Snuggling skunks and other perks of being a gallery experience coordinator | Backstage | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Snuggling skunks and other perks of being a gallery experience coordinator

click to enlarge Jo Tauber - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Jo Tauber
Name: Jo Tauber, Harrison City
Work: Gallery Experience Coordinator, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

What do you do?

I take care of and present with the live animals. When I first started, we had a couple reptiles, nothing major. Now we have a menagerie permit through the PA Game Commission that lets us have mammals and birds as well. We went from having about four animals to having over 20.

So your background must be in animals?

It actually isn’t. My background is in music, art, and theater. I went to Pitt Greensburg and got a combined theater, art history, and music degree, but I’ve always been an animal lover. I just found out that I’ve been accepted into a graduate program to do this on a more formal and permanent basis through Miami University of Ohio online with hands-on training at zoos.

How did you start here?

I was working at Starbucks and thought a museum would be fun to work at. I applied here, CMOA, the Warhol. This is the job that got back to me, and I ended up just kind of falling in love.

How could you not?

I mean, I get to snuggle skunks. But I’m teaching kids stuff, and that’s something I really love to do. I love the moment when kids learn something and you can see them understand the world around them a little bit better for the first time.

Will the degree you’re pursuing accelerate you here or take you to a different kind of job?

Honestly, it could go either way. I already know what I love to do. I want to help people learn about and love the things that I love. So that’s the main goal, to expand upon my ability to do that. It’s all about the animals and doing right by the animals.

And how do you do that?

Shera is one of the reasons I fell in love with the animal aspect. She’s an American Kestrel that was rescued. She was a wild bird that was hit by a car then taken in by West Virginia Raptor Rehab Center but can’t be rereleased because she broke her wing and it didn’t heal properly. She can still fly, but not well enough to go live in the wild. This is a really great example of human impact both negative and positive. She was hit by a car, but then she was nursed back to health.

We have a parrot that was rescued from an animal-hoarding situation. A lot of the animals I like for the ability to break the stigma around them. People don’t like skunks, but they’re super important to our ecosystem. A lot of people are familiar with them but don’t actually know a lot about them. They just think they smell bad.

Do you have a favorite?

I’m not supposed to.

I know.

My favorite to work with is the alligators. They’re easy to handle, I’m very comfortable with them, I know a lot about them, and they have really high impact for being an easy-to-manage animal. People see big gators at zoos, but this is a tiny little baby that’s going to grow to be the apex predator of the American south.

If I had to pick one favorite, Mango the Sun Conure who had been hoarded. I was one of the first people he bonded with. He’s now very comfortable with people, but because he came from such a rough background, it takes him a while to warm up. It was very rewarding to be that person for him.

What about a favorite experience so far?

My favorite thing that a kid has ever said to me is that all animals are cute, even the ugly ones.

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