Caring for Our Animals During an Extreme Home Makeover

June 28, 2023

For decades, dropping by the Animal Discovery Zone (ADZ) to meet live animal friends has been a mandatory part of a visit to The Lawrence for many of our visitors. Our animal programs provide a special opportunity to learn and make observations about the natural world. The ADZ team works hard to care for the many mammals, reptiles, and other critters in our animal colony. Soon, both staff and visitors alike will have more room to work with thanks to exciting renovations happening right now!

Like a lot of our museum programs, UC Berkeley student employees play a large part in caring for our animals. While most of our animals are reptiles and amphibians, our animal colony is pretty diverse. Between our rabbits, geckos, snakes, and other animals, there is a wide range of care and feeding needs. For example, our mammals need to be fed daily, while many of our reptiles can wait days or even weeks between feedings. However, that doesn’t mean reptiles need less attention than other animals.

“I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much is involved in caring for reptiles and amphibians,” said Alondra Blandon, Animal Discovery Zone Lead at The Lawrence. “People think of reptiles as less cuddly or affectionate. But I believe that if you have the right diet, the right lighting, and other important factors, they can display a full range of behaviors because they’re not just surviving, they’re thriving.”

Currently, The Lawrence is home to about two dozen animals. However, our animal colony used to be bigger. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as the museum shut down and many of our staff shifted to remote work, the Animal Discovery Zone staff continued to visit and care for the animals at The Lawrence. When it became clear that the science center would remain closed, we decided to downsize our animal colony, and several of our animals were rehomed.

Our animal colony will soon grow again, as the ADZ is currently undergoing renovations. The new Animal Discovery Zone will have a lot more space, both for visitors and for our animals. New larger habitats with lower windows will provide ample leg, shell, and tail room for our furry and scaly friends, while also making it easier for our littlest visitors to take a peek. The new design also allows for new possibilities in educational content and how visitors learn from our animals.

“It’s going to feel a bit more like an exhibit, but we’re not going to lose the element of being able to meet some of the animals up close,” said Alondra Blandon. “With the new enclosures, we want to be more intentional about how the room is laid out, and to connect animals using certain themes. For example, animals could be grouped together to teach about color in nature, or adaptation.”

To populate these new exhibits and habitats, the Animal Discovery Zone is actively pursuing acquiring new animals that fit the needs of the new space. When considering new animals to bring into our colony, Alondra and her team weigh several different factors. First and foremost, they consider whether we have the proper skills and facilities to properly care for the animal. Also important is determining whether the animal fits our needs in terms of program and learning objectives.

Most of our animals were donated, including from families who could no longer keep them as pets. As the team works to develop the new program and layout for the remodeled ADZ, however, they’ve developed a short list of specific animals that fulfill specific educational needs. One source for some of these new animals is Aunt Anna’s Reptile Rescue, based in Concord. The rescue organization grew during the pandemic, and, like the ADZ, has become a haven for dozens of rehomed former reptile pets.

“I am excited that the reptiles I have rehabilitated and worked with will be a part of educational programs at The Lawrence,” said Suzanne Burgess of Aunt Anna’s Reptile Rescue. “There is no better way to save animals from harm or abandonment than by educating people about them. I firmly believe that education will lead to better outcomes for these reptiles.”

The newly renovated Animal Discovery Zone will reopen later this year, featuring both old favorites like Sally the Box Tortoise and new animals from Aunt Anna’s Reptile Rescue and elsewhere. We can’t wait to introduce you to these new animal friends, and for all the fun learning we’ll do together in the new space!

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