Getting Wild at the State Fair!

The Wildlife Center of Virginia went to the fair this year and as you might expect, things got wild!

To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), the Wildlife Center of Virginia was invited to come out to the State Fair of Virginia and help teach the public about native Virginia wildlife. The Center and VDGIF have worked together closely over the years -- sharing information and resources about Virginia wildlife, coordinating Black Bear rescues, co-sponsoring the annual Call of the Wild conference on wildlife rehabilitation.

The State Fair was an opportunity for new and familiar faces across organizations and agencies to connect with the single goal of providing the public with a better understanding of Virginia’s native wildlife.

Outreach Volunteer Bill and Athena entertaining and educating the crowd

Wildlife Center outreach staff members, volunteers, and ambassadors were out there every day from September 23 to October 2. Grayson, Athena, and Ruby kicked off the start of the fair on Friday 23rd, along with Raina, outreach volunteer Shelley, and myself!

Grayson and me getting some fresh air and spotting wildlife silhouettes 

Members of the public – and Grayson – were excited to meet the snake ambassadors brought by VDGIF to try to dispel some fears and misconceptions about our reptilian neighbors. It can be difficult for us humans to change our minds about something once we’ve made them up, so it’s especially nice to see wildlife appreciation and respect starting at a young age. One of my favorite parts of the day was watching a little girl, no more than five, lay out her hands to hold a King Snake, with a big smile on her face.

  

Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Educational Corn Snake

I was happy and grateful to lend a hand with the snakes during down times where our raptors were getting a break from the crowds. As some of you may know, I conquered my fears and developed a deep love and respect for snakes during my spring externship here at the Wildlife Center, and now I am on a mission to help others do the same. Sometimes all it takes is a little knowledge to dismiss fears and debunk superstitions. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries uses exhibits like this to help the public become familiar with the wildlife in their own backyards and educate them on how to coexist in harmony. The Wildlife Center often teaches programs involving our own snake educational ambassadors with the same goal.

Over the course of the ten days, every member of our raptor ambassador team had a chance to meet the public, even some who don't go out often, like Buttercup, the Black Vulture. I was lucky enough to be there on Buttercup’s day, and let me tell you, he was a STAR!

Outreach Coordinator Raina introducing Buttercup

Vultures tend to get a bad reputation because of the food they eat – carrion, or animal remains – but they are worth getting to know, especially Buttercup. The audience was surprised to learn that, despite their eating habits, vultures are actually very clean and fastidious. Buttercup showed off his preening techniques and demonstrated often how vultures keep their legs free from harmful bacteria (i.e. he peed a lot).

  

Buttercup showing off 

There were many highlights during our ten days at the State Fair of Virginia – kids blowing kisses to American Kestrel Edie, the sounds of awe when Great Horned Owl Quinn was brought out of his crate for the first time, Eastern Screech-owl Alex chattering away at passersby – but the most important thing is, I believe, that we achieved our goal. The mission of the Wildlife Center is “teaching the world to care about and to care for wildlife and the environment,” and I think this experience really succeeded at that. I know that I personally talked to many people who had never heard of the Center before and had no idea that there was a place like this in Virginia. It’s a great thing that we were able to reach so many people -- because the more we get to know the other creatures in our environments, the better we can learn to coexist happily and healthily with them.

-- Ashley Perry
Front-desk Coordinator (and outreach volunteer)