L. L. Mitchell
 
In The Animals Of Grandfather Mountain, wildlife biologist and animal habitat manager Laurie L. Mitchell showcases a wonderfully illustrated collection of engaging and informative stories about the boisterous bear cubs, inquisitive deer, secretive cougars, playful otters, chattering eagles, and others who live in the Grandfather Mountain wildlife habitats of North Carolina. THE ANIMALS OF GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN is wonderful reading for children of all ages and an enthusiastically recommended addition to school and community library wildlife reference collections and reading lists.                      
                                                  -- Midwest Book Review
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              Excerpt from The Animals of Grandfather Mountain: 
                                     An Animal Caretaker’s Tales ...

CHAPTER 2

A Day in the Life of An Animal Caretaker / Zookeeper

The bald eagles see Tanya and me entering the habitat. Wilma stretches her neck like an ostrich, and her white head feathers stand on end as she peers around the rhododendron at our approach.  She starts calling and Sam, her mate, joins in.  They watch us warily as we pass, then settle down as we disappear down the path that leads to the bear habitats.
   Mumbles the bear is lying against the front wall of the bear habitat, the only one we see in the two-acre exhibit.  The others are dozing out of view.  We call to him and he flicks an ear.  But it isn't time for him to wake up just yet.  All the bears are late risers, except for the cubs, that is.  They’re already running around their exhibit, climbing trees and playing chase.          Gerry the Bear & L. L. Mitchell             photo by Hugh Morton

Walking back up to the otter habitat, we pass the bald eagles again.  Once more, Wilma and Sam warn everyone of our approach.  The Golden Eagles, Goldie and Morely, just stare at us from their perch as we enter the otter house.
Manteo, Oconee, Nola and Chucky, curled up in a large four-otter ball, barely open their eyes as we peer in at them.  It is probably going to be one of those water hose days to get them onto display.  But we give them the benefit of the doubt, and open the door to the exhibit to see if they will venture out on their own.  Then we head to the cougar house.  
The cougars greet us with little meows and purrs as we enter the cat house.  Cougars are the largest cats that can purr.  We walk around in their habitat before we let them out to make sure that no trees have fallen on the fence and to pick up a pair of sunglasses that somebody dropped into the habitat the day before.  It is unbelievable how many objects visitors accidentally drop into the habitats.
Tanya lets the cougars out and begins cleaning dens while I feed the deer.  Heidi is being a pest, as usual.  I can't get around her because she has her head in the bucket, trying to eat the sweet feed and deer chow.  Finally, I pull the bucket away and she follows me to the feed trough.  The others hang back until I leave.  I glance at The Count to check on the growth progress of his antlers.  They are getting big and look like they’re about to fork.                            
While Tanya is still cleaning the cougar house, I walk back up to the otters to see if they're stirring.  Already, visitors are looking around the display for them.  I notice they’re still in that otter ball "formation" inside their house.
"You'd better get out!" I say.  "I'll get the hose!"
Manteo opens his eyes and peers up at me.  But it’s too much effort for him to keep them open.  Slowly, his eyes become slits again.
Reluctantly, I hook the hose up and squirt water into their den.  Immediately, they begin grunting and stirring.  Again, I shoot a light stream of water at them.  This time, I get a little more action and they slowly stretch and yawn and start up the steps, still grunting.  River otters may like water, but they hate being squirted with a hose.  It gets them out every time.
I clean out the otter house, then head back to the office.  Tanya is already there gathering the bear food.  People are amazed to find out that we feed them apples, carrots, lettuce, and sweet potatoes, as well as dog food.
After we get all the food together, we set the buckets on the porch and walk inside the office.  Five minutes later, I walk back out and notice that a little red squirrel as stolen one of the apples out of the bucket and is running down the road with it.
"Hey!  Come back!" I yell. 
The little squirrel drops the apple and hops into a tree, fussing.  I pick the apple up and place it back into the bucket, shaking my head.  That little boomer tries to steal the bears' apples all the time!
Suddenly, two chipmunks burst from the underbrush near the tool shed, one in hot pursuit of the other.  They race across the road and disappear amid the leaves and twigs on the other side.  I can hear the frantic chase continue around the snow blower shed and into the ditch.
   Gerry the bear is waiting patiently at the gate for her apple.  I slip the apple into her mouth and enter the bear habitat.  We see Carolina and Dakota ambling our way and quickly lead Gerry to her feeding spot.  We have to work fast so Gerry won't see the other bears.  She has not been getting along with them lately.  
   Our efforts prove futile.  Even as we lay her food out, Gerry spots Carolina and chases her out of view.  Both bears grumble and blow as they run.  Dakota, not the object of the chase at the moment, continues to head our way.  We direct her to the other side of the habitat to be out of Gerry's wrath.  As we pass the bear pond, we notice that it needs to be cleaned -- another project to add to the list.
Just then, the museum calls over the radio.  "Habitats?  There's a school group here that needs a tour!"

