Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Say Hello, Brillo!

Three years ago, I walked through the John Ball Zoo on a members’ night (on a date no less – I know, it actually happens from time to time) and ran into a fellow attorney standing in the Wallaby exhibit talking to guests and answering questions. It was readily apparent that she was not (simply) an eccentric zoo fan. I asked what she was doing and she explained that she volunteered at the zoo.

Huh. Volunteer at the zoo. Well that just sounds … cool!

I had been contemplating a way to volunteer in the community for a while but kept getting stuck on my firm belief that I should in no way be entrusted with a child’s self esteem given that a remodeling of my own continues (I’m working on the bedroom at the moment). I was hooked. I went through my initial training in the fall/2007 and spring/2008 and found myself smack among wallabies, sting rays, pygmy goats, and budgies during the summer of 2008. I added animal handling training in the fall of 2008.  I now handle snakes, bearded dragons, blue-tongued skinks, turtles, chinchillas, opossums, screech owls, etc. 

[I do refuse to handle the chickens/roosters, evil beings one and all.  Yes, evil.  Hey, you be constantly attacked by a rooster during your childhood and then come talk to me.]

Volunteering at the zoo now allows me to have a small impact on the kids who stare slack jawed at the ball python I’m holding or ooh and awwww over our baby pygmy goats all while satisfying (kinda) my desire for the pet who would not fit so well in a one bedroom apartment.

What does this have to do with Brillo?

Last week, I entered a new realm at the John Ball Zoo: the hospital. The zoo recently received a gift of a new hedgehog – Brillo – who, we hope, will be added to those animals taken on travel zoos and handled within the zoo itself. All new animals at the zoo must be quarantined for a certain period of time so Brillo is currently being housed in quarantine at the zoo’s hospital. In order to make sure Brillo becomes accustomed to human handlers, the zoo asked some volunteers to … come handle her.

Hedgehogs are small mammals, covered with 5,000-7,000 quills or spines that form their protection against predators. Two larges muscles on either side of a hedgehog's back allow it to raise and lower its quills and, of course, roll into a ball. A ball of sharp quills isn’t too enticing of a meal to predators – go figure.

Brillo is currently in the same part of the hospital housing the zoo’s baby pygmy goats, who are still being bottle fed each day, and five venomous rattlesnakes – including two diamondbacks. And you think your family is dysfunctional. Pfft.

The keeper handed me Brillo on a blue cloth. She was tightly in her “WHAT'S GOING ON!!” ball and quivering. Awwwwe.

With a little patience and low talking, she gradually began to unroll and check out this new human. Hedgehogs don’t have the best eyesight but her little nose was furiously sniffing.

Every now and again, a sharp noise (those rambunctious pygmies) would induce a hiss and roll but eventually she was relaxed enough to nap during our time together.

<cue sighs and awing>

When I finally left, carefully dipping my shoes in a disinfecting water mixture on my way out (quarantine, remember), Brillo was receiving a treat of crickets (hedgehogs love insects).  

Jealous yet? The zoo is always looking for more volunteers.

Meanwhile, if all goes well, look for Brillo later this summer.

1 comment:

  1. You know what induces the "hiss and roll" for me? WHINING noises. And Jay Leno.

    Brillo is adorable. When all balled up, he kind of looks like a cool end table accessory.