More photos from 2014

This is Bali, snow leopard. He’s kind of a ham. He loves attention and loves to play with his enrichments and toys!

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This is Beatrix Kiddo, red panda. She was born at my zoo in June and is Archibald’s sister.

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She’s pretty adorable. She was just beginning to learn to mouth bamboo when I shot these photos.

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Momma, Nova, often checked on her little girl.

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But Beatrix likes to explore…

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Benjamin Bunny! Benjamin is a Flemish Giant Rabbit. He’s one of our education animals at the zoo. He’s extremely docile and relaxed. He’s great to work with.

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Bo Wolverine is a very special creature. He was born with a heart issue and was pulled for some medical tests shortly after he was born to see if he needed any treatments. When he was placed back with his family, I believe it was his father who rejected him. So he was hand raised and is very used to people.

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He injured one of his eyes and there is some fluid build up in that eye causing it to look milky white.

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Even still, he seems full of energy and enthusiasm.

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And here is one of our Burmese pythons, whose eyes appear milky for a different reason. He’s getting ready to shed. When snakes shed their skin, they also shed the scale that covers each eye. As the snake gets close to shedding, that scale starts to detach and appears a milky color. The science of these animals is fascinating!

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More photos yet to come!

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Happy New Year!!

Over the next few days, I’m going to take a look back through some of my photos from 2014. Happy New Year!

Meet Archibald. He’s a red panda cub born at Mill Mountain Zoo in June 2014. He’s been hand-raised since he was just a couple days old because his mother favored her female cub and Archie wasn’t getting to eat.

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This handsome fellow is Azizi whose name means “precious one” in Swahili. He’s a Savannah Monitor Lizard and one of the zoo’s education animals.

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More photos to come over the next few days!

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Feral Fun

October 16 was National Feral Cat Day. I haven’t had a chance to share how I celebrated yet due to a number of life events which I will elaborate on later. I love my feral cats and so of course I also love celebrating National Feral Cat Day. This year, a few of my friends came over after work to munch on some noms, watch Ten Lives: A Feral Cat Odyssey, and discuss issues facing feral cats and potential solutions to these problems. We had a great time. One of my favorite things in the world is vegging out with my friends and discussing animals, and cats are a popular topic with me.

For anyone who doesn’t know, feral cats are domestic cats who have reverted back to a wild state. This happens when lost, stray or abandoned pet cats breed in the wild and have kittens who grow up without socialization to humans. Since they are fearful of humans, adult ferals do not make good pets. Kittens of feral cats can be socialized to humans and go on to make good pets if caught at an early age. Check out this video for more info on feral cats:

It is INCREDIBLY important to get your pets spayed and neutered to help prevent pet overpopulation and the potential for feral cats. I got involved because I’ve seen how quickly feral cats can get out of control without trap-neuter-return programs. So when I spotted two kittens on my way to work one day, I had to get involved. It took me a while to learn the ropes, and I’ll go over that process in this blog someday, but let’s go back to the beginning of National Feral Cat Day 2014. I started the day like I normally do. I woke up, got ready for work, took care of my own pets and then headed out to feed my wonderful feral kitties. I had special treats for them and I have to say, they are the best way to start a day. My ferals all know the feeding schedule and I have two sweet little girls at one location who have gotten used to me and actually rub all over me while I pet them. Sudden movements and anything out of the ordinary still startle them, but most of the time we have a routine where I sit down with the girls and I’m able to pet them as they rub all over me. After some lovey time, I give them fresh water, dry food, and canned food. I feed them in the morning and give them just a little more food than they can eat in one sitting so as not to attract wildlife to the feed site. I also stay with the girls as they eat to make sure nothing else scares them off.

This is Twilight:

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And this is her sister, Smoke:

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After feeding the girls, I go to my second feed site where my boys are located. I have trapped my ferals and had them spayed or neutered and vaccinated. It’s not always easy caring for feral cats, but for me, it’s worth it. At least I know that my ferals aren’t being euthanized in a shelter or pound. Nearly 100% of all feral cats in pounds and shelters are euthanized since they are not socialized with humans and cannot be adopted out as pets. I know for a fact that TNR or trap-neuter-return prevents unwanted litters of feral cats. I also provide winterized homes for my ferals.

