In the summer of 1976, the Museum needed someone to develop its new animal program. There were a few animals in the Museum’s collection at the time, and due to limited resources, the animals were all housed in pens or cages. The Museum leadership invited a young state park ranger and animal care specialist, Mike Jones, to come down from South Carolina to visit. Jones instantly fell in love with the Museum and the property.
“The grounds here were just beautiful, there was so much potential for a natural habitat-style zoo,” said Jones in a recent interview. “The lakefront and cypress swamp were already landscaped by nature.”
Jones also appreciated the Museum’s mission and focus to preserve and tell the stories of the native wildlife in the North Florida region.
“It is important to know about Sumatran rhinos and all of the other species that are endangered around the world, but we have plenty of animals right here at home that are in trouble.” said Jones. “Florida’s delicate ecosystem and aquifer are feeling pressure from humans like never before, and it is so important that we don’t lose sight of this fact while we are pursuing our daily lives and activities.”
Shortly after his visit, Jones was offered a position as the Museum’s animal curator. Jones got to work right away expanding the Museum’s animal program. He had only
planned to spend three to five years in Tallahassee. Fate had another plan.
“Tallahassee captured me.” said Jones.
“I joined a band, and we have played music for many years. The longer I was in Tallahassee, the more I felt tied to this community.”
Over the last forty years, Jones and his animal department team took the Museum’s native animal cllection from 25 animals to over 130. They have also built much larger natural habitats and enclosures for the Museum’s wildlife. The Museum has also participated in the red wolf recovery effort since 1988 and has worked with government agencies and conservation research with other native species.
“We had a bobcat that been in a small cage for 10 or 12 years before I arrived, and it was so nice to introduce him to the new bobcat habitat where he could rest in the trees ,” said Jones.
Jones said it has been very gratifying to work at the Museum, and has enjoyed meeting and knowing so many remarkable people who have worked at the Museum, as well as the many visitors and children…….and some fabulous animals!
“The more we can educate the public about the animals they are sharing the land with, the more effective we all will be at maintaining our precious natural resources.”