Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Garden with a View

 The puppies aren’t the only thing growing in the maned wolf exhibit. Andrea Yount, a zookeeper at the Animal Discovery Park, is making full use of the eco-friendliness of the maned wolf blockhouse. The blockhouse was designed with many energy-saving and low-impact features, including a roof that can be planted as a garden. Andrea, with help from Shannon Rives and other zookeepers, planted the roof three weeks ago and the plants have really started to develop.

The roof before starting, taken from the stairs.
This is the third year the roof has been planted. Herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruit are all grown on the roof and either eaten by staff or used around the zoo. The vegetables and fruits are used in the animals’ diets and the flowers and herbs are used for enrichments. The animals enjoy the smell of the herbs, as the aromas are often powerful and unfamiliar.

Andrea took this project up voluntarily and has spent a lot of hours on the roof, both while on the clock and on her own time. She has enjoyed growing produce and flowers before in her home, but doesn’t have the room to grow as much as she’d like. She finds gardening relaxing, and feels that growing something and tending to it is rewarding in its own right. She’s using the space on the blockhouse and, as a kind of rent, the zoo gets paid back in fresh produce grown right there on the property. Below is a list of the plants being grown and a chart showing where they are planted on the roof.

Herbs and Flowers: lemon balm, sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, sunflowers
Fruit: watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes
Vegetables: banana peppers, yellow squash, cucumbers

The tires are filled with additional potting soil for vegetables that need the extra depth for strong rooting. Tire 1 holds banana peppers, yellow squash, chives, and Heirloom German Johnson tomatoes. Tire 2 contains yellow squash, and Tire 3 includes cucumbers and more tomatoes

Taken from behind Tire 2
Taken from below the "S" in "Stairs"
The map above shows where different plants will grow. It's plain, but informative. The pictures to the left shows the roof in its current state.

Thank you to Andrea, Shannon, the other zookeepers, and administration for taking part in this project. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight - Margaret McCall and Betty Barry

Margaret McCall’s history with the Natural Science Center is much longer than her two years as a volunteer may indicate. She began volunteering because her and her husband had been long-time members of the Science Center and had frequently made visits with their children and grandchildren. Her prior experiences with the Science Center, along with her love of animals, steered her toward docenting when she wanted to volunteer after she retired.

She has enjoyed many different animals during her years at the zoo, but she says that Discovery House is consistently her favorite. She has always owned “Discovery House animals” as pets at home, including ferrets, guinea pigs, and others. She has, however, never owned a snake and, like many docents, had to overcome her aversion to them. Two years in though, she is just as comfortable with Checkers as with any other animals in Discovery House.


Betty Barry has been a volunteer for a number of years, in addition to being on the board of directions at the Natural Science Center. She had a career in healthcare and decided that when she retired, she wanted to spend her time volunteering. However, she wanted it to be in a field completely unrelated to healthcare. Having always been an outdoorsy person and an animal lover, the Science Center docent program was a perfect fit.

Betty was actually part of the very first docent class at the Science Center. When she was deciding where to volunteer her time, Betty came in on a whim and Marion Gilligan, the volunteer coordinator, had incidentally started putting the class together that day. Betty has enjoyed her long career volunteering at the Science Center, and is impressed with how both the zoo and the docent program have grown during her tenure here.

Betty is a superb volunteer, but she has not always had the confidence she shows now. During docent training, Peggy Ferebee, the co-curator of the zoo, instructed Betty to “hold out her hands.” Peggy promptly placed Vader, the Science Center's six-foot black king snake, into Betty’s hands. At first a harrowing experience, Betty quickly became more comfortable with the reptiles.

Betty is glad to be less anxious around snakes, and got even more training thanks to one particular boy. He frequently came in to Discovery House for the sole purpose of seeing Checkers the corn snake, and it would never do to just wave hello through the glass. Through docent training and the continuing education from Checker’s fans, Betty is comfortable with snakes and a great asset to the docent program.

