As we turned onto Millbrook School Lane and drove through beautiful farm land, stables, and an enormous wetland, I got the sense that Trevor Zoo would be unlike any zoo I have previously visited. I mean, it is owned by a private boarding school…how can it really be normal?
That said, it was easy to tell, as Professor Nevarez has mentioned, that the town of Millbrook is full of old money and lots of it. Millbrook Boarding School cares for students through 9-12 grade and not only are they the sole school in the country who owns and is involved with their own zoo with more than 180 animals, but they also own 800 acres of land including the protected wetland I passed on the way up (as seen in the first above picture). Parents from all over the world send their kids to attend this novel school to get a unique education and from what I could tell, that is exactly what they were getting. I can confidently say that I have not met another student whose daily life included getting up 30 minutes before class to clean and feed a lemur. Have you?
But back to the zoo! Before visiting, I read that one of the school and zoo’s mission statements included environmental awareness and sustainability as one of their core elements in their curriculum and lifestyle. As I located the parking lot, I could see that this was true for they had permeable pavement (as seen in the last picture). Permeable pavement reduces the amount of storm runoff and allows water to be absorbed by the soil and filtered through the groundwater system instead of carrying road and city toxins to local lakes and rivers. This improved infrastructure was fascinating to me because although I’ve heard of permeable pavement before in my classes, I had never seen it in action and I hope Vassar will someday invest in something like this #DatSustainablePavementThough. As I left the parking lot, there was a short wooded trail leading to the zoo entrance and from there, I crossed a bridge overlooking a small pond with herons, ducks, and other birds lazing around (middle picture). What I did not expect, however, was that on the other side of the bridge where there was a waterfall, I could see two otters rolling around and chasing each other in the waves below! After slightly freaking out about the otters for 5 minutes, I moved on to the rest of the zoo starting with the education center.
The education center (first picture) included a lot of information about the zoo itself and some of their featured animals such as the red panda, red wolves, owls, black and white lemurs, and ring tailed lemurs. They also kept a few small geckos and snakes in the education center for people to look at, but most of the animals were found elsewhere. I think one of my favorite things about this zoo was that it didn’t really look like a zoo. The second above picture is one of the trails within the zoo leading to different animals. As you can see, there are dirt paths, lots of open space, and greenery for the animals to enjoy instead of grey concrete and garish food stands that usually line the streets of other zoos. Another important thing to note about this zoo was that it was not half as crowded and loud as other tourist attractions. There were definitely other visitors, but I would say maybe 7 other families instead of 150. Lastly, one of my favorite aspects of the Trevor Zoo was that as a part of keeping the animals instincts and lessons learned in the wild, I found out that the zookeepers and staff provide enrichment for each of the animals. These enrichment activities include hiding food for the animals to find and retrieve, giving them a box or other structure to explore and maneuver around and many more challenges. There are staff members and students working daily to come up with new enrichment activities to keep the animals sharp and prepared to be reintroduced into the wild.
Pics 6, 7, & 8
Overall, I have to say that it was a very interesting and eye-opening trip. Zoo’s are a controversial subject for me because although I am a huge advocate for animal and habitat conservation and protection, seeing them in small, often bare enclosures in most zoos is not moral or helpful to their cause. Those zoos, whose main purpose is to gain profit from the animals, I want shut down or heavily modified so there is more than enough space and enrichment for the animals to enjoy until they can be released back into the wild permitted humans don’t destroy what’s left of it. However, in this day in time, whether it is a controversial subject or not, zoos are becoming more and more important players in the conservation movement and keeping genetic diversity as strong as possible with dwindling animal populations in the wild and in captivity. By working together with other zoos around the world, they’re able to sustain what genetic diversity is left and release animals back into the wild when they can, habitat permitted. Altogether, I have to say that Trevor Zoo’s sense of place is clear in that their main purpose and mission is to protect and treat the animals well; not gain profit from them. I hope that with time, more zoos will follow in their footsteps and become less of a tourist attraction and more of a conservation center. That said, Trevor Zoo is not perfect (if the world and the people in it were, we wouldn’t need zoos in the first place), but I hope that they will continue to put the animals needs and conservation first and continue to improve so people can learn more about our remarkable creatures and move forward in protecting them. As a final note, please enjoy these cute pictures I got of the amazing Red Panda, White and Black Lemur, Emu Bird, and Wallaby.