Jennifer Anne Tucker said when her nephew came to visit her last year, they discovered two baby turkey vultures living in her barn.
That encounter helped inspire Tucker to become an honorary animal caretaker at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, sponsoring Neo, the center’s turkey vulture who lives in the raptor aviary. She says the discovery has now turned into a learning opportunity for her nephew and others in the community.
“When these birds aren’t able to forage in their own wild state, they become ambassadors,” she said. “They become more relatable, and that’s good for children to learn at a very early age. When they become adults, they’re more connected to all of what’s around us.”
Through the Honorary Animal Caretaker program, individuals can sponsor the daily care, training and educational presentation of Shaver’s Creek’s raptors, amphibians and reptiles who are permanent residents at the Klingsberg Aviary and Litzinger Discovery Room.
Shaver’s Creek — a Penn State Outreach service — is the university’s outdoor education field lab and nature center located in Petersburg.
The program provides support in:
- Environmental needs — heating, lighting, water and exhibit maintenance
- Nutrition — species-specific diets
- Enrichment — species-specific stimuli to encourage natural behaviors
- Training — using positive reinforcement to prepare the animals for their jobs as conservation ambassadors for their species
- Education — supporting free programs
Abby Flanders, aviator program coordinator, says the support helps the Shaver’s Creek staff, along with volunteers, interns and Penn State students, prepare the animals as educators.
“We want to offer them lots of choices and abilities to show their natural behavior, and to really teach all of us and the public about what these animals are like,” she said. “Having that support allows us to be able to provide the best for these animals, whether it’s the variety of food we provide, the variety for environmental enrichment inside their enclosures or even the amount of time we’re able to spend with these animals.”
As an honorary animal caretaker, individuals receive an information packet about the sponsored animal, including a photo, case history and conservation connection activities, a private tour of the Klingsberg Aviary and Litzinger Discovery Room, and their name on the Honorary Animal Caretaker webpage.
Through her job as director of resident services for a retirement community, Kimberly McGinnis says she has helped connect residents with events at Shaver’s Creek and saw the honorary animal caretaker program as an opportunity to give back.
“You get to see up close things that are in the wild that normally you wouldn’t get to see,” said McGinnis, who sponsored the eastern screech owl Rufous. “They’re saved and taken care of.”
Jason Beale, animal care program director, says that when people make that type of connection with an animal, they start to realize what happens below the surface.
“I’m always amazed at the amount of interest we have with our program,” he said. “The opportunity here to be at the nexus of these animals, the public and the people who help take care of them is an exciting opportunity. You see how these things fit together to provide a unique service to our community.”
Visit the Shaver’s Creek website to learn more about becoming an Honorary Animal Caretaker.