Two of my boys have become the bestest of buddies. This is Bobcat…

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and this is Blue…

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Aren’t they handsome?

Bobcat showed up a couple years ago and always wanted a friend. He tried to make friends with another male feral, but it didn’t work. Blue started showing up towards the beginning of this year and was extremely shy. I only caught glimpses of him. He was like a ghost cat. Both Bobcat and Blue learned the feeding schedule and got a little more used to me and to each other when they came to eat in the mornings. They became absolutely inseparable almost overnight. They eat together, sleep together, cuddle together and wrestle and play together. They can barely walk a straight line because they rub on each other so much while walking.

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Surveying their territory together…

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One can’t go far without the other.

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You can see another of my male ferals in the background. That’s Mr. Gray.

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I love kitty bums!

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Taking care of ferals can be hard work physically and emotionally, but it is absolutely much more rewarding!

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The Science of Owls

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I’m always busy, and I neglect this site. I know that. So let’s try to get back to it with some photos! I may have posted some of these before, but these are some of my favorites, so I am sharing again.

Nina, Cougar.

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I love her facial expressions…

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…and her eyes.
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Red, Eastern Screech Owl.

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He’s so amazing.

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China, Snow Leopard.

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One of the most beautiful creatures on the earth, in my opinion…

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What a stunner.

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More photos to come =)

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My Views

I feel the need to write this due to some recent media coverage of Mill Mountain Zoo. I apologize for the length and for any graphic content. First, let me explain the situation. Mill Mountain Zoo was visited by protesters this past weekend. The group wants to shut down the zoo and all zoos because they object to animals in captivity. They want to send the animals to a sanctuary to live out their days. I have been volunteering for Mill Mountain Zoo for over 6 years now. I volunteer graphic design and art services, I work directly with our education animals and go on outreaches and speak to groups about our animals. I lead tours; I’ve helped with grounds work, etc. I’m also a member of the zoo’s Development Committee, the Roanoke Valley American Association of Zoo Keepers, the national group of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, and I’m a member of the National Zoo as well. In addition, I work locally to practice Trap-Neuter-Return with feral cats and I manage (feed & water daily, pet and love on those who have warmed up to me, and take to the vet when necessary) several feral cats. I volunteer for some other animal oriented organizations as well and I work to help local stray animals as I can. I LOVE doing all these things. I’m only stating all this because I think it may be relevant in regards to what I am about to say.

I respect someone who believes in a cause and stands up for it, but I do NOT respect those who spread false accusations. Mill Mountain Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Accreditation is a rigorous process and every single aspect of the zoo (including animal welfare, vet care, enclosure space, finances, safety practices, the staff quality, record keeping, etc.) is reviewed before accreditation is approved. This entire process happens again every five years. However, there are a variety of inspections that occur throughout those five years as well. It is incredibly difficult to become accredited and to stay accredited. There are currently only 224 AZA accredited zoos worldwide. According to the AZA’s website, fewer than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture are AZA accredited. The zoo must keep up with ever evolving practices to stay accredited. For more information on the AZA accreditation process, please visit:

So the protesters say they want to shut down all zoos and put the animals from those zoos into sanctuaries because they don’t believe animals should be kept captive. What exactly do they think sanctuaries are? I’d really like to know because ANIMALS IN SANCTUARIES ARE CAPTIVE ANIMALS. Do they expect animals in sanctuaries to roam around free in some fairytale setting and live harmoniously with human caretakers? I honestly believe if our zoo’s name was Mill Mountain Sanctuary rather than Mill Mountain Zoo, the protesters wouldn’t protest us. I believe it all comes down to one word: zoo vs. sanctuary. Here is the problem. You cannot lump all zoos into one group and all sanctuaries into a different group. I know of many so-called “sanctuaries” that were nothing but horrible breeding facilities. I know of other “sanctuaries” that were created by well-intentioned people who genuinely wanted to help animals, but who did not have the knowledge of animal care or business skills to keep their “sanctuary” operational. These sanctuaries close and their animals have to be shipped to other facilities if they have survived at all. Yes, there are some wonderful animal sanctuaries out there, but there are also wonderful zoos out there. Mill Mountain Zoo IS in fact a sanctuary to many animals. I found it very ironic that the protesters posted a photo of the zoo’s Eastern Screech Owl exhibit online and inferred that it was a far cry from the wild because there aren’t many branches in the enclosure. The irony lies in the fact that the screech owls in that enclosure and all of the zoo’s screech owls were injured in the wild and deemed non-releasable. That’s how they came to live at the zoo. They needed a home because they could not survive on their own in the wild after their injuries. The owls in the enclosure photographed by the protesters each lost an eye from their accidents in the wild. Due to their injuries, it is not ideal for the owls’ habitat to be cluttered with lots of branches. Multiple animals who call the zoo home were either injured in the wild and could not be released, were previous pets whose owners could no longer take care of them for some reason or another, or were confiscated by authorities because they were illegally owned as pets. Mill Mountain Zoo is an amazing sanctuary and home to these creatures who desperately needed one. The alternative was euthanasia, and I am incredibly glad that option was not chosen for the animals’ sakes. It would have been wonderful if the protesters bothered to initiate a conversation with the zoo before spreading their accusations. I prefer to take the time to do my research BEFORE I come to a conclusion on whether or not to support or object a cause, business, institution, or ideal.

