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Uploaded:2014-09-05
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Jessi tells the tale of how Animal Wonders came to be. As always she's joined by a few of the animal ambassadors.

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Hey guys! I'm so excited to be doing this episode! This is gonna be all about how Animal Wonders got started. I love what I do, and talking about it makes me feel all kinds of happy. So I have a lot to share with you, so listen closely and I will tell you the tale of how Animal Wonders came to be.   A long time ago, in a world pretty much the same as today, except no smart phones! That would've been nice. Augusto was born, and he grew up living next to the Pacific Ocean. And he loved it, and he loved wondering about all the marine life under the water-- how it worked all together to create this amazingly intricate and fascinating world.   He grew up and worked in a marine lab, studying sea slugs and volunteering at the touch tanks.    One day, he decided he wanted to learn more about how to work with animals. He applied and was accepted to a two year program called the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. We refer to this as the "EAT 'eM" program. He began his new adventure in August of 2004.   While Augusto was growing up, Jessi was born in a completely different environment. She grew up in the wilderness of the temperate forests of Montana and immersed herself in the world of animals. Volunteering at a local vet clinic, rescuing domestic animals and dreaming of filming documentaries of animals in the wild, while pursuing a degree in film production. She joined EATM in August of 2005.   One day, Jessi and Augusto were talking about their future, and they thought that it would be pretty much everything they could possibly dream of to start their own educational outreach organization. And that's where the sparkle began!   Okay, back to reality! After gaining more experiential learning and working at other animal facilities, we really wanted to make this dream of Animal Wonders become a reality, so we were rescuing exotic animals that were displaced from their homes. By the time we decided to make the move from California to Montana, we had rescued over 30 animals.   So we chose to make the move up north, from California all the way up to Montana, because in California, this type of organization is pretty common, um... But it's basically unheard of in Montana. We also had access to a lot of land, which was really, really important for the grassroots model that we wanted to build from.   My parents - who are absolutely amazing - very, very generously donated their space. They welcomed us into their home - they gave us the space and resources to immediately house the animals and us. So we moved into my parents' house! With 30 animals!   So this is how the adventure began! It was pretty obvious within the first few weeks that we couldn't live with all the different species of the animals inside our living space, so we re- we renovated and we insulated a small outbuilding, and that's where the animals - most of the animals - were housed for that first winter.   So remember, we wanted to do this from the ground-up. We didn't wanna risk the stability of the care of the animals, so we really wanted to do this slowly and carefully. During this time, we secured our nonprofit status, which allowed us to take in tax-deductible donations.   We also applied for our federal USDA Class C exhibitors license and our Montana State Fish Wildlife and Parks permits. These two permits allowed us to take in prohibited species, charge a fee for an educational presentation with them and then turn around and use that fee to care for their food and water and habitats and vet care and everything else that comes along with that.   So this was the key to make this a successful thing. It takes a lot of money to care for animals, and since me and Augusto - neither of us are millionaires - I wish! We needed to have this fee so that we could take care of the animals - essentially, the animals pay for themselves.   So after a year of becoming incorporated, securing the permits and getting liability insurance, we made a huge transition. We completely renovated the back portion of our house with the help of my dad and my brother, and even my mom - we made the animal compound. And this was secure enough and just perfect to house all of the animals together. It was a huge, huge transition!   The most important thing that we needed to do was insulate this new compound, because it's really hard to house animals in the cold Montana winters. So during this transition was when we took in our large animal - I guess it's a medium mammal - Tango the Patagonian cavy. And seeing him at Animal Wonders made a huge impact. It was the first time that I really graspes- grasped that this was a reality, and no longer just a dream.   So once we had this space secured, we started doing more and more shows. The calls were coming in! We were doing no marketing, it was just word-of-mouth. Also, the animals kept coming in. It was really obvious that this was a needed service in our community.   So then we got another permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and we took in a Harris's hawk. At the time, the ground was frozen. It was the middle of winter! And so we had to build a temporary enclosure.   So I'm telling you all these details about their enclosures and these buildings that we're building, and it's because this is one of the most difficult obstacles that you come up against when you're trying to house non-native species in a climate that gets hot and cold.   Big and difficult decisions were being made weekly! We had to decide if we were gonna take in larger animals. Could we house them? Could we sustain them for the rest of their life? Ultimately, we choose that we were gonna stick with small to medium-size animals so that we could care for them for their entire life and stick to our mission of rescue and education.   With each passing year, Animal Wonders has grown in size, but that hasn't reduced our passion to provide the best possible care for all of our animals, and giving quality education to our community.   So in 2011, on a whim, I placed an ad for an intern at the University of Montana. It's been filled every semester since! And I'm really happy to be able to offer experiential, practical learning for those students, but also I benefit -- Animal Wonders benefits -- by getting a fresh pair of eyes, new hands to take care of these animals, new ideas to strengthen our organization.   In 2012, we started offering five and ten-week courses on life science lessons. This program has been incredible. I love seeing the kids week after week and being able to instill respect for all animals, teaching them to observe nature and question what they see.   In 2013, we were invited to come on to a YouTube channel called SciShow Talk Show hosted by Hank Green. This inspired us to launch our own experimental videos on YouTube with some amazing volunteers. As you probably know, we've relaunched this series with the help of Hank Green as our executive producer and Caitlin Hofmeister as my other half, creating the content that you see today.   So that brings us to the present! Animal Wonders is a unique organization, just like we're all unique individuals. We're constantly striving to maintain our standards and improve where we can, despite what craziness life throws at us.   Many of you guys have asked, "How do I get a job like that?!" Well, it's easy and hard. It's easy because I created this job out of my own experiences, my schooling and my connections. The hard part is gaining those experiences, getting the degrees and then waking up every single morning motivated to improve upon what I did yesterday. You have to be somebody and you have to work towards making progress, improving upon what you did yesterday, to make a better tomorrow, and always putting the animals first.   So it's been six years now that Augusto and I have been volunteering our time, energy and passion to Animal Wonders. All the proceeds that we've ever gotten from any presentation ever given has gone directly to the care of the animals. From a business perspective, that's pretty silly. But it, to us, is a necessary precaution to ensure that the animals are always going to get the care that they need. It's about the animals, not about us.   So we are a small facility and a small organization, but we are passionate about providing good quality care for animals that we take in. Our focus and goal right now is to build larger enclosures for the animals that we currently have. But also, solidifying Animal Wonders as our livelihood and our entire focus.   Now that our human family, as well as our animal family, has grown, we're hoping that we can finally become employees of Animal Wonders and devote 100% of our time and dedication to Animal Wonders.   Thank you guys for asking that question. I love talking about Animal Wonders and being able to share this with you. If you guys have any more comments or questions, you can find me on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. And if you enjoyed learning about Animal Wonders and you wanna learn more about exciting animals and go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel Animal Wonders. Links are below!   But I'm happy! And that's because I'm doing exactly what I wanna be doing, and... Every single day, I wake up ready to make the most--   I always do this, and then he keeps turning and keeps turning [background laughter]. Why do you do that?! You're silly. Hi!