by Kiran Riar
If you visit the “Contributors” section of this blog, you’ll notice that we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about pets in our biographies. Our staff is comprised of a former zoo intern, a doggie daycare worker, a humane shelter volunteer, and several lifelong pet owners. We may be masquerading as anthropologists, but we’re all really a bunch of animal lovers at Chucalissa. This is fortunate because as spring progresses, an increasing amount of fauna seem to enjoy making an appearance at the museum. We are surrounded by a state park, after all.
While many museums do not consider the impact of wildlife on the visitor experience, it is something we must pay attention to on a daily basis. The mounds, trails, gardens, sanctuary, and arboretum are all outside, and unsurprisingly must therefore be shared with our animal friends. Rather than try to dodge the issue (as might be expected from a culturally-focused institution), we’ve embraced it, encouraging visitors to record their encounters on our Animals of Chucalissa board as they reenter the museum.
As you can see, our furry, feathered, and scaly neighbors have all been spotted within the past few months. In general, visitors to the museum are more than eager to discuss their sightings, whether it be a white-tailed deer or a tree frog. Perhaps the most enthusiastic participants on the board are visiting school children, who also learn about the relationship between nature and culture in our music program.
In recent memory, we have had reports of everything from rare songbirds to a bobcat at Chucalissa. Usually these encounters are fleeting, and the staff is more than equipped to handle such situations on their own.
Occasionally, however, the circumstances demand special assistance. Case in point: last Saturday. This guy was casually stretched out on our back steps:
In case you didn’t know, that is what a Copperhead looks like, one of a few species of venomous snakes in the Midsouth. In incidents like these, we refer to the expertise of the officials at T.O. Fuller State Park who always come to our rescue swiftly and fully prepared. In this instance it was Calvin Robinson, Park Manager, who saved the day!
Not every animal sighting we have is by chance, however. Along with wildlife, we also get our fair share of domestic animals – ones that were someone’s pet. These animals are usually in poor health and starving. While we do our best to leave food and water for them, we cannot ensure that they are safe or can “fend for themselves” in the park. If we cannot find the animals’ owners through lost and found ads, we try to find them foster homes. This has led to some interesting sights at the museum, including me and two other staff members chasing a skittish Yorkshire terrier up the stairs and cornering it on the roof.
Needless to say, these are animal encounters that we wish would decrease in frequency. We struggle to find available foster homes and would appreciate any assistance in securing such housing for the future. One of our favorite rehoming stories is that of a cat abandoned last fall. She is now known as Chuckles and lives with our very own GA, Mallory Bader!
While most of our experiences with animals are based in fact, the staff at the museum occasionally gets carried away. A few months ago, GA Megan Keener noticed an unusual noise coming from the bushes. After consulting YouTube, we concluded it sounded like a baby alligator. An hour, some garden shears, and several conspiracy theories later, it came to rather an anticlimactic end. A somewhat perturbed toad hopped out of the mulch. You can listen to an abridged audio clip of that incident here:
Kiran Riar, former intern and current on the visitor services staff at the C.H. Nash Museum