Quickly, we finish feeding the bears, and I head up to the museum to find the school group.  On the way, I notice those little chipmunks again, still chasing each other through the brush.  They are panting noticeably and are exhausted.  In the middle of the gravel road, they stop and face each other.  One punches the other, and it falls down.  The accosted chipmunk gets to its feet and knocks the other down.  They run off in opposite directions.
 Still laughing at those chipmunks, I collect the school group at the museum and we enter the habitats.   I’m lining the children up in front of the deer habitat and telling the children deer facts, when another little chipmunk runs onto the path and attracts their attention.  The children are amazed at the quick fragile looking little rodent.  Sometimes, it seems as if visitors are more enthralled with chipmunks than cougars!
The otters, unbelievably, are cooperating beautifully in the underwater viewing area.  Usually, they are sleeping in the sun, and I have a hard time luring them into the water.  Today, they are swimming and playing and the children laugh at these animal comics. 
"What do otters eat?" I ask, trying to stimulate the children's little minds.
"Fish!"
"That's right!  And they also eat crayfish, fresh water mussels and clams and insects ... and even baby birds if they fall out of their nest," I add.
One pint-sized child raises his hand.  "They might eat a baby beaver."
I frown and nod my head.  "Yes.  I guess they would eat a baby beaver if they came across one."
When we reach the upper otter viewing area, the otters are still in a playful frenzy.  Suddenly, I hear a child exclaim, "Hey!  That otter has a chipmunk!"
Sure enough, Oconee has a chipmunk in her mouth and is running crazily around while Nola chases her in a futile attempt to steal it away.  Like a bullet, Oconee dives into the water, and when she comes out, the poor little drenched chipmunk, obviously dead, is still dangling precariously from her mouth.
"Oh, no!" the children cry.
Oconee stops, right in front of the horror-stricken children and begins to eat it.
The only thing I can think to say is, "And what is something else otters eat?"
"Chipmunks!" they all yell in unison.
After several more tours, Tanya and I can finally think about cleaning the bear pond.  We drain the pond, then start hosing it out.  Visitors watch in shock and disbelief as Mumbles, our large male bear, walks up to the pond and stares at us.
"Aren't you scared of those bears?" a visitor asks.
"No," I answer.  "These bears were either hand raised or were born here.  They’re used to people going in with them.  If we respect them, they'll respect us."
Mumbles usually isn't the problem; Carolina and Dakota are.  Sure enough, hearing the water hose, they shuffle out of the rocks and enter the pond looking for salamanders and overlooked peanuts.  Getting the two bear nuisances out proves no easy task.  Unlike the otters, they like being squirted with the water hose -- especially when it's hot.  But somehow we get the job done.
   Then there's weed trimming, mowing grass, more pond cleaning and painting.  The habitat staff does most of its maintenance work and the chores seem endless.  Depending on what we are doing at the moment, visitors are either wishing they were habitat employees or are happy that they are not.
Pam offers to feed the eagles in the late afternoon.  Wilma is sitting on an egg, and Pam knows to be careful.  The female bald eagle has become aggressive since she laid that egg, and she won't let anyone get close to it.  Actually, it isn't even a real egg.  It’s a wooden one painted white.  Wilma just thinks it's real.  We stole the real one weeks before and put a dummy egg in its place as someone distracted Wilma with the otter's skimmer net.
The real egg is in an incubator in our office where it’s safe from ravens and the elements.  But we know that it's probably not fertile.  Male eagles have to be fully flighted to mate successfully because they have to be able to balance.  Our eagles have full or partial wing amputations due to injuries sustained by gunshot.  With only one wing, Sam has little chance of producing offspring.  Neither pair of eagles has been successful at hatching eaglets at Grandfather.  But it doesn't hurt for us to try.
