If you’ve visited the Brevard Zoo, you’ve likely met a lot of our more than 900 animal residents. Some animals are easy to spot, but others are often not as easy to see because of their habitat setup, their personalities, their sleep cycles, and other reasons.
That’s why we are starting a “Meet the Animals” section of our blog: to introduce you to some of the residents you may not have met yet – and might have difficulty meeting even if you intently looked for them!
While taking a stroll around one of our many loops, you’ll likely be on the lookout for some of our most famous Zoo residents. From our towering giraffes to our small-but-feisty lorikeets, there are plenty of attention-grabbing animals to spot. However, one of our lesser-known animals, and arguably one of the most adorable, can be found right at the front entrance on occasion. Other times she is out of the public eye. Of course, we’re talking about Shelley, our 3-year-old prehensile-tailed porcupine. Also known as a Brazilian porcupine, Shelley is one of our Zoo’s Animal Ambassadors.
Our Animal Ambassadors voluntarily participate in encounters with the public to help educate people on their species and inspire guests to take action to protect wildlife. For instance, did you know prehensile-tailed porcupines are incredibly important in their natural range because they eat and then defecate seeds and nuts that repopulate plant growth in rainforests? Well, now you do thanks to Shelley!
Each animal who participates in the Ambassador program can choose when they’d like to engage with the public. This is one way the Animal Ambassador team ensures this group of special critters can exercise meaningful choice and control in their day. This is especially demonstrated in their training.
“Shelley is trained for both program behaviors and medical behaviors,” explained Animal Ambassador keeper, Erin Corry. “Program behaviors include entering and exiting her kennel voluntarily, targeting (touching her nose to a target stick), and coming out on her perching platform…She is also trained for medical behaviors like stepping on a scale and presenting her stomach for voluntary ultrasounds.”
Shelley was a natural fit for the Animal Ambassador role. She arrived at the Zoo at only 7 months old, the time porcupettes are typically weaned off mom. Having the opportunity to work with her at a young age allowed her to become more comfortable being around people and being taken to new, stimulating locations. As an Ambassador, Shelley needs to be comfortable in a variety of settings. Luckily for our Animal Ambassador team, it seems to come naturally to her.
“Her parents are also Ambassador porcupines, so it’s in her genes!” said Erin.
While Shelley is a bit cautious by nature, she has grown very trusting of her keepers. Shelley has both impromptu and scheduled encounters every week. The best place to look for her is in the front entrance of the Zoo during our weekday 11 a.m. plaza chat. During the colder months, it can be hard to convince her to leave her temperature-controlled night house for a training session or guest appearance, but there’s always a tried-and-true solution.
“Showing her some coconut is enough to convince her it’s worth it,” added Erin.
Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.