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EcoVivarium celebrates new Living Museum

Residents slither, coil and educate

A friendly iguana with the EcoVi­varium’s Director Susan Nowicke. Each animal is considered an ambassador of education for its species. Photos by Anne S. Hall

A friendly iguana with the EcoVi­varium’s Director Susan Nowicke. Each animal is considered an ambassador of education for its species. Photos by Anne S. Hall

EcoVivarium Friday opened its new 1,800 square foot Living Museum in Escondido to host a preview party for the community and the organization’s supporters.

Originally scheduled as the grand opening date, the venue had to push back their official opening for the new location due to asbestos being found in the building.

When the facility officially opens, the museum will be completely inter­active and immersive. Visitors will be able to observe and interact with vari­ous reptiles and other rescued animals that are trained to host guests.

The location will be a permanent home for over 150 rescued animals. Among them are a giant pixie frog, croc monitor, black and white tegu, and a 17-foot scrub python. Each ani­mal is considered an ambassador of education for its species. The staffers work with them to educate students and adults alike in the care, needs, temperament and cohabitation be­tween humans and animals alike.

The non-profit’s new museum was designed to replicate our world’s bi­ome, where

“What are you looking at?” the beard­ed dragon seems to be saying. Or, he might be saying, “Will you read a book to me?”

“What are you looking at?” the beard­ed dragon seems to be saying. Or, he might be saying, “Will you read a book to me?”

historical and cultural impacts on our planet are part of the experience. This biome reflects des­erts, grasslands, deciduous forests, rainforests and swamps. Each animal is treasured for its uniqueness and the rarity that some species share. The San Diego Herbalogic Society is the rescue intake point for these animals, as 98% are rescues.

“We assess the animals for behavior­al patterns when they come in. When the animals are more suited for homes we have a Facebook page that we use to post the animals and host adoption events at places like Petco and do the adoption events to seek out adoptive families,” said the EcoVivarium’s di­rector, Susan Nowicke.

There are a lot of them available for rescue. “The more difficult ones to adopt are downright dangerous. If it’s an animal that we can train and get them comfortable with crowds, we do that,” said Nowicke. “We catch on to whether the personality prefers crowds or one-on-one interaction. If it’s an

This lizard has different colored eyes.

This lizard has different colored eyes.

animal that thrives on crowds we adopt it and it becomes part of the edu­cational program. If it can be tamed down and prefers one-on-one time we do the best we can to find the animal a new home.”

Each animal goes through hundreds of hours of behavioral training to be acquainted with interaction and social­ization with crowds. Each animal has its own natural “tells” for behavioral activity and establishes known wants or needs when active around people through this extensive training. This interaction and learning period ensures safety in handling for trainers and the kids.

When an animal does not prefer crowds, it is given dedication of one- on-one interaction and given the op­portunity to find homes through vari­ous adoption programs.

Nowicke was especially excited to show off the location’s new flooring that was donated by Carpet Club, Inc., from Escondido. Made from natural raw materials, the floor is made up of forbo linoleum, which was said to be “the

above: One of the purposes of the museum is to help visitors become familiar with reptiles.

above: One of the purposes of the museum is to help visitors become familiar with reptiles.

most sustainable flooring choice,” by Carpet Club.

This $60,000 in-kind donation pro­vided the snake-designed floor that was inspired by the location’s theme, along with a camel solution dyed pin dot pattern carpet in the classroom area.

“Our mission is education, first and foremost, and we work almost ex­clusively with rescue animals,” said Nowicke. “It’s bringing those things together in a very out-of-the-box way for education. We do a literacy pro­gram at the library. Our bearded drag­ons respond as the students read. The dragon reacts and watches as students move their fingers and responds to the tone of voice when they get better and no longer use their fingers to read.”

She added, “We discovered the tal­ent by chance as my daughter was learning to read. She had a pet beardy and we noticed the trait. They’re natu­rally in tune to us and we gave them behavioral positives to continue with that. They’re coming here, hanging out with the lizards and learning

left: Toad shows how easy it is being green.

left: Toad shows how easy it is being green.

about notation, behavioral studies, environ­mental studies, and more. We’re ex­panding our program and looking to expand our program to involve more than just the bearded dragons,” said Nowicke.

EcoVivarium is dedicated to inspir­ing and practicing learning beyond textbooks and classroom settings. Educational opportunities with EcoVi­varium can be shared on-location and within classroom settings.

Ambassadors from the reptile, am­phibian and arthropod communities are brought as assistants to provide a special educational experience for people of all ages. “Summer Camps are sponsored to teach students about the animals, the reading program is very popular, and we even offer the ambassadors for birthday parties,” said Nowicke.

Each animal is unique in how they found a home with EcoVivarium. No­wicke introduced some of her animals: “There is a rosy boa up there. The family moved and they couldn’t take him with them. We even have hissing cockroaches. They came to us from one of the local colleges. They’re res­cues and the deal was that there

below: The first thing a turtle does when a new resident arrives is to try to get him out of his shell. Photos by Anne S. Hall

below: The first thing a turtle does when a new resident arrives is to try to get him out of his shell. Photos by Anne S. Hall

was two roaches and they were thought to be males, but one morning they woke up and there were sixty-two. They gave them to us and they’re now scat­tered in classrooms all over town for education interaction.”

Nowicke insists that such insects are not “pests.” “They’re decomposers that create fertilizer for the next gen­eration of plants. We had to promise not to feed the roaches to the animals and we haven’t. We’ve managed not to, all this time,” said Nowicke.

“We got Precious when she was 8-feet long. Now she’s about 14 feet and close to 100 pounds. She’s getting so big. She’s mellow in her sleeping quarters. It makes them feel safe and secure. She’s one of our most popular ambassadors,” said Nowicke as I was greeting the Burmese python resting in its water bucket.

“Mack is one of our superstars. He’ll pose. He knows what a camera is. You should see him with the TV cameras. He is really

This big fella rests on a bed of shredded newspapers, hopefully from a competi­tor. Photos by Anne S. Hall

This big fella rests on a bed of shredded newspapers, hopefully from a competi­tor. Photos by Anne S. Hall

a ham. He goes out to Cruisin’ Grand and meets people on the street with us,” said Nowicke as Mack, the Croc Monitor, tried to give me his good side.

The organization is always looking for volunteers to help with their cause. They have positions that teach com­munication skills, presentation, logis­tics, finance, customer service, sociol­ogy and so much more. Skills of all types are needed in order to help this project function.

Those who are talented in market­ing, advertisement, sales, customer service, administration, and so much more are welcome to donate their time. Handling the animals is only a small part of what these dedicated individu­als do and it is not a necessary task for everyone. Consider volunteering with the organization and reaching out for more information at www.EcoVivari­um.org or go on Facebook and sign up for the company’s newsletter.

The museum officially opens to the public during the first week of August. The address is 136 S. Juniper Street, between Grand Avenue and 2nd Street.


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