The animals at Mill Mountain Zoo who were not injured in the wild or former pets or illegally owned were born in captivity. AZA zoos participate in Species Survival Programs to maintain a captive population of threatened and vulnerable animals. Animals are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate due to extreme and increasing threats from a variety of factors including climate change, environmental degradation, invasive species and most of all: humans. Zoos and captive breeding programs are responsible for bringing back species who were declared extinct in the wild – meaning a species had been nearly entirely wiped out in the wild and the last remaining individuals were taken into captivity to try and institute a captive breeding program in order to eventually reintroduce the species into the wild. Black-footed ferrets, Przewalski’s horses, and red wolves are just a few example species that zoos and captive breeding programs have helped reintroduce to the wild after being declared extinct in the wild. Zoos do breed some animals without releasing them into the wild as well. If an animal’s natural habitat is not well protected from threats, there is no point in releasing captive born animals into the wild just yet. Before any animals can be released, more work needs to be done to ensure that the animals will not be poached, will have sufficient food and water sources and habitat, etc. Zoos, therefore, maintain a captive population until such time that a species’ natural habitat is conducive for survival.

During a news interview, one of the protesters stated that animals should be able to live out their lives in the wild saying, “They are there to live their own life on their own terms.” That is an absolutely grand idea, and if the world were a perfect place, zoos may not be necessary. Animal shelters like your local humane societies and SPCA’s would not be necessary – IF the world were perfect. Sadly it is not. The problem with the statement is that animals are not able to live natural lives in the wild because of human interference. Humans are impacting animals’ lives in the wild everywhere. Three of the nine subspecies of tiger have gone extinct since the 1930’s. The Sumatran Tiger and South-China Tiger subspecies are currently Critically Endangered. One subspecies of leopard, the Amur leopard, has only an estimated 30 individuals living in the wild. Black Rhinos are Critically Endangered and one subspecies of rhino is already believed to be extinct. All of these animals that I’ve listed are big well known animals and they are still in extreme danger of becoming extinct. There are countless other lesser known animals who are also in critical danger of dying off the face of the planet forever. Accredited zoos are working to prevent this from happening by raising awareness, through captive breeding, and through massive conservation efforts. Humans have to live on this planet as well, but there are more of us than ever before and WE ARE AFFECTING OTHER SPECIES. In case you don’t believe me, here are some specific examples of how we humans negatively affect animals in the wild. This is graphic. Recently, National Geographic and many other news outlets reported on the death of Satao, a wild elephant famous for his huge tusks. Despite having special protections, Satao was still slaughtered by poison arrows and his face was HACKED OFF by poachers because his tusks were irresistible to them. (Read about Satao’s murder here.) Did this majestic animal live and die on his own terms? I think not. Sharks routinely have their fins cut off while they are alive to be used in shark fin soup. The sharks are thrown back into the ocean and left to drown or be eaten alive. Is this their idea of a natural wild life? No. Raccoon dogs are skinned alive for their fur. Snow leopards are persecuted for their fur and slaughtered in retaliatory killings for domestic livestock predation. The list goes on and on and on and on. Are these creatures asking to be murdered in horrific ways by humans? Is that their dream of life in the wild? Of course, the answer again is a resounding NO and although all of these animals are living in the wild, they are NOT living on their own terms because humans affect the wild too. If humans can interfere with how animals live in the wild and impact them in such a negative way that a species is threatened with extinction, then it is also the responsibility of humans to protect animals. That is exactly what accredited zoos are doing – protecting animals. Zoos don’t want to take every single animal into captivity and horde them away for some nefarious purpose. Without accredited zoos, black-footed ferrets, Przewalski’s horses, red wolves and a variety of other animals would already be extinct. Without accredited zoos, species of tigers, leopards, rhinos, frogs and too many animals to name will go extinct within the next few years. Mill Mountain Zoo should not be protested, it should be applauded. The protestors would better serve animals by supporting Mill Mountain Zoo and other accredited zoos and by working to help conservation efforts so that animals have safe and sustainable natural habitats in which to live.

