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It’s A Zoo At Millbrook School (And We Don’t Mean The Kids)

Red panda cub with Millbrook School student Zooies. Photos courtesy Millbrook School.

By Merida Welles

Coati and Kinkajou, Kea and Rhea.

Foreign dishes? Exotic holiday spots? Hardly!

These extraordinary creatures are just a few of the 180 exotic and indigenous animals housed at Trevor Zoo, Millbrook School’s six-acre animal sanctuary, conservation education center and veterinary clinic. The only zoo located at a high school (and one of 230 in the country accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), the Trevor Zoo in Millbrook, New York is a local gem, offering a bucolic woodland escape against the backdrop of a glimmering pond and waterfall.

Despite being a school’s in-house zoo, Trevor attracts some 35,000 visitors annually, predominantly in summer. But the zoo is open daily all year, thanks in large part not only to its staff but to its students. About a quarter of Millbrook’s 310 high school students volunteer at the zoo daily, preparing and delivering food, building perches, cleaning habitats and observing vets at work. Classes in environmental science are part of the academics and the Zoo Squad is a student alternative to participation in a sport.

North American river otters.

But to start at the beginning: how did a college-prep boarding school become home to these exotic species?

The story sounds like something out of an old Disney film. In 1936, animal lover and aspiring biologist Frank Trevor drove up to the school in a car loaded with crates of his own pet animals. He offered his services and was hired on the spot as the school’s first biology teacher. With his backseat animal collection serving as the foundation of the zoo, Mr. Trevor, the stern taskmaster for whom the zoo was named, remained to inspire generations of students to pursue animal bioscience and conservation. 

Other transformative Millbrook School alumni in the zoo’s history include world-renowned conservation biologist Dr. Tom Lovejoy and 42-year Zoo Director Jono Meigs who, with his wife Jane, modernized the zoo and paved the way for today’s conservation efforts. The current director is endocrinologist Dr. Alan Tousignant, who joined the zoo in 1994 after earning his doctorate at the University of Texas.

Dr. T, as he is known by his students, is proud that Trevor Zoo is a member of the 230-strong Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “a kind of Seal of Good Housekeeping,” as he puts it. To qualify, zoos must meet four criteria: be open to the public and offer educational programs, conservation in the wild, and scientific research. Being a member allows for advantageous collaboration with fellow AZA institutions across the country.

Top: Golden Lion Tamarin. Bottom: Ring-tailed lemur.

There are benefits to being affiliated with a demanding school, too: Many students select the Millbrook School expressly because of the opportunities the zoo affords them to work with animals as part of its academic curriculum and community service program. Some of the most serious “zooies” pursue independent research projects for full credit, and many continue their love of wildlife and conservation in careers as vets and biologists. Hannah Petri, a former student, has become Docent and Interpretation Coordinator at the St. Louis Zoo.

This veteran Dutchess County resident thoroughly enjoyed visiting even on an icy February day. There was Luna, the handsome red wolf, bounding up to greet me before loping gracefully around her enclosure; a furry black and white ruffed lemur named Bombo screeching “love songs” and displaying his outstretched form before a reluctant mate; dashing silver-coated “Foxy” emerging sleepily from his hut to paw for prey in the snow; and Ghandi the eclectus parrot showing off wolf-whistles.

Emus, white-naped cranes, wild turkeys, owls and other species were also on clear display outside on this blustery day, while a boa constrictor, Kaiser’s spotted newts, poison dart frogs and leopard geckos appeared to doze, snug in their shelters inside. If animals aren’t visible during a visit, live video cameras allow fans to track some animals’ – red pandas, waterfowl and great blue herons – daily movements via the internet.

In addition to educating students and visitors, Trevor Zoo is also committed to protecting nine endangered species, including the popular red panda, the red wolf and the black-and-white ruffed lemur. As part of its breeding program, it coordinates with other AZA-accredited zoos to mate selected endangered species. “It’s a giant dating game, a kind of Match.com for animals,” says Dr. T. describing how he and his colleagues use modern technology to further their program.

This April, a historic grist mill overlooking the zoo’s waterfall will be christened as the new Welcome Center and Gift Shop. The gracefully renovated 150-year-old mill takes the zoo one step further along an 80-year trek from its humble beginnings. 

Trevor Zoo
282 Millbrook School Rd., Millbrook, NY
(845) 677-3704
Open 9 a.m - 5 p.m. every day of the year including holidays.
Adults $6; Children and Seniors $4; Groups $3.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/20/17 at 10:47 AM • Permalink