Friends of the WNC Nature Center Annual Report 2019

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T TER NEWSLE2019–2020 Road to Recovery for The Red Wolf by Ben Prater, Southeast Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife

For endangered species, the road to recovery is anything but straightforward. Recovery involves modest successes, small setbacks, hard-earned lessons, and, above all, unwavering commitment. Few species better embody this long road than the world’s most endangered canine: the red wolf. The American red wolf was native to the fields, forests, and swamps of the Learn more about Defenders of Wildlife and coexisting with red Southeastern United States for tens wolves: of thousands of years. However, in just a few centuries, it was removed by European settlers from most of its historical range. By the time the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, the red wolf was teetering on the brink of extinction, with a few survivors hanging on in the borderlands of Louisiana and Texas. In a last-ditch effort to save the species, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) captured all the remaining wolves they could locate and established a captive breeding program. A mere 14 individuals jumpstarted the captive population and eventually set the stage for the species’ return to the wild. In 1987, the red wolf was reintroduced in Eastern North Carolina on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Over the years, the captive breeding program grew and extends today to over 40 different facilities including the WNC Nature Center, who carefully steward these amazing animals and protect their precious genetics. With support of the breeding program, the wild population grew to around 150 by 2005, and red wolves roamed nearly two million acres of public and private lands across a five-county region of the Albemarle Peninsula. The red wolf program was a marked success and on a steady path towards recovery. Tragically this was soon to change. CONTINUED ON PAGE 4

Not All Zoos & Aquariums Are The Same by Chris Gentile Director, WNC Nature Center Although there are several thousand zoological facilities that exhibit animals in the United States, fewer than 230 have met the rigorous accreditation standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). I am proud to say that your WNC Nature Center has been an accredited member of AZA for 20 years. When you see the AZA logo, you have assurance that the facility you are supporting has met the highest mark when it comes to animal health and welfare, conservation, and education – much higher than even the USDA dictates. Currently, only eight facilities in North Carolina are accredited by AZA: •

The Nature Center

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro

The Greensboro Science Center

The Museum of Life & Science in Durham

The SEALife Aquarium in Concord

The North Carolina State Aquariums at Fort Fisher, Roanoke Island, and Pine Knoll Shores

The AZA network allows us to partner with other accredited facilities in programs that help us protect our precious wildlife as well as conserve the remaining wild places where they live. Thank you for your continued support of the WNC Nature Center. Together, we are all making a difference for wildlife each and every day.

Welcome To Their World by Karen Babcock Executive Director, Friends of the WNC Nature Center One morning this past winter, the red wolves began to howl. The media were photographing new red pandas Leafa and Phoenix and didn’t seem to notice, but I was transfixed. Slipping away, I moved quickly towards the howling. When both gray wolves and the coyotes joined in, I realized I was the only human they could see. We looked at each other openly. I felt invited into their world. This red wolf experience was one of the best moments of my life. Knowing fewer than 25 of these regal, confident North Carolina natives still roam wild made the encounter especially thrilling and simultaneously sobering. Education about native species like the red wolf inspires appreciation, nurtures understanding, and advances conservation. This is not only the Nature Center’s mission; this is what makes the WNC Nature Center a truly unique experience for visitors. Red pandas Leafa and Phoenix, the current stars of Asheville’s Wildlife Park, are not only amazingly cute, but they are also conservation ambassadors for their endangered brethren. The story of their cousins, the extinct prehistoric Appalachian species Bristol’s Panda, echoes even as we all delight in getting to know Leafa and Phoenix. Many things motivate people to visit and identify with the animals in their Nature Center. For me, it is primarily passion for conservation, whether for red wolves, Monarch butterflies, or any of the myriad of species humans often overlook in the misplaced confidence that this planet is for our singular use. The Friends of the WNC Nature Center has worked for 45 years in support of the Nature Center, through your membership, Gift Shop sales, educational outreach, volunteer program, and events. With your support, the Friends were able to donate $1.2 million in 2019 to Nature Center projects like the Red Panda Habitat and Front Entrance! We are humbled by your generosity and dedication. Thank you!

Upcoming Events

More Details and Events at

2019 Events

Wild Walks: Behind The Scenes Tour


See the Nature Center like never before and get up-close and personal with your favorite wildlife! Purchase tickets online in advance: $35 adults, $20 children (ages 8+).


