Blue Topaz is the Birthstone for December

December has a beautiful stone as its birthstone – blue topaz. It is also the stone for the 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries. It has become the second most popular stone, second only to sapphire. It is also the state gemstone of Texas!

Topaz comes in a wide range of colors, from the colorless white topaz to pinks and blues among others. Blue topaz in nature is rare and when it is found it tends to be a light blue. The vivid blues on the market today are usually created by treating white topaz with irradiation and heat. It is a durable stone with a hardness rating of 8 on the Mohs scale. They can be found worldwide including in South America, Australia and Africa.

Another stone that is often confused for topaz is citrine. Citrine is in the quartz family and is a completely different stone. Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz. Finding a natural citrine is rare. Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst. Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow? Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a wider variety of color. They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Like many gemstones, there is a lot of history and lore around blue topaz.

Blue topaz has long been considered a symbol of love and affection and has been said to aid in one’s sweetness and disposition. In ancient Egypt, it was a symbol of Ra, the sun god. In Europe it was linked to Apollo, another solar being.

Ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. Other ancient civilizations believed blue topaz to have cooling powers and was used to help relieve burns and cool boiling water. Many believed that wearing a topaz ring would keep death from coming prematurely and would control insomnia and greed.

In Africa, healing rituals with topaz were practiced establishing communication with the spirit realm.

Some notable blue topaz includes -The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats. The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

There is often blue topaz for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Don’t know about the shop? Click here for more information.

Christmas Shopping in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Ah, November. Cooler weather coming in, pumpkin spice everything and dreams of turkey and dressing.

Of course, you know what that means………CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!   It’s time to start thinking about travel plans, gift lists, family outings and more.

Not only are the adults among us thinking in terms of gift buying, but the kids are too. That might cause an issue.  Unless your kiddo has saved allowance and birthday money since he or she was born, they may not have a lot of resources.

We have an alternative. They can shop in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and they won’t need cash!

How? The Naturally Wild Swap Shop is designed for people of all ages to bring in things they find in nature.  They can bring rocks, minerals, fossils and shells among other things. (click the link below for more information)  As many as three things per person can be brought in a day.  These items will earn points based on how unusual they are and what condition they are in.  Knowledge points can also be earned if they can tell us about their item.  When you trade, you can also earn extra points for having items from our Take Action list.  That includes reusable bottles and bags, pictures of recycling, sustainable seafood and more.  Then, those points can be spent in the shop!

What kinds of things can you get with your points? There is a lot to choose from!  Rocks, minerals, shells, even cut gemstones.  The shop has items ranging from 5 points to 50,000 points so there is something for the spender and the saver alike.

In the rock and mineral section, you might like the geodes or the rose quartz. If mom or dad is a fossil fan, the kids might want to get them an ammonite or a fossil sea biscuit.  There are shells in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes for them to pick out someone’s favorite color shell as a gift.  For those who have saved up some points, we even have cut gemstones in amethyst, aquamarine, citrine and more.

While trading is now open to all ages, the younger of our traders may be more likely to want to shop with points to make their holidays merry. We hope to see you in the shop soon.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop adds it’s 10,000th Trader

On October 15, 2017, The Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo reached a huge milestone. We registered our 10,000th trader!

The honor was awarded to Maya Rojo. She is 4 years old and was so excited!

The Rojo family includes Oscar, Vanessa and of course, Maya.   Oscar is originally from El Paso and Vanessa is from McAllen but they made their way to Houston as soon as they could and have lived here for over 17 years now.  They are proud Rice and University of Houston alums.  Maya herself is a native Houstonian.

The Rojo Family are long time lovers of nature and the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo is just one of the places they go to fulfill their need for nature.  Their love of the outdoors has taken them to Brazos Bend, Huntsville State Park, Yosemite and more.

Following her parents lead, Maya is also a lover of nature. Her favorite animal is probably her dog Teddy, but she also loves finding garden insects – specifically praying mantis and lady bugs.  She loves pelicans and has had some great morning sightings at Huntsville State Park.  She will be soon going to visit her Tito and Tita in Corvallis, Oregon and hopes to see some wild turkeys when she is there.

They all learned about the Swap Shop during a presentation in the Children’s Zoo and had come in multiple times before Maya actually signed up and made her first trade. They had made a trip to Galveston and searched for shells to bring in.  Maya found some beautiful clam and oyster shells.  They also learned about jellyfish  careful to avoid stepping on them while hunting for shells.  Her shell treasures earned her points to spend in the Swap Shop and as a part of her award as 10,000th trader she also received 1,000 points along with a certificate and an amazing insect display!

