When Melissa Grippin arrives at a festival or celebration with a ZooMobile, she looks forward to teaching those at the event about the creatures inside.
The ZooMobile is a mobile educational program that brings live animals and zoo education staff and volunteers to parks, libraries, schools, nursing homes and community events. Three vans emblazoned with the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park logo transport zookeepers, trained volunteers and a variety of animals to events around the community.
ZooMobiles are busiest in the summer, said Grippin, 29, who is the education coordinator at the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park.
They can be seen at most of the major community events in the summer, including Johnson City’s Carousel Day this past Saturday and the Spiedie Fest & Balloon Rally, this Friday through Sunday.
But fairs are just the start: The ZooMobiles also make stops at summer camps, family events in public places, museum events and many local libraries that are participating in annual free summer reading programs. A ZooMobile has traveled as far away as the Pennsylvania Apple and Cheese Festival in Canton, Pennsylvania.
There are two forms of ZooMobile presentations — formal and informal, Grippin said.
For the formal presentations, she or a trained volunteer will give a 30- to 45-minute presentation educating the audience about the animals inside the ZooMobile. Five animals are brought out during the presentation for participants to see and interact with. Topics include animal habitats, misunderstood animals, animal classification and any questions that participants may have.
“It is so great to see that inquisitive nature come out in people,” she said.
Informal presentations are often given at community events and festivals, Grippin said. She or one of the volunteers will bring out up to six animals out for participants to ask questions and observe on their own time, over a period of up to three hours.
Usually only two animals are out at a time, Grippin said, and typically for 15 minutes or less so they don’t get overly stressed.
“They are definitely our priority,” she said, adding that when they aren’t being presented, the animals are kept in their carriers so they get some down time.
At high-attendance events, they always ensure the van is not near loud music or speakers that can overstimulate the animals.
ZooMobile animals also must be rotated throughout the day to make sure they aren’t too stressed by the transport and human interactions. There is a three-hour limit for animals to be out traveling and participating in ZooMobile presentations.
Visitors to the ZooMobile could see a variety of animals, including an Amazon parrot, several types of snakes, turtles, an opossum, armadillo, skunk and a fennec fox.
Crowds love the animals that can be touched, such as the reptiles, but they still enjoy getting an up-close look at some of the animals that can only be observed, such as the rescued owls, Grippin said.
ZooMobile animals must be kept separate from other animals in the zoo to prevent any outside pests or diseases from infecting other animals.
Zoo Director Steve Contento said the ZooMobile program began in the 1980s as an educational outreach tool to help the community to learn about wildlife. The ZooMobile program was created and sponsored by a Junior League of Binghamton grant in 1982.
“It started with just one van,” Contento said. “We have come a long way since then.”
More than 10 docents, or trained volunteers, work with the ZooMobile program. Grippin said some are retired teachers who already have experience with public speaking, but most must be trained to present and work with animals, Grippin said.
Grippin said many experiences have led to her job as a head of the ZooMobile.
She said she has an associate’s degree in animal management from Niagara County Community College and a bachelor’s degree in animal behavior, ecology and conservation from Canisius College in Buffalo. She added that she has participated in many informal international education programs through Canisius that taught her about the best ways of delivering information.
Many of the animals that go out on the ZooMobile are already domesticated, so they do not require much additional training to be coaxed into crates and transported to events. She said their Amazon parrot in particular, with a yellow head, green body and naturally social demeanor, seems to really enjoy the ZooMobile experience.
“She gets very excited when it is time to go out, and she talks a lot,” she said.
Grippin said the calm demeanor of reptiles makes them well-suited to the ZooMobile. She said she loves it when she can make people think differently about animals they may have been scared of or disliked before experiencing them on a more personal level, such as snakes and other reptiles.
“We hope that we make lasting impressions on everyone,” she said. “We want to make sure that we harbor that love of animals and conservation of the planet.”
Full story here: http://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/connections/2015/07/27/zoomobile-animals-workers-make-summer-wildly-fun/30736659/