by Olivia Slagle
Spring is a season of change, and we’ve had some exciting changes at the Park in the last few months. One of these changes was the arrival of our new animal ambassador, Pumpkin the Groundhog. Pumpkin made his official debut last month as the star of our Groundhog Day celebration, where he predicted an early spring.
Pumpkin came to the Park from an animal rehabilitation center in Hampton Bays, New York where he was treated for a parasite in his brain. Unfortunately, the brain damage he sustained prevents him from surviving in the wild. However, we are glad he can safely live out his time at Chimney Rock and help teach folks about his species.
Our live animal ambassadors are one of the things that make Chimney Rock unique among state parks. We have trained naturalists on staff who work with the animals to keep them safe and healthy as well as incorporate them into our education programs. The opportunity for student (and adult) visitors to the Park to meet animals they may never have encountered in the wild helps develop an appreciation and understanding of the species who share our world. It’s not every day that you come face-to-face with a Great Horned Owl or learn how an opossum helps keep ticks out of our woods from an opossum itself.
All of our animal ambassadors are from species native to the region to help visitors learn more about our particular ecosystem. Additionally, every ambassador at the Park is non-releasable, meaning they can never return to the wild. Reasons for this vary from injury or inability to hunt to unknown genetics from captive breeding.
If you want to meet some of our animal ambassadors in person, come visit them at our Animal Discovery Den. There you’ll find our reptilian and amphibious ambassadors, as well as some of our mammalian friends when they aren’t out teaching. Though our feathered ambassadors live off site, they often make appearances at programs in the Park. Our Spring Break Animal Encounters are right around the corner, running from April 16th to April 24th at 2pm daily. You can also catch Animal Encounters every weekday from June 1 to July 31.