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Jessi and Augusto from Animal Wonders talk with Hank about how they got their really cool jobs. Plus they introduce Hank to a Mali uromastyx!

Want more animals? Check out Animal Wonders Inc. at http://www.animalwonders.org or on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/anmlwndrs

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Hank: Hello and welcome to the SciShow talk show. The part of SciShow where we talk to cool people about cool things. Now we have previously had on the show, quite a lot, Jessi from Animal Wonders, and people have asked, over and over again, "How did you get to be doing something so cool?" So today, instead of just bringing us an animal, she's bringing herself and her husband Augusto to talk about Animal Wonders, how you guys got into this, and what your life is like as keepers of all these wonderful beasts.

Jessi: Crazy animals, crazy critters?

Hank: Yeah. First, why did you want to do this, and what exactly did you want to do because maybe it wasn't exactly this. And how did you get into it?

Jessi: Well why I did it is because I am crazy about animals. I originally wanted to shoot, I thought I wanted to be a filmmaker and go out into Africa and shoot, you know, lion prides and get the whole natural behavior of animals on camera. And then, it kind of went more into, I wanted to do more education and hands on with animals. I wanted to be an elephant keeper when I first started my animal training school and then it kind of morphed into this educational outreach where I would rescue animals and do education there.

Hank: So you did go to school for this?

Jessi: We did, yeah.

Hank: We did? So you both did?

Augusto: Yep. Two year program.

Hank: Is that how you guys met each other?

Jessi and Augusto: Yeah.

Hank: Oh cool. So where is that program?

Augusto: It's in Moor park, California. It's about half an hour north of LA and it's called America's Teaching Zoo. We call it EATAM: Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. So it's a two year program that you have to apply for, and only about fifty students get in per year, so yeah. It's a hard one to get into.

Jessi: He (Augusto) was my second year, first and second year, so he was my second year and he was training a baboon named Rosie, and I found it very interesting. Her behavior was really interesting and so-

Hank: And so was his.

Jessi: Yes.

Hank: That's so romantic.

Jessi: So he wooed me with his baboon. So what did you want to do when you wanted to-

Hank: Got into it.

Augusto: Yeah. Well, you know, I always liked animals but I guess I was always interested in, like, cryptozoology and discovering new specimens, species out there. So that was always interesting and so I decided, you know, through that kind of animal field and particularly primates. I enjoy learning about primates. We don't have one now at Animal Wonders but you know, you never know about the future. But yes. I worked with the baboon at the zoo- teaching zoo- also worked with squirrel monkeys at the outreach that I worked at after I graduated the zoo. There were three or two squirrel monkeys,
and we did a lot of inter-city school presentations which for me was very rewarding, going into these inner-cities and kids that don't even have the chance to go to the zoo sometimes and see some of these animals, so I had the chance to let them see it up close. And one time, there was a little boy, who afterwards, after the show, he came up to me and said he wanted to be like me, when he, well when he grew up, so that was very special for me, that was the most rewarding part of it all.

Hank: How did you end up in Missoula, or outside of Missoula, with your own, with your own business?

Jessi: Well, we were gong to the program and, well at the program you get three degrees, you get, I guess that doesn't answer your question.

Hank: No, that's fine.

Jessi: You get three degrees, you get an Animal Behavior degree, you get a Wildlife Education degree, you get Exotic Animal Management degree-

Hank: Two years, three degrees?

Jessi: Yeah, 22 months.

Hank: That is an extraordinary value.

Jessi: Yeah, it's amazing.

Hank: It took me four to get one.

Jessi: Yeah, I took two years at film school and got nothing, and two year at animal school, and got, you know, whole life change.

Hank: Yeah.

Jessi: But it's, it's animal boot camp there, it's not, it's not like normal college, you're on call 24/7, it's intense, you're working, you know, all the time, and you're learning, you're learning so much stuff, in a short amount of time.

Hank: And I bet you smell great.

Jessi: Oh, awesome, all the time, you start not knowing when you're at the zoo and when you're at home, it smells the same. 
So why'd we end up in Missoula? Well we had a couple of choices, Augusto and I decided we wanted to pursue this together, and we had a couple of choices of where we could move and it was either his home country of Peru, I don't speak Spanish very well,

Hank: Yet.

Jessi: I could learn, I know, I know, I've been trying for, like, eight years, or we could stay in Southern California, where there's a lot of, I guess, competition, but there's just a lot of, of the organizations like that down there, or we could come to my hometown in Montana, Missoula, Montana, where it's, it's unheard of, no-one had done this before, and we could get into rural schools and do, and expand Montana's knowledge, the next generation's knowledge.

Hank: That's awesome.

Jessi: And so that's why we made the choice to come here.

Hank: Cool. So, what do you guys do at your facility, at Animal Wonders?

Jessi: We do a lot of things.

Augusto: Clean-up after all the animals.

Jessi: Cleaning up. I guess, yeah. That's what.

