For the past few months at Chewonki, I have been spending my free period every Friday, right before lunch, in the Traveling Natural History Program (TNHP, for short) reptile lab. In the lab, run by Emma Balazs, Keith Crowley, and a host of other people such as Matt Weeks and Sarah Mortati, there are reptiles abound, including: Ona, the Bearded Dragon, Ganat, the Water Dragon, Brutus, the Blanding’s Turtle, three box turtles (Carolina, Georgia, and Linus), Indi, the Blue-Tongued Skink, Ella, the Corn Snake, Stripe, the Alligator, three Leopard Frogs, and some various insects, spiders, and feeder mice. Typically, when I go to the lab, I prepare salads for Ganat, Ona, the box turtles, and occasionally prepare one for Indi, too. Next, I give the reptiles their baths, which means I get to handle them! For an animal lover such as myself, this is one of the most exciting parts of my volunteer work.
When feeding or bathing the animals, it is very important to follow the directions given in the lab manual. Previously, turtles have died because their bath water was too hot. So, I have to make sure that the water is just right. The bath temperatures range from 80 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the animal. I also have to look at the list of foods that each animal can eat and make sure that I am giving them the proper nutrition they need.
The reptiles in the lab, like the birds in the aviary, are non-releasable into the wild for various reasons. For example, Ganat and Indi were both house pets for a brief period of time before their owners decided they couldn’t properly take care of them. Because they would make wonderful teaching aids, and also because Chewonki knew they could be properly cared for here, the lab took them in and they have become permanent residents. Brutus’ story is somewhat similar. He was found walking across a road by a man who then proceeded to keep him illegally as a pet for the next ten years. When he was confiscated, he was no longer releasable into the wild because he wouldn’t survive due to his long captivity. Again, Chewonki took him in and has cared for him well.
Working with the animals on campus, whether in the lab, the aviary, or on the farm, is my favorite thing to do here at Chewonki. Volunteering at the lab has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’ve gotten to know wonderful people, and I’ve also gotten to know amazing, fascinating animals that I probably would have never come into contact with otherwise. Have you ever held an Australian Water Dragon or fed an alligator? Because of working in the lab, I have! I’m endlessly thankful for this opportunity, and it has encouraged me to continue my work with animals wherever I go.
-Becca Beardsley, Ewing NJ