Animal Tales

Up-close Encounters

One of the great things about zoos is getting close to animals you can’t see anywhere else. That’s especially true at the Stackner Animal Encounter in the Northwestern Mutual Family Farm. During the summer season, children and adults can come face to face with animals there and even touch some of them. Lisa Guglielmi, farm area supervisor, gives us the inside scoop on the Animal Encounter.

Stackner Animal Encounter

Zookeeper Joe Newell shows a bat during a Stackner Animal Encounter presentation.

Q: How long has the Zoo had the Stackner Animal Encounter program?

A: Its roots go back to the Children’s Zoo, which opened in the 1970s with a petting area. Staff would bring out animals for the public to touch but there was no real education component. We started doing encounter talks in 2004, and the Stackner Animal Encounter building opened in 2005. How many animals are in the building? We have reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds and mammals – 55 total.

Q: What are some of the most interesting animals?

A: We have animals in the farm that you will not see in the rest of the Zoo, such as a barred owl, woodchuck (groundhog) and chickens, but some of the most interesting are the insects. We have blue death-feigning beetles and a vinegaroon, an arachnid that resembles a scorpion. Kids love seeing things like that because they are unusual and not found in Wisconsin.

Q: How do you train the animals to be part of the encounter?

Stackner Animal Encounter

The program includes some domestic animals such as ferrets.

A: Some animals require training for programs. For example, the barred owl is trained to sit on a gloved hand and to go into and out of a box that we use to transport her. We are working on training the porcupine and woodchuck for nail trims. We are also training the porcupine so people can touch him. Others, like a cockroach or snake, don’t require training. We work with some of the domestic animals like rabbits and guinea pigs to be comfortable around large crowds. Sometimes we have 75 people or more at our encounter talks. That can be pretty overwhelming for a guinea pig!

Q: Do the animals in that program participate in other programs?

A: About 80% of the animals in the collection participate in education programs for the Zoological Society, such as school programs or classes and camps.

Stackner Animal Encounter

The box turtles are the oldest animals in the Animal Encounter.

Q: What animal has been in that area the longest?

A: Our two box turtles, Sam and Ella. They have been at the Zoo since at least 1982 and are the farm’s oldest animals.

This article appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Alive magazine.