To learn more about threatened species and the organization that determines a species’ threat level, check out this website. To learn more about the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, check out this website.

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Work Day at the Zoo

I’m working on some ads for the zoo and I needed to get some photos of a few specific animals. While I was there, I met our new Pallas Cat, Yeshi. He had a meal and I snapped some photos. It was a great first meeting!

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A Week

A week ago I was in North Carolina visiting the Conservators’ Center and the North Carolina Zoo and seeing Weezer in concert. I’m crossing my fingers that I can post photos soon. It was an amazing trip!

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Raptors Rock

I attended the Green Hill Medieval Faire and Highland Games this past Fall and although the entire event seemed fascinating, I primarily went to see this: Robb Herbst, “The Falconer of Phillpott Locke.” I was not disappointed.

It was an absolutely magnificent day.

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The park itself is beautiful.

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The blue sky dotted with clouds made a beautiful backdrop for the mountains in the distance.

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People-watching was very fun at this event. I loved seeing all the costumes and weaponry that people had with them.

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The bag pipers were totally awesome! I loved the clothing and the sounds!

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There were a variety of vendors…

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It’s fun to look at all the old-time goods.

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I also really liked the Medieval-looking tents.

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I didn’t try out the archery and axe throwing, but I really would have liked to try it. Who wouldn’t?

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Look how sneaky that guy looks…I would have aimed for him, not the boar.

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Raptors anyone?

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Oh my wooooorrrrdddd. I was so excited to see the birds!!

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This is a Eurasian Barn Owl and his name is Lenny. Isn’t he just absolutely gorgeous?

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Mr. Herbst’s daughter and son were helping at the event. Lenny was being handled by Mr. Herbst’s daughter who was an extremely charming, intelligent, nice young lady. I really enjoyed speaking with her about the birds and what life is like with a father who is a Master Falconer. Lenny’s disc-shaped face helps filter sound to his ear slits.

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It was a beautiful day, but it was very warm. Water misting helped keep the birds cool.

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This is Amy. She is a Peregrine Falcon.

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I’m pretty sure she knows that she is gorgeous.

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Raptors have zygodactyl feet where two toes point forward and two point backward to help them perch. However, they can rotate one of their toes that points backward toward the front if needed.

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What a regal raptor.

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Raptors have excellent site to help locate prey.

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I believe Amy spotted something flying in the sky above her and she was checking it out. Peregrine falcons eat other smaller birds, so maybe Amy was feeling a bit hungry.

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Amy was being handled by Mr. Herbst’s son, and they both seemed very comfortable with each other.

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This is a red-tailed hawk and I believe her name is Eleanor.

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Mr. Herbst was handling her. She is a large powerful bird.

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When I used to commute 50 miles to work everyday, I would always be on the lookout for these red tails on my drive. When the leaves are off the trees, they are very easy to spot along highways. Spotting these birds definitely made the long drive more fun.

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Those leather straps that you see on the birds’ feet are called jesses. They are a type of harness used in falconry. The leather is very soft so as not to damage the birds’ legs in any way.

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I hope you have enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them! Mr. Herbst and his family were so knowledgeable and accommodating. It was an absolute privilege to meet them and their amazing raptors!

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I had so much fun, I hope to attend the faire again this year!

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Happy Earth Day!

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sorry this is a day late!

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