Wild Encounters: Animal Ambassadors

Wild Encounters

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WJBF) – We’re here at Riverbanks Zoo to take a look at the Animal Ambassador building. We’re going to find out what an ‘animal ambassador’ is and what they’re all about.

Rebecca and the first question I’m going to ask, because it’s been on my mind since I knew that we were doing this segment, is ‘what is an animal ambassador?’

Rebecca Wanner, Senior Ambassador Animal Keeper: “I’m so glad you asked. Our animal ambassadors are animals that actually go out and do programs. So, we do different programs both onsite and offsite. Now that we’re in that COVID-19 pandemic mode we don’t do as many offsite, but we do summer camp, we do encounters out in the park, we go to schools, we go to libraries, we go basically all over the place. So, whether you’re seeing an animal up close here on our stage or out in the park somewhere or you’re going to event somewhere and you’re seeing an animal there…those are our animal ambassadors. So, they’re generally smaller animals. Sometimes they can be larger depending on your space or your event; but they are animals that we are mostly hands on with.”

So, how does an animal get chosen to be an animal ambassador?

Rebecca: “Obviously the type of animal. We’re not going to be bringing anything like a large lion or a bear. You don’t want something that can eat you, obviously, that would be up close, face to face. So, that’s generally where you get some of those smaller animals. But also, not every animal is the same. Just because we have a chinchilla that’s really, really sweet and nice does not mean that every single chinchilla is sweet and nice. So, we really look at personality traits as well.”

Out of curiosity, do you think that maybe I could meet an animal ambassador right now?

Rebecca: “Absolutely! We got this snake as a very young snake. So, she was very, very small…very, very young. We started handling her every single day. We started noticing that she was very calm in hand. Even when she moves around a lot, she’s not stressed out, she’s not trying to escape, she’s just exploring around. So, we worked with her, like I said, every single day between different people holding her or different people touching her. So, this is actually an animal that you can get up close with and touch on her back: we always do two fingers, scientific touch. So, she, like I said: doesn’t show any signs of stress; is very, very calm; is very interested in different things, new things. So, she has become a really excellent ambassador.”

Well, there you have it, guys. A chance to take a look at some of the animals that maybe you don’t get to see all the time.


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