Critters invade homecoming

Derek Samm from Wildlife Encounters shows off two of his stars during homecoming weekend. Photos by Matt Steanowicz.

It’s homecoming weekend, and the sweet scents of the beginning of fall start to fill the air.

You can feel the energy on campus as students and their families, alums and faculty they get ready to watch their Spartans play Norwich for the Sap Bucket.

The sweet smell of parking lot barbeque fills the air with dozens of grills sizzling. Surrounding the pavilion are a plethora of activities, from bounce houses to human sized hamster balls.

But looking into the pavilion, you notice a herd of families and students all hovering around a tent labeled “Wildlife Encounters.”

In this tent are several exotic animals that many have never seen before: a supersonic screeching cockatoo, an alligator saved by law enforcement from New Hampshire, a normally nocturnal porcupine, an energetic arctic fox and an baby albino reticulated python.

Children are reluctantly creeping up to the cages clutching on the pant leg of their mothers, simply to get a glimpse at these foreign animals.

Wildlife Encounters is a educational organization that helps animals that cannot take care of themselves, whether that be from improperly becoming a house pet or not being able to properly adapt to their natural wildlife setting.

Derek Small, owner and educator of Wildlife Encounters, said the motive of the group is simple.

“Our main goal is to create a harmony between the three most important balances in nature; animals, people, and earth,” he said.

The organization travels all over to mostly schools, to help inform others about what they do and how they can help. Animals are often sent from closing zoos and rescue shelters as well.

Small said they do presentations all across New England, but this was their first time at Castleton University.

With the event also came a 45-minute presentation displaying what the organization calls “ambassador animals.” The stars of the show were showcased with some of their unique abilities on display.

And while some may have a concern about safety at an event like this with animals normally found in the wild brought to a completely different setting, organizers said they have a bigger concern.

Sydney Small, daughter of Derek Small who also works for the organization said, tried to put it into perspective.

“We always run a risk when bringing the wildlife out of the wild, but we find that humans are more of a danger to the animals than the animals are to us. Usually when someone sees a snake in their backyard for example, their first reaction is to run it over with a lawnmower, when often times the snake itself is just as scared as you,” she said.

The event seemed to be a big hit.

“I’m loving this event, it’s available for everyone and it’s so great to see the campus, meet new people, and see some crazy animals!” said Marsha Sherma, grandmother of a Castleton student.

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