A Winter’s Tail

This fun, Halloween-themed festival features costume contests, games, art and crafts, and animal programs.*

A holiday-themed festival offering photos with Santa, games, crafts, and animal programs.*



2020 Events

Junior Wild Walks: Behind the Scenes Tour


Be a “zookeeper in training!” Children and their parents will enjoy special animal encounters and educational moments. Purchase tickets online in advance: $18 adults; $10 children.

Junior Wolf Howl


Learn about the gray wolf, red wolf, and coyote, then venture outside for a guided flashlight tour to hear our wolves howl! Purchase tickets online in advance: $18 adults, $10 children.

Wolf Howl

Critter Checkup


Your child can bring their favorite plush animal for a check-up with a veterinarian! Purchase tickets online in advance: $12 adults; $10 children.


Hey Day


This fall festival features games, arts and crafts, animal programs, live music, and local food vendors for all to enjoy.*

*Standard admission rates apply unless otherwise noted. Members get in free!

Join us for a presentation on red and gray wolves and howling lessons, then walk out to meet our wolves after dark. Purchase tickets online in advance: $35 adults; $20 children.

#OptOutside Day

Brews and Bears

Avoid that Black Friday crowd, and enjoy some fresh air at the WNC Nature Center! We’ll have three animal education programs and two family-friendly wildlife walks.*

This after-hours event features local beer and cider, a food truck, ice cream, music, and a special bear education program. Purchase tickets online in early spring.


FRIDAYS, MAY 8, JUNE 12, JULY 10, AND AUGUST 14 • 5:30PM-8:00PM

Road to Recovery for The Red Wolf CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

In 2012, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission changed hunting regulations to allow the nighttime hunting of coyotes, which caused a significant proportion of the red wolf population to be shot as a result of mistaken identity. When conservation groups intervened, local resentment grew, and the red wolf program was vilified. In response to vocal opponents of the program, the FWS made changes to the red wolf recovery program, allowing

landowners to shoot red wolves and ending the reintroduction of captive-bred animals to the wild population. The FWS also proposed shrinking the red wolf’s current territory by about 90 percent and removing protections for wolves that wander onto private lands. Official estimates report less than 25 red wolves live in the wild today. Despite these setbacks, we hope to stabilize the wild population in North Carolina and chart a new course that will encourage people to coexist with the species on the landscape. The red wolf is not just an animal of fur and bones, but a sense of place. It belongs here, and it’s time to get back on the road to recovery. Visit the red wolves Karma and Garnet at your WNC Nature Center, and learn more about how you can help keep the red wolf in the wild for future generations!


Become a Wild Parent when you symbolically adopt a Nature Center animal, like the red wolves, the red pandas, or the box turtles! You’ll gain a special friend while supporting the Nature Center’s animal care, education, and conservation programs! Adopt an animal or give an adoption packet as a gift at

KultureCity: A Partnership for Inclusion by Alayna Schmidt, Education Specialist WNC Nature Center

The WNC Nature Center is now a certified KultureCity Sensory Inclusive™ site, which will ensure the best experience for guests with sensory needs. Bright, hot sunlight. People bustling close-by. Our brains receive an endless stream of signals through our senses. For many, the brain can quickly process these signals and filter out extraneous information. People with sensory processing disorders experience challenges receiving and processing environmental stimuli. Sensations sometimes become overwhelming and even painful. Participating in certain activities and visiting busy places can potentially be more upsetting than enjoyable for people with sensory needs, such as those with PTSD, autism, and dementia.

Sensory bags will also be available to check out at the Gift Shop. Each bag contains helpful items, including noise-cancelling headphones, fidget tools, and a VIP lanyard that helps Nature Center staff identify guests with sensory needs.

Before visiting, families can download the free KultureCity App from the App Store or Google Play to see what sensory features are available As part of our partnership with KultureCity, and where they can access them. signage will help guests identify “loud” and “quiet” areas on the grounds. Headphone The Nature Center is excited to implement this zones will indicate noisy areas where groups program so that people can feel comfortable of people may gather. Quiet zones are typically and included while enjoying the park! less populated and can be a respite in case of sensory overload.

