This is always one of the most difficult questions we get. As zoologists we see lots of interesting things in each animal we work with. In some animals, it's a cool biological adaptation; in others, there is a neat personality. Perhaps my closest connection to an animal was with a former zoo inhabitant, the llama named Basil. Basil was a very sweet animal with a wonderful disposition, which does not always happen with male llamas. Sadly, he developed cancer a few years ago, and we had to euthanize him. I suppose he might have struck a chord with my domestic farm animal teenage background. The dreaded "devil chicken," or blue-eared Manchurian pheasant, was certainly another favorite, although it was definitely because he was filled with feisty personality. Of course, he seemed to like me!
Life lesson: you can achieve a lot through hard work and determination - even without being the most talented.
Classroom lesson: I love teaching about the concept of cost/benefit analysis that essentially drives what the animals do and don't do, even if they are not conscious of the process. I also love helping kids understand that the world is quite gray; most behavioral characteristics and adaptations lie on continua with very few animals existing at either extreme.
The zoo brings many challenges that are fun to try to solve. Educating students about how to properly care for animals is a big part of the task and ranges from providing information, helping them get over fears, sometimes even showing them how to use a broom or a shovel. It's great when a student has that "aha" moment and gets it. We also spend a lot of time thinking outside the box, as it takes great imagination to create viable spaces that work for the animals and meet the standards of three inspecting agencies (USDA, AZA, NYSDEC). Another way of saying all of this is - every day is different!
I have the interesting history of having been at Millbrook twice! First, right out of college from 1984-87, and then again from 1994-present. I am the Associate Director of the Trevor Zoo, I teach the Animal Behavior class, I coach boys cross country, and I serve as a proctor for study hall. I am also a co-founder of the "Junk Yard Dogs," a semi-formal group of dedicated runners who don't necessarily fit the classic runner profile but have competed in many races all over the world!
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