Monday, August 20, 2012

Porcupines, Otters, Snow Leopards, Oh My!

(Jessa was one of two students who worked on the Institutional Readiness for Online Education project with faculty mentor Dr. Karl Roeper during the inaugural Freshman Scholars Program in summer 2012.)

by Jessa K., Freshman Scholar and Guest Blogger
After a long week working with our mentors for the Freshman Scholars Program, our trip to Roanoke was the thing on everyone's minds! The activity that caught my attention from the get-go was our scheduled trip to the Mill Mountain Zoo, located next to the Roanoke Star. The word "zoo" caused images of lions, gorillas, and other large, uncommon animals. However, the Mill Mountain Zoo is not on the same level as a large scale zoo, and therefore does not have gorilla exhibits.

At first, I was slightly disappointed, but as I walked through and looked at each animal, I was surprised to see the variety of animals they did have. I thought the pig, goat, and cow exhibit was really cool because it displayed animals commonly found in the area. The size of the zoo really allows visitors to see wildlife that surrounds them but that they never notice. For example, I had never seen a porcupine before, and even though they are not native to my area, they are by no means classified as exotic. Another exhibit that caught my attention was the aviary. While I personally did not enter the structure where it was housed, it was a really interesting way for folks who are interested in birds to get an up-close and personal look at them. That was not the only hands-on experience. Throughout the zoo, there were faculty members moving the animals around who were more than willing to stop for zoo guests to answer questions about the animal. A few of my fellow Freshman Scholars had the opportunity to pet a very large rabbit.

As I rounded a corner with one of my friends, we came upon a snow leopard -- a real, living, breathing snow leopard! I was floored that there was such an exotic creature residing in such a small zoo. There were signs all over the area informing visitors about snow leopard conservation; I had noticed these signs, but the severity of the creature's situation had not hit me until I saw it lying there. The animal was truly pitiful. To see such a majestic creature in captivity was heartbreaking. I know the zoo is doing the best it can to care for the animal, and honestly, the snow leopards' only hope for survival is to breed in captivity. In the snow leopard's habitat, poachers kill the animals simply to sell their pelts for top dollar, without giving a second thought to the endangered animal.

After seeing the captive creature, I knew I wanted to help. Upon entering the gift shop, I saw snow leopard conservation crafts for which proceeds go to help the animals as well as the impoverished peoples surrounding their habitats; I knew I had found a way to contribute. I, along with another scholar, purchased a snow leopard Christmas tree ornament. I know it was a small gesture, but I also know it takes small gestures to make big things happen.

I really enjoyed my time at the zoo with my fellow Freshman Scholars. It provided us with a time to have fun with each other as well as a learning experience. Some of the scholars had never seen goats and pigs while others were able to connect over a common adoration for a particular animal. I plan on making trips to the Mill Mountain Zoo a regular thing during the school year!

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