Lindsay’s Wild Connections

The Value Of Meeting Our Animal Ambassadors and Their Keepers Up Close

Posted on: November 23rd, 2020

Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #33

Lead Animal Keeper Mandy McGuire giving a presentation in Raptor Redwood Grove.

It happens every single day of the year. A Lindsay animal keeper walks down the main steps of our exhibit hall with a hawk or an owl sitting prettily on their extended leather-gloved arm. There are only a few steps from the base of the stairs to the Raptor Redwood Grove, where the keeper is heading for the animal ambassador’s daily exercise, training, or outdoor time. A family walks down the cement path on their way to Larkey Park, and they meet the keeper and his or her charge. The surprise, amazement, delight, and impact are immediate. A gentle interrogation follows. What is this animal? What’s its name? Where are you going with it? What are you going to do? What does it eat? And so on. The questions flow, and the fascination is intense. Likely, they have never seen an owl or a hawk thisclose before. And then, more animals follow: a porcupine, a snake, a lizard, or an opossum. They have entered the fascinating world of Lindsay’s Animal Encounters program.

Keeper Mandy giving a presentation online.

Every visit to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience provides someone with an unforgettable up close and personal encounter with wild animals. The keepers are always generous with their time and stories, answering the same questions over and over again, always with the same enthusiasm and delight as if they were telling the accounts for the first time. This is the magic of Lindsay. Every encounter is a delight, a moment of discovery and connection, and a unique set of memories.

Being an animal keeper at Lindsay requires a particular type of personality. An animal keeper must have an endless capacity to deeply and sincerely love animals, and possess the ability to learn something every day about their needs, behaviors, mood, and health. Each keeper gets to know the ambassadors assigned to them, and these relationships can last for many years. Over time, these bonds are as strong as any person can make with a beloved pet or even a family member. But these animals are definitely not pets. They are true ambassadors of their species, sharing their history and stories with the public through their keepers. And this is the other thing a keeper must have: a genuine and heartfelt desire to share these stories over and over again, knowing that every telling strengthens someone’s bond with wildlife and stays with them their entire lives.

Lead Animal Keeper Adam Lepkowski feeding one of our animal ambassadors.

Our animal keepers and the volunteers that work with them side by side put their ambassadors first. The ambassadors require care every day and know no holidays, bad weather, elections, or pandemics. They depend entirely on the keepers and volunteers for their health and wellbeing. The ambassadors receive enrichment to keep them healthy and motivated, and training to keep their skills sharp and help them demonstrate their skills in front of adoring crowds. They are regularly checked by our veterinarians and are fed the best, most balanced diets available. They are pampered creatures, and for good reasons. Through them, we engage people of all ages and give them a glimpse of the wild world that surrounds us but that is seldom seen or even recognized.

The keepers of the Animal Encounters department also train our educators and volunteers in the nuanced aspects of each ambassador’s care and coordinate and participate in education and outreach events and presentations. Recently, they even hosted presentations and a class in an ornithology course for Carondelet High School!

The current staff of the Animal Encounters department

Today, we celebrate this group of extraordinary people. They straddle two worlds with equal passion and skill, the world of wildlife husbandry and the world of education and outreach. They are the link between wildlife and people, and their work is selfless and even consuming, but also very rewarding and singular.

Thank you, Lindsay keepers and volunteers. Through your stories and efforts, thousands of children and adults get the opportunity to fall in love with a wild animal and perhaps change forever the way they see our natural world.

Stay healthy!

Carlos L. de la Rosa
Executive Director