Mr and Mrs Rojo had some wonderful things to say about the Swap Shop in response to Maya’s award.

Today we got our snacks ready to go to the zoo, but also packed a ziplock full of clam and oyster shells.  Our little one, Maya would be going to the swap shop to earn her first points.  She received a big surprise being named the 10000th trader. To commemorate the milestone, the staff made her a certificate and presented her with an amazing display of three beautiful beetles.  That was the obvious reward.  The less tangible one was the affirmation of our little 4-year-old lady’s hard work in writing her journals, collecting specimen etc. that the staff gave her.  We often, as do many others, tell her that those women and men in charge studied a lot to know so much about animals.  What they didn’t study but what is instead either a part of someone or not is the willingness and desire to affect this little generation of nose-picking, curious goofs.  There were 9,999 registered traders before Maya and countless more families that benefit from this knowledgeable and kind staff that time after time has been just pure class with so many of us.  From our little troop, a sincere thank you to Suzanne Jurek who came up with the idea to celebrate the 10,000th, Sara Riger for answering so many questions from so many with skill and to Angie Pyle for making the Children’s zoo so special.  Amber Zelmer, Wendy Morrison, Julie LaTurner, Brian Stuckey, Stephanie Turner, Kimberly Sharkey, Megan Paliwoda, Lisa Cariello all who we’ve seen throughout the zoo, from petting goats, learning about animal upkeep etc. From the McDonald’s observatory, Yosemite to Brazos Bend or Huntsville State Park, we’ll all keep encouraging our little ones to keep digging, asking questions.  That is in no small part due to you all.  Once again, thank you for being a part of our daughter’s life since she was tiny. Oscar, Vanessa and Maya

The Rojo family are involved in charity here and in Mexico. They have a small charity in San Miguel de Allende that focuses on academic support.  They also like creating a sense of community with some efforts in the Houston area.

They love coming to the zoo specifically what they consider to be the dynamic areas including the Swap Shop. They consider the Naturally Wild Swap Shop a connection to the outside world and for one, their Maya loves it.

We are so grateful that the Rojo family has shared their little Maya with us. We value every one of our 10,000 traders and love sharing our time and knowledge with each one of them.

Want more information about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here.

The November Birthstone

November – Is it Citrine or is it Topaz?

For years, those of us – including me – who have November birthdays knew that topaz was our birthstone. Now most birthstone lists say citrine.  Which is it?  Actually, it is both!  While citrine and topaz are different stones, they are both considered to be the birthstone for November.

So, how are they different?

Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz.  Finding a natural citrine is actually rare.  Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst.  Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow?  Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a much wider variety of color.  They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Topaz can be found in Russia, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the U.S. Most citrine is found in Brazil but it can also be found in Russia, France and Madagascar.

There is a lot of history and lore about both stones.

Some of the largest cut gemstone pieces throughout history have been cut out of topaz. Ancient Egyptians believed that topaz received its golden hue from the sun god Ra. Golden Topaz was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink.

Citrine has been said to aid in urinary, kidney and digestive diseases. It was also believed to ward off evil thoughts and protect from the effects of snake venom.  In ancient Greece, citrine was popular between 300 and 150 B.C.  It was also used to adorn weapons by Scottish weapon makers in the 17th century.    Queen Victoria loved citrine.  With the attention and admiration citrine received her parties, it became a part of shoulder brooches and kilt pins in Highland attire.  Even now, it is considered an essential part of the tradition.

What were some of the more notable stones? The Luxembourg Royal Family citrine and pearl tiara and earrings, the citrine and diamond tiaras by Cartier for the coronation ceremony of King George VI in 1937 and Kate Middleton’s citrine drop earrings.   The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats.  The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

In the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you can trade for citrine and topaz both!!

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here to find out more.

The Children’s Zoo’s Personal Artist

Have you ever noticed the amazing art work on the keeper chat sign in the Children’s Zoo?

There is one keeper in the Children’s Zoo responsible for that beautiful art. Her name is Nikki Blakely and she has been with the Houston Zoo for 4 years.  Her career here started with a part time position in April 2013 and she was promoted to full time in October of 2015.

Nikki is a primary keeper in our Ambassador Animal Building and takes care of  a wide variety of animals.  The Zoo’s Ambassador Animals are the animals you see at presentations, events and on Zoomobiles.   She is also a primary trainer on several animals, including one of her favorites, Luna the Virginia Opossum.