Hank: Majority of what you do. Cleaning up.

Augusto: Yeah. And feeding. And-

Jessi: Well, the animals that we get- We rescue ninety, over ninety percent of our animals. And we like to use the word displaced because these animals came from different places. They were peoples pets that just got in over their head. They were abused, neglected. Some were illegally owned. Some were donated from different zoos. They didn't have space or they just had surplus animals. So, the animals we get in they're just so varied. We have over fifty species of animals. We have over 75 animals themselves, but fifty species! We have to research every single diet to make sure each of them has the very special diet that they need. Augusto does a lot of research on that. And then we have to assess their behavior. When they come in a lot of them are traumatized for whatever reason. And we have to assess their behavior and try and rehabilitate their behavior and get them to a point where they can be out in public and have, you know, a hundred eyes staring at them. Or be under lights, you know, in front of the camera. So they're not, a lot of these guys were people's pets but we don't call them pets.

Hank: Yeah, I mean, how does that, like you must get really attached to the animals and start to have a relationship that feels kind of like that relationship but, they're wild, you know.

Jessi: Yeah.

Augusto: And that's when, that's what I explain to everybody when we do our presentations is, you have to, have respect for these animals. Because once you kind of lose it and you, you know, think of them as, you know, your little dog and that's when bad things can happen. So you have to always remember that they're, they're wild animals.

Hank: So what's the most dangerous animal you have? I imagine you haven't brought it onto our show.

Jessi: Umm. Let's see, I would say our most dangerous is probably our seven foot boa constrictor. Grey tailed boa. That's just because-

Hank: That can hit with a pretty significant force.

Jessi: Yeah she would bruise you if she tried to strike at you, you could get her off of you. It'd be most dangerous for, you know, a frail person, an elderly or child sleeping maybe. But we have brought probably our most dangerous animal on already.

Hank: We did?

Jessi: Mr. Fluffy. The huge, huge fluff ball. The arctic fox. Cass.

Hank: Oh. Okay.

Jessi: He, he's got quite the attitude.

Hank: Yeah?

Jessi: Um, I don't- He does really well. We work really hard to maintain that their behavior on stage, I guess you would say, in front of the public. We handle them in very specific ways to make them nice and calm. But yeah don't, can't treat a fox like a pet. Not an arctic fox. They require a lot of respect.

Hank: Not a lap-fox.

Jessi: No. I can't just stroke the fluffiness. But we don't have a lot of really dangerous animals like bears and lions and primates can be another dangerous one. But we want to make sure that the animal is taken care of and we're not going to bring it out if it's going to be dangerous to the public.

Hank: Right. I appreciate that. So you said you've got, like you've got them because they were illegally owned. How are you legally able to own them?

Jessi: We have three different permits: we have a federal permit, USDA class exhibitors license and we have a state permit with fish, wildlife and parks and then we also have a US wildlife service, fish and wildlife service that allows us to keep our hawk as well. So you have to apply for these. These guys come in and regulate the facility: make sure we're taking care of the animals properly, make sure we have proper cages, make sure we have, protect the environment, the natural environment around us. So, we have to make sure that we're following all those laws and you also have to have a certain hundreds of numbers of hours of experience with the animals before you can get them.

Hank: Right. Interesting. So there is different regulations for different animals.

Jessi: There is. Yeah. Some you can touch, some you can't.

Hank: Yes. I learned that.

Jessi: Don't touch! You can cut those parts out.

Hank: But, but, but...

Jessi: I want to... Yeah.

Hank: Well, obviously since we have you here... We should also get some hands on with an animal.

Jessi: An animal?

Hank: What do you have for us today?

Jessi: We have a really really neat lizard.

Hank: Okay.

:Special Guest intro:

Jessi: I can go get him.

Hank: Who do we have with us today?

Jessi: This is Argos the Uromastyx. More specifically: the Mali Uromastyx.

Hank: That is a strange name. Where did that name come from?

Jessi: Uromastyx? It's part of a scientific name and it's one of those that scientific names that carried over to the common name.

Hank: Okay. It's a funny, funny name.

Jessi: And you can see it's Mali Uromastyx by the pattern on its back. They all have different patterns in the different species. Would you like to hold him?

Hank: Sure. Is it safe?

Jessi: He's pretty good. There you go. Just put your fingers behind his armpits there. There you go.

Hank: Hi. You're freezing!

Jessi: He's cold so he's gonna be ectothermic. So the same temperature as the air around you.

Hank: (to the lizard) Where are you going?

Jessi: So, whatever temperature it is right now, is it like seventy degrees or whatever, he's seventy degrees. So it feels so much, the air doesn't feel cool, but he feels cool.

Hank: He's doing the chicken thing.

Jessi: Is he moving his head the same? The chicken thing? Keeping his eyes.

Hank: Try keeping him all steady.

Jessi: Maybe you should let me handle the animals from now on.

