Exotic animal rescue-turned-zoo World of Discovery to open in Ann Arbor next month
What kid wouldn’t dream of going to the zoo and be able to bring an animal home for adoption? It may sound like an unusual souvenir, but that possibility will soon be available, and the zoo to offer it will be right here in Ann Arbor. The Great Lakes Zoological Society is readying to open its World of Discovery Conservation & Rescue Center in September.
The World of Discovery, located at 6885 Jackson Road, will feature a 5,000 square-foot reptile and amphibian house featuring nearly 70 animals in natural-looking exhibits.
“Visitors will be able to view exotic reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (birds and fish in the future) from all over the world in spacious natural looking habitats that mimic their native conditions," said Mark Creswell, president of the Great Lakes Zoological Society.
"When visiting the Center, you will see an 18-foot reticulated python, several monitor lizard species exceeding 5 feet in length, a pair of 80-pound tortoises, baby dwarf caimans, one of the largest tarantula species in the world, along with many other interesting and awe inspiring creatures.”
photo by angela smith for Ann Arbor.com
Angela Smith for AnnArbor.com
It all fits into the zoological society's philosophy of focusing on education, conservation, rescue and rehabilitation. Creswell has worked with his wife Jane for the past eight years to develop this idea into a nonprofit organization that he said benefits the community. He sees the mission as fourfold:
- "Education for the public, children and adults alike, is an important goal of the Great Lakes Zoological society," Creswell said. "Our educational programs are centered on the importance of conservation, a balanced ecosystem, how to coexist with the wildlife in our environment, what makes a good exotic pet, and finally, proper husbandry and care for your exotic pet."
- Conservation of both indigenous Michigan and globally endangered reptiles and amphibians. The zoo plans to grow its number of captive breeding and hatching programs to help preserve endangered species.
- The rescue and rehabilitation of injured indigenous reptiles and amphibians, which the zoo plans to return to the wild when possible or house in its sanctuary when injuries prohibit survival in the wild.
- Rescue and placement of unwanted or neglected reptile and amphibian pets.
Many of the inhabitants at the World of Discovery are rescued pets. The Creswells began a small reptile rescue in their home in Chelsea in 2003, taking in unwanted snakes, tortoises, and iguanas and the like. The couple is devoted and passionate about animal care, but running a home rescue did not come without the occasional problem.
“One Christmas we were having a small dinner party. I left the party for a few minutes to check on some of our reptiles,” Mark said. “As it turns out, one of our snakes had escaped her enclosure. I had to tell my wife without letting the others know there was a snake loose in the house. Of course it was a harmless 14-inch long milk snake.
"Fortunately, she turned up a few days later, and now is full grown and one of the conservation center's exhibit animals.”
All of the zoo's rescues are tested for parasites, checked by the vet and treated if ill, before moving into their new habitats. The center charges a fee of $39 for any animal that is surrendered to them, which helps defer the costs veterinarian testing.
Then there are two options: “Some of the animals will remain on exhibit as ambassadors for their species, and others will be adopted to new owners that have been properly educated to care for them,” according to Creswell.
Though the center was planned to be opened earlier in the summer, constructing habitats that were a good fit for each animal delayed the opening a bit. The pair of 80 pound tortoises need a large enclosure to explore. The reticulated python, which was acquired less than a month ago, has a glassed in housing near the front of the facility.
Getting a zoo up and running has been no easy task.While the rescue was being run at home, the Creswells had up to 50 animals coming and going from time to time. “We quickly learned that there was a huge need for education, both for husbandry and conservation, as well as a more professional and sustainable reptile rescue” says Mark.
Mark says he spends hours each day educating himself about the species of the animals they take in. He also runs IDSC, a pharmaceutical contract consulting company. Between his day job and the conservation center, Mark says he puts in about 90 hours a week, and hasn’t taken a vacation day in four years.
“It’s not like work when you enjoy what you are doing” says Mark.
During the past three years the Creswells formed a board of directors, incorporated a nonprofit company, and received 501(c)(3) status. They also worked on their own grant writing, and searched high and low for what they consider the perfect location for the World of Discovery center. They’ve hired John Lebert, the curator of the center, and a small staff of zookeepers and volunteers to help run the facility.
Creswell says the World of Discovery should be ready for business by Sept. 1.
Angela Smith is a freelance contributor to AnnArbor.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.