While Nikki isn’t the only Zookeeper with artistic talents, her art is what you are likely to see as you enter the Children’s Zoo.  We always have our Keeper Chat sign out in front of the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to let guests know what the Children’s Zoo chats are for the day.   (Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here form more info) As you can see, Nikki has used both flora and fauna for her inspiration.  She has also used her talents on some of the enrichment for the animals.

Nikki has been coming to the Houston Zoo her whole life.  Unlike many of us, she is a Native Houstonian.  She even stayed true to Texas as she chose a college.  She attending University of Houston and Texas A & M University earning a degree in Biology.  She has raised many animals at home too!  She has had horses, fish, birds and even chickens.  Currently her pets include a ball python, 2 cats and a dove.

What would Nikki like everyone to know about her job as a Zookeeper?  She says the job is very rewarding and in more ways than just being with the animals.  It has given her an outlet for connecting her artwork with guest enjoyment to make her job even richer.

The next time you are visiting the Children’s Zoo, take a look at the keeper chat sign.  And if you see Nikki on grounds, say hi and let her know how much we all appreciate what she does.

A Special Anniversary in the Children’s Zoo

In August of this year, a member of the Children’s Zoo staff celebrated a special anniversary. Wendy Morrison celebrated 35 years with the zoo – all of those years dedicated to the Children’s Zoo!

Wendy started as a volunteer and continued in that position for 2 years. During her volunteer time, she befriended a young llama named Acura (unlike the car, it is pronounced Ah-CURE -ah).  When Acura became ill, she wouldn’t eat for anyone except Wendy hand feeding her.  Because of this close relationship, she was hooked and joined the staff in August of 1982 She was a young zookeeper ready to take on the world!  She has cared for many different animals during her time here.  Some of her favorites have been….Red Pandas, Llamas (including hand raising one special llama named Pib) and Jessie the Longhorn.

She saw several Mayors come and go. Kathy Whitmire, Bob Lanier, Lee Brown, Bill White, Annise Parker and now of course Sylvester Turner.  The Houston Zoo was a part of the City for many years but, privatized in 2002 under Mayor Lee Brown.  Wendy says “A lot changed.  Who would remain with the city and who would stay with the zoo?”  The privatization brought many good things to the zoo.  More funding, improved exhibits and conservation involvement around the world.  She also saw 5 different Children’s Zoo Curators come and go and is now under the 6th Curator of her tenure.  With each new leader, comes new ideas and change.  That can be exciting and challenging all at the same time.

Another big change in her time here? In 2000, the entire Children’s Zoo moved location!  Think about any time you have been involved in new construction and what that means.  Yikes! Then, think about not only moving people and things but the animals too!  It was quite an undertaking.  During the move, one of the animals, Zypher the Zebu, attempted to return to her old enclosure.  She was of course steered (no pun intended) back to her new enclosure and decided she liked it after all.

Over the years, she has seen and experienced so much. She has seen animals and staff come and go and worked through all types of weather. She has seen lots of crazy storms come through.  Some of the more notable ones were: Alicia in August 1983, Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001, Rita in September 2005, Ike in September 2008 and of course Harvey this year.  She says “When hard times hit, you find out what you are made of.  We are resilient here.”

On a personal note – She was born in Wisconsin and lived for a while in Minnesota. She came to Texas as fast as she could, moving here with her family in 1969 when she was 10 years old.   Now a longtime resident, she is a Naturalized Texan.  Wendy and her Partner of 22 years, Debbie Pillow continue to love Texas and animals.

What would Wendy like people to know about Zookeeping? “Zookeeping is always changing.  Always something new to learn.  Sometimes things repeat themselves but you have to be open to learn from your mistakes.”  Sounds like good advice not only in zookeeping but in life, doesn’t it?

Children’s Zoo Supervisor Angie Pyle had this to say: “Wendy embodies the qualities of a life time Zookeeper. She is dedicated to animal care, and has changed with every new chapter of the Houston Zoo.  Wendy is strong, determined, trust worthy and dependable.  Her knowledge of the Zoo’s history and its inhabitants is irreplaceable.”

If you see Wendy around the Children’s Zoo on your next visit, stop and say hi. She has a wealth of memories and knowledge and loves to share her experiences with guests.

Thank you, Wendy, for all your years of dedication and all you do to care for the animals.

 

Augmented Reality Sandbox comes to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

What is Augmented Reality Sand? To describe it in one word – Awesome. In fact, if you come into the Swap Shop and we aren’t at the desk, check to see if we are playing in the sandbox.

