By Jason Ruff
The Meridian Times
No, you cannot adopt one for the animals at the Harris Nature Center and take it home, but a monetary donation can help defray some of the costs of caring for them.
The center uses a variety of animals such as turtles, snakes and hawks to help educate visitors on Michigan’s native wildlife.
Katie Adams, park naturalist for the center, explained why the adoption program is so vital for the center’s inhabitants. “From time to time they will need medical attention, or visits to the vet … they need food, they need habitat maintenance, and all of those things cost money,“ said Adams.
The center’s two red-tailed Hawks, for example, go through about 10 frozen mice a day at about a dollar per mouse.
All animals in the center rely on the staff for survival because they cannot live in the wild.
“All of the animals that are here are permanently injured or have some other reason why they cannot be re-introduced into the wild,” said Kit Rich, nature center coordinator.
Some animals have tragic stories of being snatched away from their native habitats. Two such examples are Tyco, the eastern box turtle and Brewer, a snapping turtle. Both were stolen out of the wild and given to the center when the Department of Natural Resources took custody of them.
Another story revolves around Carver, a wood turtle. Carver was found on a sidewalk in Meridian with his front feet and his tail missing, the results of a suspected raccoon attack. Since he was taken in by the center, he has been living the good life in a private aquarium with custom-built ramps to help him with his disability.
Perhaps the most touching story of survival involves the center’s red-tailed hawks, Aztec and Talon. Aztec was found on a road near Webberville in 2008 with a broken wing. It is surmised that Aztec had not yet learned to hunt and was feeding on road kill when a car struck him.
Talon was found at a construction site in Okemos in 2010 with a crooked wing, which inhibited his ability to fly. Further examination revealed that Talon had broken his wing and the bones had healed incorrectly. The center suspected that Talon’s mate fed him during the healing process and helped him survive. Both hawks were rehabilitated at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, but their injuries were so severe they were sent to the Harris Nature Center as goodwill ambassadors for the center and Michigan wildlife education.
All of the 14 adoptable animals at the center are native to the Michigan, which Rich says helps fulfill the center’s mission of educating people about their surroundings.
Not only do the animals help educate the public, connect with the animals and gain a better understanding of Michigan’s wildlife.
“We believe these animals are like teachers. They’re ambassadors because when people come, they see the animals, they learn about them and it kind of helps them have a heart connection with nature and then hopefully that translates into making them want to be outside more or caring about the environment a little bit more then they may have before,” said Rich.
The staff also bonds with the animals.
“It’s a ton of fun working with all of these animals mainly because they are all Michigan native animals,” said Peter Matcheck, an employee at the Harris Nature Center. “It’s really good for educational purposes not only for myself … but also for everyone who gets to come and see them.”
Adams said Carver is her favorite animal because he is the friendliest and will always come close to the window to see guests.
Adoption fees vary from animal to animal. Red-tailed hawks cost the most at $150, while aquatic turtles are the least expensive at $50 to adopt.
The benefits of adopting an animal include an adoption certificate, a color photo of the adopted animal, as well as a biography and recognition on the center’s “Frame of Fame.”
Adopting one of the animal ambassadors will not only help the animals directly, but will also further the center’s environmental education mission.