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On a secluded 79-acre property in Douglas County there lives a 17-year-old tarantula with a hawk who's blind in one eye and a vulture that survived being hit by a car.
And two cats who are there for mice control.
The animals' home, Nature's Educators, is a nonprofit organization that since 2008 has been sheltering animals, many of which are raptors or birds of prey, that can't be released into the wild. The organization also conducts educational outreach programs for the public.
Nature's Educators, which rents a private facility not open to the public from Cherokee Ranch, moved to its Douglas County location in 2015.
“These are birds that have had injuries that can't be fixed and the rehabbers have deemed them non-releasable but good for education,” said Executive Director Devin Jaffe. “We get birds from all over the nation.”
As of Jan. 17, the nonprofit housed just under 100 animals, including owls, hawks, vultures, centipedes and tarantulas.
Many of the center's amphibians were seized by animal control, Jaffe said. In some cases, the creatures grew too big to remain house pets and in other cases their owners were moving to a municipality banning their breed.
A typical day at Nature's Educators starts at 7 a.m., Jaffe said. Workers check on the animals' health, feed and water them and clean their cages.
“All the animals on site, their enclosures get cleaned every single day,” Jaffe said.
As she spoke, intern-turned-volunteer Brianna Beattie worked on her hands and knees to clean out a rabbit enclosure. Beattie, a zoo keeping technology major at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, said she fell in love with the operation and chose to stay on as a volunteer after her internship ended.
Joshua Peters, the animal care manager for Pikes Peak Community College, said many of their students have benefitted from working with Nature's Educators, and the school frequently brings classes to the facility for real-world experience.
He, too, is a former intern of Nature's Educators who also studied zoo keeping technology at Pikes Peak Community College, where he now works full time.
“It was just a very awesome and diverse experience," he said. "It's kind of unique in the aspect that you get to do a lot of hands-on care for the animals at the facility, but then you get to go out into the community and do the education research.”
When Nature's Educators conducts its outreach programs, of which they did 756 in 2017, the animals act as “ambassadors for their kind,” Jaffe said. The center's three staff members, five interns and more than 40 volunteers travel with the animals to schools, nature centers and libraries to hold educational programs.
“As an organization they are just super-fantastic about getting out and getting people excited about animals and educated about the threats that they are facing,” Peters said.
Jaffe said they teach people things they can do in their daily lives to protect animals. Don't use rat poison, she said in one example. In another, don't throw an orange peel out the car window or it could attract animals onto the road where they might get hit.
Overall, the center's goal is to “provide a happy and healthy environment” for animals who are entering captivity for the first time, and for those who can't be released into the wild because they were raised in captivity, Jaffe said.
One day she hopes they can open to the public for tours and on-site programming. Until then, organization will continue its outreach programs to educate the public about nature and wildlife.
“We want everybody to come away with some idea of, `I can do this to help,' ” Jaffe said. “And a better appreciation of wildlife and habitats.”
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