Family Volunteering: Joy and Patience Ben-Israel

All four of the Ben-Israel sisters have spent some time at the Natural Science Center, being involved as a volunteer or as a visitor. Patience, currently in 8th grade, says that her parents really love both the museum and the zoo and they believe that volunteering at the Natural Science is enjoyable and rewarding for their daughters. Without the usual difference between what parents want to think and what children actually think, the Ben-Israel sisters do actually enjoy their time at the Science Center.
Joy Ben-Israel is a sophomore in high school, though she technically attends home school like her sisters. She has been volunteering at the Science Center for nearly two years. Soon after she began volunteering, she completed docent training so she could work in the zoo. She enjoys the zoo the most because she loves animals. In particular, her favorite station to work, and animals to visit, is the tigers.

Joy’s favorite memory of docenting was at the tiger exhibit on a hot day last summer. Both tigers had been sunning themselves and had apparently grown too hot. Seeking shelter from the heat, both tigers jumped into their larger pool. They both splashed and played a little before lying down to rest and cool off in the shade.
The start to Patience’s volunteering was slightly less voluntary. Her parents urged her to come and try it out eight months ago, and she has loved it since. Unlike her sister, Patience works inside the museum instead of out in the zoo. She works primarily in Kid’s Alley, supervising both the play areas and the ship. Though she also worked in the Bodies Revealed exhibit, she prefers to stay with the kids.

She says that it’s hard to pick out her favorite moment, but when asked about experience, she jokes that “she’s getting quite a bit of excellent free babysitter training.” She also remarked how valuable the experience in general has been and how she’s met some good friends and close contacts. Patience summed up her thoughts on it by saying that she’s simply glad she gets to volunteer with kids, whom she really likes, but that being here at the Science Center is definitely a big bonus.

**Indeed, National Volunteer Week is over. These interviews were completed, but unable to be posted, last week. I still wanted to post them though, and I will not be held down by the calendar.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight - Bob Nesmith and Jasan Salat

Bob Nesmith is one of the longest-serving of the docents at the Natural Science Center, having volunteered there for over five years. After retiring, Bob wanted something into which he could focus his time and energy. He feels that being retired and being productive are in no way mutually exclusive. His daughter had enjoyed her visits to the Science Center and recommended that Bob look in to a position here when he began discussing his intentions to volunteer with her.

Bob’s favorite place to volunteer is in the herpetology lab, downstairs in the museum. The herpetology lab is home to all manner of reptiles and amphibians, from snakes to lizards to frogs. Some docents shy away from the snakes, but Bob is a staple downstairs. With experience comes confidence, and Bob blows off my comment about being a braver man than I with a laugh and an “It’s nothing.” He bounced back and forth between answering questions for curious guests and telling me of his favorite herp lab memories.

The Natural Science Center had a snake named Elvis, one of Bob’s favorites. Bob made it a point to poke his head in the herp lab and see how Elvis was doing whenever he arrived at the Science Center for his shift. One morning, Bob was startled to find Elvis, in his cage, sitting atop a clutch of eggs. Elvis, being the only snake that had access to the cage all night, was promptly rechristened Elvira.

Another of Bob’s favorite stories comes from an attempt to teach some children that snakes smell differently than most people are familiar with; they use their tongues. Wanting to give a child the chance to show some previous knowledge, Bob asked if anyone knew how snakes smell. One boy, raising his hand with unbridled enthusiasm, wanted the first try. After being called on, the boy leaned in, sniffed the snake, and replied that “it wasn’t too bad.” After some explaining by Bob, everyone enjoyed both a laugh and a lesson.


Jason Salat is a volunteer that has been with the Natural Science Center since February, 2009. He began volunteering as a productive way to fill time between college and graduate school. He is currently enrolled in graduate school at UNCG, studying geography, but has kept volunteering as a docent. He has always cultivated an interest in the natural world and animals, and the Science Center seemed to be a good fit for the type of work he was hoping to do.

