Bobcats, wolves and coyotes may not be on your shopping list when you head to Merle Hay Mall. But, take a look inside one of the store fronts, and that's exactly what you'll find. Redrock Wildlife Education Center Director Ron DeArmond says, "All the species we have on display here either currently or at one time called Iowa home."
For a dollar, you can stroll through and gaze at the animals. You can even hold the young wildlife ambassadors. DeArmond says, "We're training another group of wildlife ambassadors, and so part of their ambassador training is what we call behavior management enrichment, which means we want them to interact with the general public when they're young."
DeArmond goes on to talk about holding the baby animals. He says, "For some people it can be life changing. I mean, when you actually hold a baby bobcat in your hand, you understand the importance that animal has in our eco-system."
Kristie Burns says that's why she volunteers at the center. She says, "They're living with us now." She's studying how animals behave, and says it's important for everyone to learn about wildlife as animals move into urban areas. She says, "Since we are living with them, and that's not going to change, we need to know who they are."
DeArmond says, "As the human population continues to increase, wildlife habitat will continue to shrink, so especially people here in Des Moines, urban wildlife is going to continue to be an issue."
DeArmond says that's why they're focusing on injured and orphaned wildlife this month. He says when people see a baby deer or another young abandoned animal, it's important to leave it alone. He says, "We get calls for orphaned wildlife right now. It's cute, it's sweet, but they're wild. If it was born in the wild, it needs to stay wild."
It's a message this group is trying to spread in a place that's anything but wild. DeArmond says the group is funded by private donations and foundation grants. The group takes the wildlife ambassadors to schools in 22 counties and is trying to raise money to buy 200 acres of land in Marion County for a wildlife rehabilitation and education center.