It was developed by University of California Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation.  It combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach about earth science concepts.   It uses a computer projector and a motion sensing input device (Xbox 360 Kinect 3D camera).  By changing the levels of the sand, the Kinect detects the distance to the sand below and elevation is projected on the sand, complete with color and contour lines.  Already sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Ever wish you could create your own lake on a hot day?  Or build a mountain to climb?    You can even hold your hand out about 2 feet above the sand surface and the program will simulate rain.  The rain will drain into the lowest lying areas in the sand.  Watersheds, mountains, lakes, rivers.  You can make them all!

If we are in a drought, freshwater is not being added to the watershed. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a specific point.  (such as the Clear Lake watershed or the Armand Bayou watershed) That lack of rain causes lots of problems.  Let’s start with our drinking water.  We need it for survival – I mean how would we even make coffee in the mornings??  Then, think about our lawns and all the plants around us.  They all need water to survive too. So, do our pets and wild animals – birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.  The issues don’t stop there.  If there isn’t freshwater from rainfall coming into the watersheds it can even have an impact on the bay.  If enough freshwater isn’t coming into the bay from the watersheds, the salt (or salinity) goes up.  That change in salinity can have an adverse effect on plants and animals both.  One example is that oysters cannot thrive in a salt level that is too high.  And, oysters are big business on the gulf coast.  Water is critical to all forms of life – both plant and animal.  Understanding water cycles and how a water shed works is fundamental to protecting that valuable resource.

And the other side of that same coin – floods. We are well versed in flooding in our area, aren’t we?  What have we seen when hurricanes bring a storm surge?  Or when a tropical storm stalls out in our area?  Sometimes the drainage can’t keep up and the watershed has more water than it can handle.  The rising water can not only cause damage to property but, sometimes even lives are lost.  Flooding invades areas that animals would normally be living in causing them to lose their habitat and can cause problems with all the plants around us and leave us stranded.

The goal of the Augmented Reality Sandbox is for our guests to learn about topography, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. We want to raise public awareness and increase understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.  We hope you will come by and check out the new sandbox.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

Click here to learn more about Augmented Reality Sand and even find out how to build your own.

iNaturalist at the Houston Zoo

Ever see some interesting wildlife at the zoo? That sounds like a funny question but, I’m not talking about the Zoo’s animal collection.  What native wildlife have you seen as you go through the zoo?  Birds, butterflies, bees and other visiting animals just passing through?  What about interesting plants growing on Zoo grounds?

There is now an iNaturalist project called Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo. Photographs were first uploaded by our Collegiate Conservation Program to start the  guide to native wildlife as you enjoy the zoo.

The Collegiate Conservation Program at the Houston Zoo is a 10 week intern program generously sponsored by ExxonMobil. The program focuses on two important aspects of conservation – saving animals in the wild and sharing the conservation message.  The program participants must be currently enrolled undergrad students and commit to 30-35 hours weekly for the 10 weeks of the program.  The interns work with various regional conservation partners around the city learning from the experts about what they do to help save wildlife.  They also spend time on zoo grounds handling animals and sharing our Take Action messages with guests.  Want to learn more about our Collegiate Conservation Program?  Click here.

Now that the interns have added photos to the project, you can now not only learn from the observations already in there, you can add your own observations too!

iNaturalist is a wonderful program to engage people with nature. You can build your own life list or even a project for your area.  Not sure what something is?  Not to worry!  iNaturalist allows other members to comment on your post to help with the ID.  The iNaturalist program will choose the taxon with at least 2/3 agreement to automatically ID the post.  It is easy to navigate – your Dashboard is like your Facebook feed.  You can follow other members and see what they post.  You can access iNaturalist online or in a handy app you can download to your phone.  You can see what other things have been posted in the area by looking at observations or places, and can even search by taxon if you are looking for something specific.  The Help section of the program has an awesome FAQ guide and Getting Started guide to help you learn the ins and outs of iNaturalist too. You will find the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo by going to projects in the app or on line and searching on that project title.

Another added bonus to using the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo project is it can earn you points in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop! If you add a photo to the project, stop by the Swap Shop and show the Naturalist what you have added.  You will earn points for your posts!  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

The Amazing Emerald

The month of May has one of my favorite stones for its birthstone – the emerald. It is also the stone for the 20th and the 35th wedding anniversaries.  Why is it one of my favorite stones?  Approximately 99% of all emeralds have inclusions, or flaws.  And yet, they are one of the most precious and valuable gemstones in the world.  It makes me think of all of us.  None of us are perfect and yet we are all valuable too, aren’t we?

