Animals that were once injured or abandoned have found a new home in Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s living collection, and visitors can now meet them at daily Live Animal Encounters.
Live Animal Encounters introduces visitors to the museum’s living collection, which features live mammals, birds, and reptiles—some of which were rescued from unusual situations and are cared for by trained staff at the museum.
“As a museum, we have proactively looked for opportunities to use our expertise and space to provide a home for local wildlife that cannot survive in the wild,” said Mallory Vopal, the gallery experience manager who oversees the live animal program. “We hope that in addition to helping individual animals, we can also help educate our visitors about different local species or pets and how human behavior might impact them.”
The museum’s living collection includes more than 30 animals, from a pair of baby skunks to an iguana and even a python and a sun conure.
The brightly colored sun conure, which is a type of small parrot, was rescued in late 2016 from an animal hoarding situation in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Museum staff heard about the situation on the local news and worked with Humane Animal Rescue and the Parrot Education, Adoption, and Rehoming League to bring the conure into the collection and nurse it back to health.
The museum also worked with Humane Animal Rescue to bring a Russian tortoise into the collection. The tortoise was found walking down a city street in Lawrenceville, and Humane Animal Rescue asked if the museum could give it a new home. Vopal said they were glad to accept and that the tortoise is thriving.
The museum also has fostered a close working relationship with the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center, who has done outreach work at the museum. Vopal is currently working with the the center, which rehabilitates and releases injured or orphaned birds of prey, to bring a screech owl, an American kestrel, and a red-tailed hawk into the museum’s care that are not able survive in the wild.
Other animals in the collection were acquired through USDA licensed breeders, but even some of them had health issues that the museum’s expertise helped remediate, like a leopard tortoise with a deformed or “pyramided” shell due to an improper diet.
“We strive to provide the highest level of care for our living collection,” said Chelsey Pucka, director of lifelong learning at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “The comfort and well being of the animals is always a top priority.”
Visitors are now able to meet the museum’s rescue animals and many others at Live Animal Encounters—which are held daily in the museum’s Earth Theater. Each encounter features several different animals handled by experienced museum educators, who teach visitors about animal habitats, interesting behaviors, and exciting scientific studies.
“This dynamic program aligns with Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s mission to inspire and educate inquisitive adults and children through unique museum experiences,” said Dr. Eric Dorfman, the Daniel G. and Carole L. Kamin Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Our hope is that Live Animal Encounters will foster a love of nature and an interest in advocacy for our visitors.”
Each day features different animals, so repeat visitors can experience something new with each visit and so educators can best accommodate the comfort, health, and availability of the animals.
To grow the living collection, Carnegie Museum of Natural History staff worked with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain proper licensing and permits.
Live Animal Encounters take place at 1:30 p.m. each day in the museum’s Earth Theater. Admission is $2 per person.