Thank You 2018-2019 Fiscal Year Corporate Sponsors For Supporting The WNC Nature Center!

Leafa & Phoenix

Make Their Debut! by Kate Frost, Development Director Friends of the WNC Nature Center

February 14, 2019 was a red-letter day for the Nature Center. Red pandas Leafa and Phoenix were introduced to the public, and a recordsetting 1,883 guests visited them that Saturday! The red pandas are the first species of the Nature Center’s new Prehistoric Appalachia project. Skeletal remains of the red panda’s close cousin, the now extinct Bristol’s Panda, were discovered at the Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee and are estimated to be 5 million years old. Red pandas are currently endangered, and Leafa and Phoenix are part of the Species Survival Program (SSP) associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Mayor Esther Manheimer and Friends of the WNC Nature Center Board President Nora Carpenter celebrate the red panda habitat opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Through the support of a generous donation from Butch and Kathy Patrick, along with gifts from many other donors, the Friends of the WNC Nature Center was able to contribute $154,200 toward the construction and completion of the red panda habitat. There are still opportunities for you to support the red pandas! Every time you purchase a red panda plush or shirt from the Gift Shop or symbolically adopt Leafa and Phoenix through our Wild Parent program, proceeds support the ongoing needs of their habitat. In 2020, a limited number of donor experiences will be offered to be on the red panda habitat with Leafa and Phoenix. Please e-mail outreach@ if you would like to be contacted when these experiences become available.

Major donor and Friends board member Butch Patrick feeds Leafa a grape during a barrier-free experience. You can have this experience too! Please e-mail Kate Frost at for more information.

Meet the Animal Curator: Erin Oldread What Are Your Favorite Animals At The Nature Center?

guests while on habitat. I also pitch in as a keeper by working Red pandas Leafa and Phoenix the barn areas, feeding animals, and giving husbandry care. What’s Your Typical Day Like Where Did You Work Before At The Nature Center? And What Did You Do? Each day is different, which is one thing I love about animal Some of my greatest zoo care. Some days I’m in the accomplishments over my office working on our vet 15 year career were at Busch program and updating our Gardens in Tampa, Florida. animal records. Other days I trained a Malayan tiger to I’m in a training session with participate in a volunteer our red pandas and talking to ultrasound session and raised a three-day-old baby sloth after its mom wasn’t able to care for it. Amazing experiences! What’s The Wildest Thing You’ve Experienced On The Job?

I once had a rotten ostrich egg A position in zoo management requires a four year college explode on me! degree, preferably in science or psychology. Any Advice For Future Animal Curators? Every day is a new experience

This is a great career if you that lets you play an active role love animals, the outdoors, and in keeping animals healthy. working outside!


Why Did The Turtle Cross The Road? Eastern box turtles live in a small home range about the size of a football field. If you see a box turtle trying to cross the road, don’t give it a new home. With a responsible adult, help it cross to the side it was heading toward. The Nature Center’s Turtle Pond is home to 12 box turtles. See how many you can count next time you visit!


Become A Member As a member, you’ll enjoy: • Free daily admission to the WNC Nature Center. • Free or discounted admission to over 450 reciprocal zoos, aquariums (AZA), and science centers (ASTC) nationwide. • Discounts to Nature Center special events, Gift Shop, summer camps, birthday parties, and education programs. • Participation in a membership program that supports your WNC Nature Center, including the animals, education programs, and conservation initiatives!

Coming Fall 2019! Become a member or renew instantly on our free membership app! Learn more and download the app at

Friends of the WNC Nature Center

The Friends have supported the Nature Center since 1974. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we raise funds through donations, memberships, events, and Gift Shop sales. The Friends also provide outreach education, volunteers, and marketing. Your donation directly supports the Nature Center!

Friends’ Revenue Sources $1.3 million (FY19) Gift Shop 17%

Memberships 33%

Fundraising & Grants 50%

Funds Donated to WNCNC $1.2 million Panda Habitat 13% Other Projects 13% New Front Entrance 74%

9,200 Served Through Outreach Education 10,000 Volunteer Hours

164,000 Visitors July ‘18-June ‘19

Friends of the WNC Nature Center PO Box 19151 • Asheville, NC 28815 • WEBSITE:


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