Tools of the Trade or Coworkers? They’re Both.


Part of my routine for getting the visitor center ready to open for the day includes checking on all the program animals as I turn on their lights. One particular day last week I noticed our long-time amphibian ambassador, the tiger salamander, didn’t look quite right. Although I already knew it wouldn’t matter, I misted my hands and then his too-dry skin with water and picked up his lifeless body.

My heart sank, as this formidable creature (growing to an impressive 9–10 inches long from nose to tail) has been in our care for 16 years — he began his service with the parks when I did! It may sound silly to feel a little blue about losing our program animals. After all, they are wild animals, so we don’t consider them pets and they aren’t given names for that reason. They are a valuable tool for us to use in our profession of connecting people to nature. However, we do work with these animals every day. And believe it or not, many of them have personalities that we must take the time to get to know if we want to work well with them. In fact it’s imperative with the larger animals we care for, such as the birds of prey.

Working closely with animals is messy, sometimes hazardous, and unpredictable at times. Watching a guest’s captivated reaction to animals he or she has never seen up close before is worth it all…even if we do get a little too attached and sad when we lose them.

Suzanne Roth, Naturalist, Miami Whitewater Forest