Learning how to work with animals
Students in Unity College’s distinctive Captive Wildlife Care and Education program don’t just read about animals; they interact with them directly as part of their training in sustainability science.
From studies in biology and taxonomy to animal care and restoration, wildlife biology, pre-veterinary programs, and more, students at Unity College learn to identify, understand, manage, care for, and educate others about animals in the college’s Animal Room and Animal Barn facilities.
The Animal Room has a collection of species that allow students to observe behaviors, collect systematic behavioral data, develop forms of animal stimulus and enrichment, collect specimens for research purposes, learn proper grooming and handling, prepare educational presentations, and more.
Other colleges and universities may have animal study facilities, but “perhaps what sets ours apart is how it informs so many academic disciplines,” said Associate Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education Dr. Cheryl Frederick, who directs the operation of the facilities. “And also that they are largely student managed.”
The Animal Room houses a range of critters, from owls to turtles to ferrets, hedgehogs, snakes, and reptiles.
“It’s a small but diverse and exciting collection,” Frederick said. “Different taxonomic examples represent living examples for most of all of our ‘-ology’ classes, so students get a live look at what they see in books,” she said.
As another example, during a recent semester, students worked with animals to develop presentations for educational outreach at local schools.
“We work with [animal control officers] and wardens [with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife] when they capture an animal that’s not releasable back into the wild, either to nurture and maintain the specimen, conduct a captive breeding program for it if it’s an endangered species, or to interface with other agencies in other states if the species is nonnative to Maine,” Frederick said.
All animals kept at the facility are donations or rescues. The Animal Room also employs sustainable practices: Students learn to cultivate insects and maintain mouse colonies, for example.
After many months working to get the required federal permits, Unity in 2014 added an Eastern Screech Owl from the Southeastern Raptor Center of the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Unfortunately, many small owls are injured by cars, cats, or other human causes,” Frederick said. “These animals can’t be released back into the wild and need to be placed in a professional facility. Having an owl as part of our collection on campus is great for demonstrating handling and training of a raptor. Even a tiny owl shows the behaviors and has the same husbandry needs as larger raptor species,” she said.
Closely related to the Animal Room is Unity College’s wet lab. Being reconstructed from the ground-up in 2015, the coral lab provides practical knowledge of one of the biggest biodiversity crises out there, and offers the potential for students to engage in culturing, growing, and selling corals to relieve commercialization and pollution pressure on these vital undersea organs that’s are under siege globally.
Another part of Unity’s distinctive animal programs is the Animal Barn: a living animal lab for larger animals.
Work-study students at the Animal Barn are held to professional husbandry standards as they feed and pasture goats, chickens, rabbits and other animals.
The Barn currently is home to a supply of college-owned livestock including San Clemente goats, Delaware chickens, Katahdin sheep, and silver fox rabbits — all developed in the United States.
The San Clemente goat has a worldwide population of around 600, and is considered critically endangered. Unity is now one of only two breeders in Maine as the college works to increase the species population. The goats are being used as teaching tools for Animal Training, Animal Health and Interpretive Methods courses.
The Delaware chicken benefits Unity students because Unity will no longer have to buy chicks from a hatchery; birds are producing fertilizer for campus vegetable gardens; and the meat and eggs will be used for special events and eventually in Dining Services.
Silver fox rabbits, listed as threatened, were originally bred for fur. They are now developed as a meat breed. For now, the rabbits will be used to study animal reproduction and small breed management practices on campus.
Throughout all the animal studies programs at Unity College run stories of alumni who used the facilities to become successful in their chosen careers.
To name only a few recent ones, Julie Fox ’15, is an intern at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; Derrick Maltman ’14 is an animal keeper at the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Kansas; and Kristen Volpi ’14 is an animal educator at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
For more information, visit the Unity College Animal Room page on Facebook.