A compelling component of Schlitz Audubon’s educational programing is our Animal Ambassador Program, consisting of more than 50 animals, including a variety of snakes, turtles, and amphibians. These animal ambassadors reside permanently at the Center and play an important role as educators, creating memorable and inspirational experiences for visitors. The animals teach in a variety of venues, both onsite and at locations throughout the community.
A Dedicated Team of Volunteers
All our animal ambassadors are cared for by a team of volunteers. To provide the animals with the best care possible, members of this dedicated team come in regularly to clean enclosures and feed the animal ambassadors, with each volunteer assisting on the same day weekly.
For more than three years, volunteer duo Debbie Quin (left) and Dayle Dieffenbach (right) have tended to the animals on Fridays. Drawing upon their years of experience teaming up to work with the birds in our Raptor Program, Debbie and Dayle seamlessly share responsibilities, and support and learn from one another. They meticulously follow set instructions and keep diligent records on each animal. In 2021, they were part of a team of nine volunteers who donated 795 hours of their time to work with the animals.
Getting to Know Our Animal Ambassadors
The animal care team gets to know each animal over time. The volunteers’ love, personal attention to, and knowledge of each animal’s needs and personality is evident. “Working with each animal and getting to know their different personalities has been so enriching to me,” Debbie said.
Learning is a key component to the volunteers’ role, and their knowledge grows through staff training. In addition to keeping detailed records, volunteers pay attention to animal behavior. Understanding the behavior of an animal such as a snake allows volunteers to know what’s unusual for a snake, which could help indicate a health issue, or when it’s time for a snake to shed its skin.
Daily Care for Our Animals
There are a multitude of tasks to attend to every day. Caring for one snake involves placing them in a holding tank, fully cleaning their enclosure, replacing bedding, giving them fresh water, feeding them, and checking the heating and lighting components to ensure the habitat is at the appropriate heat and humidity levels. Volunteers also provide baths to turtles to help loosen debris from their shells.
Recently, Schlitz Audubon was able to provide new animal habitats and create a state-of-the-art Animal Ambassador Care Room to house the Center’s herptiles. Upgraded housing for every ambassador includes larger tanks, new UV and heat lamps, and heating pads. New electrical support and wall-anchored shelves provide security for each ambassador’s habitat.
Feeding is another big part of the animals’ daily care. It involves gathering and preparing mice, mealworms, and other feeder insects. Produce is prepared and given daily, including chopped greens and blueberries, which Debbie loves to see being savored by the turtles.
As a part of our high standards, the Center works closely with a veterinarian to ensure that our ambassadors live healthy, comfortable, and safe lives while they assist in our environmental educational efforts. Volunteers may also help to provide special care when an animal needs it most. “I feel rewarded that I can care for these animals,” Dayle said.
Providing Enrichment Opportunities
Providing enrichment for the animals is required at Schlitz Audubon. It is defined as any object or change in the environment that stimulates natural behaviors and ensures psychological and physical well-being. During a shift, volunteers provide enrichment for each animal. Snakes slither around our peg board, turtles chase after mealworms in kiddie pools, moss-filled boxes, shredded paper tubes, and egg cartons are placed in their enclosures for further enrichment.
Enrichment materials are usually made by volunteers. Debbie and Dayle have creatively placed lettuce in snake enclosures so they can slither across it. They have also made holes in the side of a cardboard box to slip a newspaper through, allowing Cooper the fox snake to slither through it, and overseen turtles as they run in one of the Center’s classrooms.
A favorite activity involves both animal care and public education. While Dayle feeds Harley, a spiny softshell turtle, up to 50 live mealworms one at a time, Debbie will often share a snake with visitors. Debbie and Dayle enjoy that children are introduced to an animal they don’t often see, but also learn how the animals are cared for so they are able to help educate the public about their wild counterparts.
With the volunteers’ dedication and passion for the animals, our ambassadors live healthy and stimulating lives as they work throughout the community to provide unforgettable experiences to the public.
The Center is grateful for all of our devoted Animal Care Volunteers! If you are interested in volunteering, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator to learn about the many opportunities at Schlitz Audubon!