He enjoys working both in the labs and out in the zoo. His favorite animals at the zoo are our wallabies, DiGi, Jupiter, and Kermit. He enjoys the freedom of interaction that the exhibit allows: the wallabies are free to cross over the rope barrier and interact with visitors more closely if they so choose.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Volunteer Spotlight - Hayes Barber and Nancy Campbell

Hayes Barber began volunteering with the Natural Science Center during the Bodies Revealed exhibit in winter of 2010. He enjoyed working the exhibit, but was very excited to be involved in the docent training program and work with animals in the zoo. Having a masters in Field Biology, Hayes was enthusiastic about having the opportunity to spend time with his first love after he retired.

After college, Hayes started working at the Museum of Science and History in Little Rock, Arkansas. His favorite memories from there are of Prince, an alligator, and Selena, a rosy boa. He had ample opportunity there to personally interact with the reptiles and show them to guests, allowing Selena to rest around his shoulders while he spoke.

His favorite animals at the Science Center are as impressive, but not as interactive. He enjoys the wolves’ boardwalk and tiger exhibit stations the most when volunteering. He admires both animals because of their beauty and the respect they command as powerful hunters, but also recognizes that these two species are endangered. He feels that we are fortunate to have them at the zoo and that he is able to share his knowledge and admiration with our guests so they can appreciate these animals as well.


Nancy Campbell has been a volunteer with the Natural Science Center since August of 2010. She had visited the Science Center with her children and grandchildren in the past. After retiring and moving to Greensboro, Nancy was looking for a way to meet like-minded people and to give back to the community.

Nancy decided to volunteer at the Science Center because she was drawn to the diversity of opportunities and impressed by the enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers. She began as a greeter, worked in the Bodies Revealed exhibit, and currently docents at the zoo. The zoo is her favorite area to work, with Discovery House being the most preferred station. She enjoys Discovery House because she loves the interaction between docents, animals, and guests.

She has enjoyed the time she's spent at the Science Center and feels that she has met many people whom she enjoys. In addition to the friends and experience she expected to gain, Nancy also was able to overcome her aversion to snakes during docent training and by handling the various snakes at the zoo and in the labs. While she doesn’t make a habit of handling snakes in her own time, she is glad she is comfortable enough to provide a fun and relaxing experience for the guests. She feels she has “accomplished the impossible.”

National Volunteer Week - Marion Gilligan

Marion Gilligan is the volunteer curator at the Natural Science Center. August will mark the beginning of her twentieth year there and she says that it “has been a labor of love;” not always easy, but very rewarding. Marion has worked with many volunteers, and treasures the wide variety of people she meets because they brighten her life and keep her young. She loves to see volunteers she's worked with in the past return with children or grandchildren of their own.

Marion feels that National Volunteer Week is an important time of year, especially for the Science Center, to recognize the people that give so generously of their time and ability. Even during a day filled with small crises to manage, she feels that the talent and selflessness of the volunteers makes it much easier to negotiate the coordination of so many people. Marion believes her job is fulfilling, not merely because of the work she does, but because of the people with whom she works.  

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cool Things Others are Doing at the NSC

Next week is National Volunteer Week! The Natural Science Center benefits from volunteers in many different areas and, in fact, depends on them to keep the Science Center running. We will spotlight many of our volunteers, as well as continue coverage of our newest docents during training.


A full-time zookeeper at the Science Center, Kimberly Clark, is running a blog focusing on the maned wolf family. The parents, Nazca and Lana, had three puppies on February 6th, 2011. The votes have been counted and the final names for the puppies are Chiquita, Bonita, and Vince. Kim posts frequently with photos, videos, and lots of information regarding the pups, their upbringing, and maned wolves in general. It is definitely worth going over there if you're interested in maned wolves, nature conversation, happenings at the Science Center, or even just things that are super cute.

Below is just one example of the many videos you will find on her blog; this is the most recent one. There are some trees in the foreground at the beginning, though it's a great shot of all three together. Much closer shots are further in of them exploring, playing, wrestling, and just being awesome in general.

Thank you to all of the zoostaff so integral in the care of the wolves and their puppies, and a special thank you in particular for the extra effort Kim has put in for the puppies and the blog. You can find it at Check it out!