Reptiles of Resolute
Students study imported species

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

RESOLUTE BAY (Oct 18/99) - Lori Nungaq doesn't have to worry about walking a dog or changing cat litter. Nor does she have to worry about a hamster or any of the other animals traditionally kept by Northerners.

The 22-year-old resident of Resolute Bay does however, have to worry about her sugar glider -- a rodent perhaps more commonly known as the marsupial flying squirrel.

"It's pretty cool. It's nocturnal and it's going to go through its first dark season so I don't know if it's going to be up all the time," said Nungaq.

All novelty aside, how, you might ask, did a resident of Canada's second most Northerly community come by a pet that usually calls a much more southern climate home?

Through the efforts of Qarmartalik school teacher Neil Christopher.

"I was having difficulty motivating students in the dark season the first year I was working here," said Christopher, now a three-year veteran.

Stumbling upon a mail-order catalogue, he said he thought that by ordering and importing animals never before seen by his students, he could renew their interest during the winter months while expanding their knowledge base beyond Northern content.

Three years later, the program is still going strong and while his students are firmly grounded in science and biology, their knowledge hasn't come without growing pains.

Along with a few frozen tadpoles that arrived by mail, it took the students time to become accustomed to the reptiles and rodents.

"When I first opened the container, a cricket hopped onto my hand and it basically cleared the class. There were all these big guys that go hunt polar bears and they cleared the room for the cricket."

Once the kinks were all worked out, Christopher's grades 7 to 12 students took over the care for the different species and they've even managed become the most successful Northern breeders of a pair of African claw frogs.

"It was interesting because we had to inject both the male and female with hormones. I was nervous at first," said Nungaq.

"You had to hold the frog to keep it steady and it was hard. I didn't want to be injected."

Celina Kalluk has been involved in the breeding of rats that serve as food for the snakes.

"It was pretty amazing and I've learned so much that I would never have known if these things hadn't come around."

She also clearly remembers the giant millipede she held during the last science fair. While it was a good experience, it's something she doesn't plan to do again.

"When it folds out it goes from the tip of your finger to your wrist and it has all these little mites all over it. I don't think I could ever hold it again," said Kalluk, 20.

Solomon Idlout thinks the boa constrictor is pretty cool and said it did help to keep class interesting -- words that reassure Christopher of the success of his original idea.

He said he was also beginning to look around at ways of advancing their studies and was also looking for ways to translate the names of the reptiles and amphibians into Inuktitut. Because Inuit never had access to such species, words were never created for them and the program is English-specific so far.

Ethan Sollows, a relative newcomer to Resolute Bay, has definitely found his niche in the classroom.

"I feed the animals once a week or every second week and every once in a while people come in after school and I let them hold the snakes that can be held. I just like the feel of the snakes."