Friday, July 15, 2011

"Kissed" by a Baby Porcupine

I just finished talking with the High Desert Museum’s new Senior Wildlife Specialist Lily Koch, and the whole time she had a baby skunk in her jacket pocket! That’s the kind of extra care needed to nurture the animal that had been orphaned, found beside its dead mother off a roadway.

And it’s typical of Koch’s work here – this is no 9-to-5 job. When caring for the Museum’s new baby animals such as the skunk, porcupine and badger, Koch brings them home and bottle feeds them every two hours throughout the night (they sleep in a crate beside her bed).

Then she’s at the Museum by 7:30 am daily, performing more of the duties that, ordinarily, an animal’s mother would in the wild, such as skinning and cutting up mice for the baby badger (adults eat them whole). Then it’s on to handling venomous reptiles including Gila monsters and rattlesnakes (using snake hooks) while cleaning their habitats. When caring for the bobcat, lynx and otter, she enters their dens with no barriers between her and the animals.

“I love working with the bobcat because they give one warning – a growl – and that’s it, whereas lions and tigers give several warnings and allow you to make several mistakes,” says Koch, 31.

Throughout her career, she has worked with animals ranging from lions, tigers, cheetahs and sharks, to monkeys, kangaroos, Malaysian bearcats and alligators. One challenge is transporting exotic animals to the veterinarian. She had to have the rear window of her car tinted because, when other drivers spotted the cheetah in the back and took out their camera phones, it nearly caused collisions. Working with the cheetah on TV commercials for Cheetos and a well-known celebrity had its challenges too, she said.

A native of Finland, she also is a professional horse trainer who cared for the horses of Jordan’s HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, in Ireland.

Come by and meet our animals and learn all about them from our wildlife staff including Lily!

Photo by Lee Schaefer

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