Most families have some sort of pet, whether it be a dog, cat or goldfish. Humans and animals are connected and we often share deep bonds with one another. Dog may be man’s best friend, but just step outside your home and visit Turtle Bay Exploration Park to find new exotic furry friends.
Turtle Bay is not only the hub of Redding’s famous landmark or an excellent museum; It has also become a home for dozens of animals who came straight from the wild, injured. Most of these animals are native to North America and families can see these hairy, scaled and feathered creatures up close and interact with them.
The staff puts in a lot effort into making sure the animals are healthy and happy. Not only does the staff train them, but they constantly make sure they are clean and eating the proper diets.
“They deserve to have the best possible life we can give them in captivity and so we don’t want their exhibits to be dirty for even a second and we want to make sure that they’re healthy all the time. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of time and dedication from the entire staff,” said Sharon Clay, Curator of Animal Programs at Turtle Bay.
Clay has been training animals for over 20 years and believes she has the best career in the entire world. She shares an intimate bond with the animals at Turtle Bay and having raised many of them herself, Clay has become a type of mother figure to them. The animals light up and get excited when she’s around.
“The best thing about being an animal trainer, I would say, is the bonds that you make with wild animals. Creating that bond and that trust and that relationship with them is extremely fulfilling, rare and a great privilege,” Clay explained.
The way they train the animals at Turtle Bay is called positive reinforcement training, or operate conditioning. Basically, if an animal does something right, they get a reward. If they don’t do it or do it wrong, nothing happens. The animals are never punished and are not forced to do anything they don’t want to do.
“It’s a partnership,” Clay said. “You do it, you’ll get a treat.”
Spending time with the animals is Clay’s favorite part of the job. They all have their own personalities and quirks, things that make each animal unique, and fostering connections between these animals and visitors is one of the park’s major goals.
“Hearing the audience go ‘Wow,’ every single solitary time that Whisper, our bobcat, jumps straight in the air – hearing that reaction, you know that you just affected people, and knowing that you affected people is what it’s all about,” Clay said.
Turtle Bay hosts animals ranging from foxes, skunks and porcupines to eagles, bobcats and snakes. The most popular animals tend to be the cute and furry ones, but it warms Clay’s heart when she sees people admiring the more fearsome creatures.
“It’s when you can create it so that someone loves the vulture, that’s when you know you’ve made a difference,” she said.
The park has animal programs year-round. The Walk on the Wild Side shows are Tuesday–Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. The summer season will end with limited shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., August 24 through September 1, with special Labor Day shows on Monday, September 2, at 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Clay encourages everyone, especially those who haven’t been to Turtle Bay in while, to come out and see what they have to offer.
“Take what you learn here and bring it into your lives,” she said. “Make a difference out there.”