Have you ever wondered what happens to an exotic animal that has been brought to Buffalo, illegally or otherwise, before being forsaken because the owner does not have the means to take care of it? Chances are that animal ends up being cared for by Buffalo Animal Adventures (BAA).
I spoked to Executive Director Jeffrey Scharoun, who told me that they currently care for over 150 exotic animals, and that up until COVID-19, the organization had been growing by 80% (from 2017 to 2018). While it would be great if there were no exotic animals being brought to Buffalo and left behind, there is a silver lining to the problem. BAA has turned lemons into crickets by not only caring for the creatures, but also using them as on-the-road educational tools, to tell their stories… and the mounting urgency that surrounds the global conservation crisis due to global warming, deforestation, etc.
Buffalo Animal Adventures was founded on the idea of accessibility to informalized science education in schools with limited resources for experiential education.
I found it interesting that BAA was founded by Anthony Keller, who was at Canisius College studying biology. At the time, back in 2007, Scharoun was studying business. It was around that time that the undergrads began to discuss the formations of an organization that would be dedicated to wildlife education, specifically the lack of it in Western NY.
BAA was incorporated in 2014, though it wasn’t until 2017 that they “opened their doors” to the public. Scharoun, who now has a venomous snake license from the NYSDEC, told me that the tagline of the organization is “We bring the wild to you.” And that’s exactly what they do – the organization has 35 lesson plans for K-12 students that they deliver directly to the schools… and now nursing homes, Scouts, and so forth. Unfortunately, COVID has presented a whole other challenge – how do you feed and care for 150+ exotic animals when the system shuts down? Time is precious right now. That’s why Scharoun and his team are scrambling to raise awareness of their efforts, so that they can make it through COVID, and get back to the business at hand.
BAA’s education team consists of ten highly trained and learned animal handlers.
“Our in – and after – school programming revenues contribute to a significant portion of our overhead expenses including animal husbandry. With many traditional after school programs on hold for the foreseeable future, we are left with the task of making ends meet as relief funds are quickly depleting,” says Executive Director Jeffrey Scharoun. “As a relatively new organization, we saw a tremendous response from the community in the demand for wildlife programming! Our service revenues show an 80% increase from 2018 to 2019 whilst maintaining our commitment to affordable pricing for our clients. As a nonprofit organization, we believe everyone should have the access and opportunity to learn about the natural world and our responsibilities to it, thus we make every effort to ensure affordability poses no hardship to accessing our services. We at BAA instill the public with a charge of responsibility to have an informed and positive relationship with the natural world and all its creatures; the idea of pocketing a mark-up from sharing that good news has never sat well with me. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were just establishing our initial grant funding relationships. That effort is still underway, however, the disruption in projected revenues due to the pandemic has been increasingly difficult to bear.”
The saddest and scariest part of this whole thing is that, like so many other incredible Buffalo organizations, everything was looking great before the pandemic struck. “We were headed in an excellent direction,” Scharoun told me. “Who plans for a global pandemic?”
Not only is BAA good for the animals (who else would care for them?), it’s good for the students. Typically, these students attend schools that don’t have field trips in their budgets, which means that there are no excursions to The Buffalo Zoo. In the case of BAA, the animals go to the schools. It’s a win-win for the students and the animals, which range from the Madagascar hissing cockroaches and blue death feigning beetles to the giant vinegaroon and a forest coatimundi (see the list of exotic critters).
“For all of our programing, we bring our animal ambassadors to provide our explorers with a hands-on approach to learning the biological aspects of each species, their ecological significance, and the conservation efforts that are in place or needed for their survival,” says Maeve Higgins, Interim Director of Education.
Buffalo Animal Adventures is accepting cash donations on their website at www.BuffaloAnimalAdventures.com/Donate where the community can also shop for gifts to send the animals. With a goal of $10,000 by the end of 2020 to off-set the costs of providing excellent care to their animals; contributions to the Creatures of Care Fundraising Campaign will help ensure BAA’s animals receive the nourishment and enrichment they need for an anticipated strong start to the spring semester. For more information, or to book a virtual or in-person program, Buffalo Animal Adventures can be reached at (716) 913-6034.
Lead image: Social distancing with an exotic snake