Visitors will find Cori Brant, the invertebrate keeper, misting tanks, spot cleaning, performing animal assessments, and warmly helping inquisitive guests with their curious questions. A member of the living collections team, Brant is one of the Museum’s highly trained professionals who cares for its animals. The Museum is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution, meaning it meets the highest standards in animal care and provides a fun, safe, and educational experience for all.
“It is really fun to bring people into the world of insects,” Brant said. “Invertebrates make up the largest number of species on our planet. They are such a vital part of our everyday lives and many people don’t realize it. When you’re in downtown Boston you typically don’t get to see a thorny devil stick or a katydid. Our invertebrate collection helps people understand an ecosystem as a whole, and show how small insects can play a major role.”
In addition to the invertebrate collection, the Museum is home to more than 130 live animals, including numerous fish and mammals. Two special residents, the cotton-top tamarins, are part of the Species Survival Plan ® program. The Museum collaborates with other institutions to breed genetically healthy populations in the United States, as well as to save the wild habitat in the tamarins’ native Colombia. Closer to home, the Museum participates in a program that raises red-bellied cooters (turtles native to Plymouth County). Endangered due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and predation, the turtles grow bigger in captivity at the Museum and have a better chance to survive when they are released into the wild.
Numerous additional animals that call the Live Animal Care Center home star in Museum exhibits, Live Animal presentations, and Traveling Programs. “The focus here is on education and how the animal we take care of at the Museum of Science can serve a purpose when they go out,” said Jackie Peeler, manager of living collections. “We have a robust program that encompasses all aspects of animal care, including basic care, enrichments, and training. When an animal comes to us, we give it the best care we can.” Live animals contribute to a wide variety of exhibits and programs that encourage observation and inquiry and promote interest in the natural sciences.
The curator of the Live Animal Care Center, Bunny Watson, has worked at the Museum for 27 years. She began her tenure like most on her staff, as an intern. “When you have visitors who are engaged and excited to learn about animals, it makes our program worthwhile, “ Watson said.
If you get the chance to speak to or observe Watson and her staff working with the animals, you’ll witness a commitment and enthusiasm that radiates around them. Watson and members of her team make animal care a priority. Even when the Museum closes—
holidays, nights, weekends, and snow storms—a member of the team goes in to ensure the animals are fed and taken care of. “The care of the animals always comes first,” said Watson. “You always want to do the best for the animals because they don’t have anyone else to rely on.”
In addition to care, Watson also assists in the planning for and acquiring new animals for the Museum. In June of 2017 she traveled to The Avian Conservation Center and Center for Birds of Prey in Charleston, South Carolina, to pick up Po, the Museum’s beloved and beautiful barn owl. When Po arrived at Science Park, only four weeks old, Watson and her team worked with her around the clock, feeding her, handling her, and training her to fly.
Watson said she encourages visitors to embrace a sense of inquiry and make observations when they encounter a live animal at the Museum. “Our live animals are so valuable to the learning experience at the Museum,” she said. “When you can grab someone’s attention, you can teach them something. It’s much easier to connect to an owl flying over your head than looking at one in a picture or video.”
Animals play a vital role in the Museum’s mission of transforming the public’s relationship with science. As Peeler said, they make a difference every day. “When you watch a child see an animal for the first time, it’s life changing. Every single day, our animals help people learn. And every day, they make a difference to someone.”