had no money, three little siblings and virtually an infinite amount of step-siblings. Usually this would be what a journalist reports on, but he is a journalist.

Chris Peters, now 25, would have fallen victim to a terrible life. He broke free, and at an early age, too.

At age 5, Chris was laughed at, made fun of, and ridiculed for something he is praised for now, his writing. That early experience just kept him going, and he hasn’t stopped since.

High school entertainment editor, college sports reporter, a job at Huskers Illustrated and now a member of the Omaha World-Herald for two and a half years. All with a single mother and a father in jail.

So if you read this, follow suit. Nobody pushed him especially hard. He just did it. Don’t say you can’t, just learn like him. More, and more, and more.

Profile: Jake Pietryga

Shruthi Kumar

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Jake Pietryga has many thoughts about positivity and goodness in the world.

This junior at Gross Catholic High School sings in the choir, writes songs, plays football, runs track and likes to go to concerts with his friends. Last year, as a sophomore, Pietryga won the Spirit Scholar award, which is given to the most positive and uplifting student.

“I believe that everything is good, and anyone can do anything, and I want to prove that,” he explains.

Jake is an optimistic person who sees the good in people and wants to prove that goodness exists in the world. He aspires to prove that anything is possible.

That quality is something many people aspire to have, and Jake has tried to master it.

Profile: Ana Hingorani

Claire Huber

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

In today’s society, many high school students cannot imagine themselves as adults making a change. When asked to picture their futures, America’s youth may hear the word “picture” and think to check their Instagram feeds.

Senior Ana Hingorani, though, may be the youthful change the world needs. Although she is young and cannot decide between the numerous colleges that accepted her, Hingorani can already see her own future.

She plans to go to law school. Through this, the senior hopes to alter the “corrupt” U.S. justice system. In Hingorani’s eyes, her future is being a white light in the law for the wrongfully accused and the mistreated.

Perhaps one day, the world will read about her again, this time as a hero rather than as a hopeful dreamer.

Profile: Rachel Meyer

Emma Whaley

Omaha World-Herald Explorer

Freshman Rachel Meyer is not the average teenager. As her peers spend their nights out partying, Meyer prefers to stay home and write poetry.

Born in Milton, Florida, she moved to Nebraska when she was in fourth grade after her father lost his job. Her mother resides in Tennessee and her six brothers, the youngest of which is 18 years old, are spread around the country.

Meyer enjoys writing poetry because it gives her room to move and express. She’s free to write whatever, not what anyone tells her to.

Rachel Meyer lives to be unique. She does it in few words, but all words are meaningful.

Her words to the public: “Writing’s pretty cool.”