Wilma is not on the nest when Pam enters the habitat, and Pam warily approaches the platform to place the food, a dead quail (a type of bird).  Suddenly, Pam hears a noise behind her and turns to see Wilma running at her from behind a rock.  Pam hurries around the pond, and Wilma dashes after her.  Then Pam uses her only defense.  She throws a quail at the eagle and hits Wilma in the chest with it.  She throws another quail, then another as she frantically runs for the fence.  Once over the barrier, she bursts into laughter, finally seeing the comedy in the situation.  Wilma does not think it's funny.  She ruffles her feathers, then quickly eats her quail so she can get back to sitting on her wooden egg.
Before I leave for the day, I take a new seasonal employee with me to introduce him to Yonahlossee and Kodiak.  Yearling bears are different than their elders.  They are not reserved at feeding time and seem to have a low blood sugar problem when hungry.  I show the new employee how to give them a carrot through the fence to bide some time, then burst through the gate, trying to make it to the feeding rock.  Yonahlossee has inhaled her carrot, though, and I can hear her one hundred pounds running toward me full bore, crying at every step.  Before I can separate the food into two different piles, she tears the bucket from my grip.  Dog food scatters in all directions.  
"You'd better hurry, Kodiak!" I yell.  "She's going to eat everything if you don't!"
The new employee stands wide-eyed at the gate.  His expression reads, "I'm going to have to do that?"
I smile, but before I can answer, "Yes", Pam calls me on the radio.  The otters have a hummingbird feeder.
A hummingbird feeder?
When I reach the otter habitat, Pam has already put the otters up and is in the habitat picking up broken glass from what is left of the hummingbird feeder.  We don't find all the glass so the otter pond will have to be drained.  The woman who dropped the feeder into the habitat is long gone.  She has fled in embarrassment.  She’d been dangling the feeder over the viewing glass to get the otters' attention, and the feeder slipped from her hand.  She got the otters' attention, all right.  They were having such a good time playing with the broken hummingbird feeder that Pam couldn't get them to come inside for almost ten minutes after she was informed of the incident.
After cleaning up all the glass we can find and before anything else happens, I decide to make a break for it, leaving the habitats in charge of the closing shift.  Tomorrow, I know, will come early.  Even though I will see the same animals at morning check, I know that tomorrow will be totally different.  It makes the job and life a lot more interesting.  That's the animal caretaker's life.
Laurie & Tanya with Yonahlossee and Kodiak                                                       Photo by Hugh Morton
The Animals of
Grandfather Mountain:
An Animal Caretaker’s Tales
Revised Edition Cover 2011
Published by L. L. Mitchell
 
 
NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE!
Meet Nola the Magician, an otter too curious for her own good, who performs a Houdini-like disappearance; Carolina and Dakota, two bear pranksters who always steal the show; Wilma the bald eagle who fiercely guards her precious wooden egg; and Heidi the deer, who always makes a pest of herself at feeding time. Readers will love Kodiak and Yonahlossee, two feisty bear cubs who aren't near as cuddly as they seem; Squeak the cougar who loves his bungee rope and despises Milton the Bear; Milton the Bear, a costume animal who dances throughout the habitat drawing children like the Pied Piper; and L L Cool J, a tiny fawn that grows up to run the Bear and Cougar Gauntlet. Many more animals are waiting to be discovered in The Animals of Grandfather Mountain: An Animal Caretaker’s Tales ...
In this delightful zoo book ...      
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