As anyone who works with animals can tell you, every day is different. I think the same can be said for anyone who works in television. Both lines of work are extremely unpredictable, which I find appealing. You just never know what could be right around the corner. For instance: If you would have told me at the beginning of 2016, I'd be working with rare Clouded Leopard cubs or touching the inside of a hippo's mouth, I probably would have passed out in excitement! I decided to put together my TOP TEN favorite animal encounters of 2016. Hope you enjoy and Happy New Year!
#10 African Penguins
Penguins have always been one of my favorite animals. As a teen, I have fond memories of working with them at our local zoo. (Even though the majority of the time was spent washing fishy buckets and hosing off poo!) This year I had the pleasure of working with two great penguin ambassadors, Cornelia and Trout! Cornelia (originally Cornelius until she laid an egg) came from my good friends over at The Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. She was a fantastic ambassador for her endangered wild cousins. It also marked the first time I'd bring an endangered species on The TODAY Show. I met Trout during my summer partnership with the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and Frito Lay. He is hands-down the biggest ham I've ever met! I've never worked with an animal more comfortable around people and cameras, which makes sense as he regularly appears with Jack Hanna from The Columbus Zoo. Trout and I were speaking about S.A.F.E (Saving Animals From Extinction) and how people every day can help wild animals. We visited PEOPLE magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Family Circle Magazine, and Little Things LIVE. What can I say, it was an honor working with him!
#9 Fox Kits
This spring we had some new residents on our property along the Snake River! I'd been aware of a pair of adult Red Foxes for quite some time, as I'd often see them during my jogs. It wasn't until the spring, we discovered new additions to the family! A female fox will give birth to three to six young. The helpless babies are the size of a dollar bill, although they grow rapidly. Soon the kits start hunting, and by fall they venture out on their own. It bothers me that foxes are often seen as pests and persecuted. People shoot, trap, and poison them on a regular basis. What people often overlook, is how beneficial they are for rodent control. A single fox will consume thousands of mice on a annual basis, keeping the population in check.
There are some animals I never even imagined I'd work with. The American Badger is one of them. My good friends at The Animals In Distress Organization had recently rescued a 5-month-old badger. He wasn't quite ready for release, so I asked if they could bring the rambunctious mammal in-studio to Boise's Mix 106 Radio. It was a great opportunity to dispel common myths and talk about their environmental benefits, including rodent control. A few months later, I was able to make that message national, talking about it on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
I feel like 2016 has been the year of the sloth. If you look at it from a social media standpoint, they're one of the most viral animals on the web. And for good reason! Sloths are one of the most interesting animals on the planet: They move only a few feet a day, poop once a week, and surprisingly they are excellent swimmers!
#6 Naked Mole Rats
I'm not kidding when I say Naked Mole Rats have been on my "dream list" of animals to feature on The Today Show for years. They are one of the most interesting animals I've ever researched prior to a show. They can't get cancer, live in a society similar to ants and bees (Eusocial), and have been named the ugliest animals on the planet! I was ready to shine a positive light on these interesting creatures. Tamron Hall and Billy Bush were thrilled...
#5 The Tiger Cubs
One of the most memorable moments of 2016 was working with a trio of three-month old tiger cubs. With fewer than 3,200 left in the wild, the young cubs served as excellent ambassadors for their wild counterparts. I could not have asked for better company on my first appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. You can watch the full segment below:
#4 The Sawtooths
Words can't even begin to describe the beauty of the Sawtooths. Part of the great Rocky Mountain Range, they're centrally located just a few hours outside of Boise. Being born and raised in Idaho, I was embarrassed to say I'd never been! The wildlife was spectacular. Pronghorn Antelope, elk, deer, and even a curious fox came through camp!
#3 Clouded Leopard Cubs
Partnering with the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and Frito Lay for S.A.F.E. (Saving Animals From Extinction) was one of the biggest highlights of 2016. Being a spokesperson, I was absolutely thrilled to talk about animals, conservation, and how people can visit their local AZA accredited zoo, and actively help animals out in the wild (Over 160 million was raised last year alone!). The icing on the cake was working with Jack Hanna's team from The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and their rare Clouded Leopard Cubs! Little is known about these mysterious cats found in the rainforests of South East Asia. They are primarily arboreal (living in trees) and have the longest canines to skull ratio of any cat. This makes scientists believe their closest living relative is the Saber-toothed Cat. It was an experience I'll never forget.
#2 The Bald Eagle
Some of my favorite animal encounters are the spontaneous ones. I was lucky enough to run into three Bald Eagles this year. Once while jogging, one flew overhead. Another time, I was driving back from McCall, Idaho along a frosty lined river on a cool winter morning. I looked to my left, and one was perched on a dead tree, spreading its wings. The close proximity to the road was unreal. The wingspan was spectacular, and I couldn't believe I was in the presence of such a magnificent bird. My last encounter was just after Christmas a few miles from my home. I was driving along the Snake River and there it was, perched on a telephone pole. It is so comforting to know an animal like the Bald Eagle, nearly on the brink of extinction not too long ago, has made a full comeback. It has to be one of the greatest conservation success stories of our generation. It also gives me hope for other species currently in peril.
#1 Herbie The Hippo
My number one experience of 2016 has to be my encounter with Herbie the hippo! If you know me or have read previous blogs, you know I'm OBSESSED with hippos. As a kid, they were my favorite animals to see in zoos. When I encountered my first hippo in Africa, I was ecstatic. Another thing that has always fascinated me was their captive husbandry. You can imagine my excitement when my good friends at the Toledo Zoo gave me a backstage pass. Their famed Hippoquarim was the first underwater hippo exhibit in the US. I was able to meet Herbie and Emma, the current residents. I was able to feed them their favorite treats which were bananas and watermelons. The highlight was touching the gelatinous, blubber-like mass around Herbie's mouth. The experience was incredible and topped my list of animal encounters of 2016!