Hank: I'm sorry.

Jessi: No, you're fine, he's doing good. He'll let you know if he's upset. He'll open his mouth and he'll gape.

Hank: Like, I'm ready to bite you.

Jessi: I'm big and scary and yes, I will get you. But these guys are really neat. The biggest defense they have is that awesome tail they have back there. That's like this really cool club-thing that they use. So if they get scared by something they're going to run as fast as they can into a crevice of rock or some structure like that and get try and get into this tiny little space where they can't get to their body. They'll leave their tail out so if the thing, kind of their tries to eat it they'll just whack it back and forth as hard as they can.

Hank: Powerful.

Jessi: He has lots of muscles.

Hank: That's a lot of muscles in that tail. That felt like, human strength, and you're very small. Not, no offense. You are, you smell, I mean you're big for a lizard. I don't- I don't want to offend.

Jessi: He's going to start gaping at you. But yeah those are specialized scales back there that are just very hard and bally. They're not spiky, but like, hard.

Hank: I wouldn't want to get hit by that.

Jessi: Yeah.

Hank: Do you overfeed Argos? Or is this a normal body shape.

Jessi: (laughing) See, it's fluffy?

Augusto: He's inflated right now. He's just trying to be big. And also that's how they wedge themselves into a rocky crevice. They go in there and inflate themselves.

Hank: You can't get me out!

Augusto: Yeah. It makes it hard for them to be pulled out. And then their tail's the little part that's sticking out so to whack the predator.

Hank: So where did Argos come from, to you guys?

Jessi: Oh. So, we're talking about how we get these displaced animals. We just, we get some really strange calls and e-mails, just... This guy, we got a call from a teacher and she was kind of panicking on the phone and she was saying another teacher had this grey lizard and she was pregnant and they all thought she was going to go into premature labor because there was mice in the tank. And I couldn't really figure out what was going on.

Hank: That's a, I mean I always give birth whenever I see mice.

Jessi: Really? Right, yeah. So, we said okay, okay. We don't know what kind of lizard it is but it definitely sounds like we need to get this poor guy out of that situation and help the poor pregnant lady. So we drove up there, couple hours and we went to pick him up. I was thinking we'll be able to drag in something common and it turned out to be a Uromastyx which aren't as common and there were mice in the cage. It was a tank, and there was three mice in there. And I don't know how they got in.

Hank: So they weren't food mice. They weren't like pinkies or something.

Jessi: No. This little guy is mostly vegetarian. So I don't know why they had mice in there. Maybe he was eating, he was being fed an improper diet as well, he was being fed just all birdseed. So maybe they were munching on the seeds in there but we rescued him and brought him home and-

Hank: But it was in a school?

Jessi: It was in a school, a teacher's pet, redefined teacher's pet.  So we brought him back and these guys, they're not a starter pet. They're not starter lizards for people. They're not for beginners. They require a specialized diet. They need fresh greens and vegetables, a little bit of fruit. And then there's, they do eat seeds in the wild as well. But the most important thing that these guys need is the proper heat. You need to get it to a 120 degrees, which is really hot. So you need this really hot spot.  They need that so they can digest their food.  If they're not eating at 120 degrees, they can't digest, and they get very sick.

Hank: That was one of the cool things I learned.  That, uh, in undergrad, that there are lots of different enzymes that work at lots of different temperature ranges.  And if you're not in that temperature range-

Jessi: Yeah.

Hank: -then it just doesn't work.

Jessi: Yeah, you're out of luck.  So, and this guy is also really interesting because he doesn't drink water.

Hank: Oh.  So, you're a desert animal, then?

Jessi: Desert animal.  Gets all of his liquids that he needs from his food.

Hank: Well, lettuce is just mostly water.  That's why I don't drink either.  Just lettuce.

Jessi: Just lettuce?  That's a lie, I saw you drinking water.

Hank:  I'm very thirsty.  I may die.

Jessi: Alright, come on, Argos.  Come here, buddy.  

Hank: Yeah, that's more comfortable.  You know her.  She's nice.

Jessi: Hi.

Hank: That's the-

Jessi: That's the tail.

Hank: It doesn't move. Like he will not let you move it in a direction you don't want to move it in.

Jessi: He's holding it.

Hank: Argos, thank you very much for joining us on the Sci Show Talk Show.  And thank you Jessi and Augusto.  It's been such a pleasure.  I'm so glad that you're here in Montana to bring us all of these amazing animals.  And thank you so much for deciding to do that.

Jessi:  Well, thank you.  I feel really lucky that I get to do it and that I get to come on your show.

Hank: It's great for Sci Show, obviously, but it's also great for the community here.  Thanks a lot.

Jessi: Thank you.

Augusto: Thank you.

Hank: Thanks for watching this episode of the Sci Show Talk Show.  Thanks to Jessi and Augusto and if you want to keep getting smarter with us here at Sci Show you can go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe.