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Which animal is Jessi uncomfortable with? What makes a good animal ambassador? How does Jessi mix business and family?

How do porcupines procreate? Here's a self explainitory video:

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Hello and welcome to another round of Ask Jessi at Animal Wonders.  Today's sponsor is green tea and artichokes, because that's what I'm living on these days.  I asked my Twitter followers if they had any questions for me and they did.


Alright, let's get right into it.  Michael asked, "Does the behavior of the reptiles change when spring comes around?" 

Hi Michael.  Yes, we do see some changes of behavior around spring and that's because for some of the reptiles, it's breeding season and their behavior is being driven by hormones.  For example, Yucca the red-footed tortoise.  She spends more time lounging and digging in her hut until she lays a clutch of eggs and a few of our snakes always lay eggs in the spring, so they stop eating and get really hefty before finally laying, and once they lay, they're super-duper hungry and eat every week to make up for lost time and to replenish all the energy used creating eggs, but so far, the larger lizards haven't shown any angsty springtime behavior.  Thanks for asking.

On to the next one.  Laura asked, "How do you balance raising a family with work, especially when everything shares the same physical space?" 

HI Laura.  Thanks for asking this.  I've tried to answer it before and the best way I can explain it is that I get a lot of help.  My husband Augusto is with our kids when I'm working with the animals or doing business owner stuff, and my parents are also incredibly supportive and they're just the best grandparents I could ask for, and the other part of this is honestly, I'm mostly just really tired a lot of the time.  I wouldn't say this is really a good example of balancing, because it's not.  I'm just living my best life here.

And next question comes from Summer, who asked, "Which animal do you feel closest to, and which are you least comfortable with?"

I would say that for me to feel comfortable with an animal, it's very dependent on the animal feeling comfortable with me.  I'm very aware of an animal's body language so if they're uncomfortable, so am I.  That said, I feel very close to Huckleberry the beaver since I've had to be his surrogate family and I've cared for him since he was a few weeks old, but I'm also very close with Joy the macaw, since she needs a ton of attention and her emotions are very strong and to care for her, I've had to become deeply invested.  I'd say I'm least comfortable with Mimi the marmoset, because my training with her focuses on being able to touch her belly and getting her to willingly wear a belt and she's just not that comfortable with me doing that yet.  Mimi doesn't like to be touched so I'm comfortable being in the same space as her, giving her lots of toys and other enrichment, and training with her, but because she's still uncomfortable with me being too close to her, I'm always paying close attention to make sure I don't cross her boundaries.

And next question comes from Shawshan, who asked, "How do porcupines procreate without injury?"

Well.  Very carefully, but seriously, their quills are very pokey and they can quill themselves as well as other porcupines unless they move very slowly.  Porcupine quills grow in a way that requires them to be pushed in to the owner's skin by a force before being embedded in another object and then pulled out of the owner, so by moving slowly, they generally avoid being poked hard enough to have the quills stick into them.

Next question comes from Chris, who asked, "Which animal has been the most different to your expectations and why?"

I think Rook the raven is a good choice for this answer.  When I was younger, I imagined having a raven as a friend and when we took in Rook, I had this idea already in my head of what it could be like, but Rook was already an adult and fearful of humans when she came in, and she's not an imaginary friend whose role it is to be my companion.  Rook is an individual and she has her own wants and needs that often run contrary to my own wants.   The animals that we care for at Animal Wonders aren't our pets and they aren't our companions.  We are here to serve them the best we can and most  of the time, that doesn't include snuggling.  In Rook's case, it means a lot of time invested and so much patience to have her kind of tolerate me enough to sit on my hand for a little while.  Don't get me wrong, Rook is amazing and I'm honored to be able to provide a home for her, but caring for a raven is not what young Jessi made it out to be.

Next question comes from Jenni-Li, who asked, "Can animals speak or understand multiple human languages?"  

Hi Jenni!  Thanks for asking, and yes, absolutely.  Since animals are often picking up non-verbal communication as much as verbal communication, often you can replace a word with a different language and get the same result.  Most dogs, cats, horses, pigs, et cetera, will respond in a similar way to a different word if it has the same inflection and matching body language and birds who mimic will be able to learn multiple languages as long as they hear the sounds often enough.

Next up comes from Still Here, who asked, "What makes an animal ill-suited to go out to presentations?  Are there specific traits that make an animal more likely to be a successful animal ambassador?"

Thanks for asking.  If an animal has trouble forming a trust bond with her trainer or has a real aversion to multiple people in a room, then they are going to have a hard time transitioning into becoming an ambassador.  For example, Chongo the lilac crowned Amazon parrot doesn't like more than three people in a room.  He gets extremely nervous to the point of going into flight mode.  He's also extremely uncomfortable in a crate for more than a few minutes.  Combined, these fears have prevented him from enjoying going to places further than a short walk, and since he's so uncomfortable progressing further to reduce the stress of these fears, we've backed off with that training focus and allowed him to simply enjoy the comforts of his home.  Now, the trait that makes the best animal ambassadors is the ability to become comfortable with a routine and not feel like they have to protect themselves.  Sometimes that means they are really motivated by food, like Lollipop the skunk.  She's happy going anywhere and will ignore everything around her as long as food is involved, and sometimes, that means an animal has formed a strong enough trust bond with their trainer or the training process that they trust they are safe in new situations, as long as they're with their trainer or being trained in a familiar way.  For example, Serafina the red fox and Chili Pepper the Patagonian cavy.  Both have extreme trust in their trainers, so new locations are fine as long their experience is consistent with what they're used to.  If an animal can't let go of their instinct to protect themselves, they will not enjoy being in front of an audience as an ambassador and going out to new places will not increase their well-being.  In those cases, the animal will not become an ambassador or it means that we need to work harder to make it a positive experience for them.  

There are a lot more questions that I'm excited to answer in future videos, but until then, if you have questions, leave them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer as many as I can.  Thank you for your questions. 

I always tell my students that I teach that all questions start with "I wonder...", so please keep wondering and if you'd like to keep learning about animals with me, don't forget to subscribe and I'll see you next week.