By Stephanie Butzer
With a single human yell, the Conservators’ Center comes alive. Staff and volunteers around the grounds join in before their voices are drowned by 20 lions “oofing,” three wolves howling and nine tigers chuffling.
“The ones who know them best are the best ones to get them going,” said Mandy Matson, director of communications at the Center.
Over and over, the Conservators’ Center received feedback from visitors about how the sounds they heard at the center had been the highlight of their experience.
Community members were invited to attend the Center’s “Sound of the Center” event April 27 to hear lions, wolves, tigers and New Guinea Singing Dogs communicate with each other and people.
Visitors were encouraged to wander the trails at their own pace and listen to staff members talk about how and why the different animals communicated, what they were saying to each other and to the people and why their sounds are so important.
Meghan McGrath, a staff member who helps in Outreach Services, organized “Sounds of the Center,” but not without a team of enthusiastic and passionate staff members behind her.
“This would not have been possible at all, with any planning that I had done, with all the execution I had, without the community and team of people we have here,” McGrath said. “You always have hiccups, but even without them, we can’t do things like this without our volunteers coming out and supporting us.”
The idea for the event first came into bloom when McGrath became fascinated with introducing the community that had already seen the Center as an entertainment destination to a more education-heavy experience.
“This was our first experiment with seeing how (far in) education we can go and how far we can go in this direction and still have people be motivated to come out and meet our animals,” McGrath said.
The staff members were scattered around the Center, each engaging in an intellectual conversation about various animals. Their passion was evident as they described the animals as they would a friend.
Kim and Frank Pyne have worked with the Conservators’ Center since 2007 and during “Sounds of the Center” they spoke to visitors from inside the wolf enclosure.
“Wolves make an awful lot of noise and in every bit of social behavior that they do, there are noises,” Kim Pyne said.
When wolves were in a disagreement, she said they rarely partake in a serious fight.
“What you will see is a lot of sounds, a lot of noise, a lot of posturing and suddenly huge big-sized-looking animals because they’re fluffing their fur out to make themselves look big and scary. It’s all sounds and noise and signifies nothing, to quote Macbeth.,” she said.
Staff and volunteers explained the different howls of their three white wolves and how, from across the Center, they could identify which animal had howled. Down the walkway, other members pointed out the small gruffs and “oofs” the lions and tigers made.
At the end of the night, the staff heard a lot of positive feedback about the loose structure of the evening event. Keepers stayed afterwards to talk to people who wanted to return to see another “Sounds of the Center.”
“Little things like that are what makes us so successful,” McGrath said. “It’s not necessary for us to succeed (with the event), but it really helps reinforce the idea that were community and that we all work together.”