Emerald Gemstones

Emeralds are a variety of beryl and its name comes from the Greek word for green. It is a hard, durable stone with a hardness rating of 7.5-8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.  In comparison, diamond is a hardness rating of 10.  Today, they can be found worldwide including Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia.  In Colombia, the Muzo Indians had well-hidden and prized emerald mines.  They were so well hidden; it took Spanish Conquistadors 20 years to find them!

Emeralds have a long history and there is an abundance of folklore surrounding them. The first known emerald mines were in Egypt and were mined from at least 330 BC.  Cleopatra was known to have had a passion for emeralds and even claimed ownership of all emerald mines in Egypt during her reign.

Legends also say an emerald was one of the four precious stones given by God to King Solomon.

It has been believed that placing an emerald under the tongue gives one the ability to foresee the future, to reveal truth, and provides protection against evil spells. It was once also believed that emeralds could cure diseases like cholera and malaria.

Emeralds are also associated with lush green landscapes. Ireland is called the Emerald Isle and Seattle Washington is called the Emerald City.  Thailand’s most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha due to its lush green color even though it is carved from jadeite.

There have been many famous emeralds over the years.  Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald pendant sold for a record of $280,000 per carat for a total of $6,578,500.  The McKay Emerald is 167.79 carats and is the largest emerald in the Smithsonian National Gem Collection.   The Bahia Emerald weighs 752

Rough Emerald

pounds and an amazing 180,000 carats.  It originated in Bahia, Brazil.  This amazing stone, one of the largest in the world, is in a complex ownership dispute.  Approximately 8 different parties have claimed ownership.

Who has a May birthday and can claim this amazing stone as their birthstone? Singer Tim McGraw, Actor George Clooney, President John F. Kennedy and even Germany’s Red Baron, Baron Von Richtofen.

We often have emeralds for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap. Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

The April Birthstone is Diamond.

Are Diamonds really a girl’s best friend?   I guess that depends on the girl.  They are the birthstone for April and the stone for the 60th wedding anniversary. Who is lucky enough to call the diamond their birthstone? Actor Russell Crowe, singer Pharrell Williams and author William Shakespeare among others.  What else do you know about diamonds?  They have an amazing history and there is lots of lore about them.

White Diamonds

Diamonds are often found in an igneous rock called kimberlite (named after the South African town of Kimberly where a large volcanic pipe was found) and is always found in association with volcanic pipes over deep ancient continental crust.

Ancient Greeks named diamonds “adamas”, meaning invincible, indestructible, proper and untamed. Greek warriors wore diamonds as they were thought to strengthen muscles and bring invincibility.  Many in the past thought that diamonds had great healing power.  It was believed they could cure brain disease, pituitary gland disorders and draw toxins from the blood.

Even though there is evidence that diamonds were first traded as early as 4 B.C., it wasn’t until the Renaissance Period which began in the 1300’s, that diamonds were first used in engagement rings.   By the 1400’s, diamonds were becoming fashionable accessories for Europe’s elite.  In the early 1700’s, India’s supply of diamonds declined and Brazil emerged as an important source.  In the late 1800’s, the first great South African deposit of diamonds was found.  South Africa was the major source of diamonds for quite a while until sources were found in Australia in 1985 and in Northern Canada in 2000.

White diamonds are the most common color but they can come in many colors Some of the fancy colors include black, yellow, blue, chocolate, pink and even red which is the most rare color.

Yellow Diamond

The largest diamond ever found is called the Cullinan. It weighed 3,106.75 carats and is the largest rough gem quality diamond ever found.  It was cut into 105 different diamonds including the 530.2 carat Great Star of Africa and the 317.4 carat Lesser Star of Africa.   Other famous diamonds include the Koh-i-Noor, the Hope Diamond, and The Taylor Burton Diamond.   The Koh-i-Noor was named for its beauty.  Its name translates to mountain of light.  The Hope Diamond has been said to be cursed and that bad luck will come to any who own it.  And, the Taylor-Burton got its name when Richard Burton gave it to Elizabeth Taylor in an engagement ring.

Red Diamond

 

While the Naturally Wild Swap doesn’t have a diamond for trade, we do have one on display. We do have Herkimer Diamonds for trade – they are actually high quality quartz but are so beautiful they are called diamonds.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

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Thursdays update from SMGs trip to Borneo is up now! https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/
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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!)

 

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Jack is so cute I wish I could take him home and cuddle with him.

Look, Steve Hawkins! Ethan’s favorite animal there!

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