Can you imagine a world without animals? Neither can I. They bring us so much joy and they are fascinating to watch and interact with. A world without them would just be very dull. I have always loved animals and all kinds of them. This summer, my mom found out about a place that allows you to go behind the scenes and interact with a lot of different animals and learn about each one.
Honorable judges, teachers, and fellow students. My name is Brooklynn Tarasko, and today I want to talk to you about the Brant-Brantford Twin Valley Zoo and its history, animals, and most importantly the private guided tour.
The story starts with a family that immigrated to Canada from Holland. Their names were Tony and Henny. They arrived in Canada in the spring of 1960 with $20, a suitcase, and a toolbox. Not much to start a life on, but they took a chance and they came here to make a better life for themselves.
Tony was a carpenter by trade and he worked for several years doing that until he lost some of his fingers in a carpentry accident. He had always raised birds and other small animals, even in Holland. In Canada, they continued having various animals and had a little “hobby farm” with a few different types of animals – many birds, some pigs, and a horse. One of their sons suggested starting a petting zoo and sharing his love for animals…and so he did. And that is how it all started.
The zoo was officially established in 1990. It slowly grew over time. Sadly, Tony was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. He asked his son, Tom, to join them at the zoo to help as he was no longer well. Tony passed away in the spring of 2012. In 2018, Jennifer (our tour guide) joined the zoo staff. She and Tom recently married this winter. The two of them live on site with and manage the zoo entirely – from camps, tours, staffing, schedules, construction, and paperwork. Henny, is also still very involved. She continues to live on site and works there as well. She runs the gift shop, helps to run the office, prepares the animal diets, and a lot of other “behind the scenes” stuff.
Together, as a family, they run an amazing little zoo in Brantford called the Brant-Brantford Twin Valley Zoo. It may not be as big as the Toronto Zoo, but that allows them to have personal interaction with the animals and the guests that visit. The animals respond to them when they walk by or go in to care for them. They know them. They trust them. And the mutual affection is evident.
This fact alone makes the zoo so different from the zoos that you would normally go to see. Since they have fewer animals than some of the larger zoos, they can give those animals larger enclosures, and spend more one on one time with each of them. The animals are playful and responsive. They are active. They seem happy. Many of the animals in the zoo are rescue animals as well. Without the zoo, they would not be safe, or they would not be able to survive. The African Crowned Crane is one of the animals that was surrendered to the zoo. The original owner loved the crane, but took on a job that was going to require him to move around a lot and it wasn’t fair to the crane to leave her alone that much, or to move her that often. The owner did the right thing and approached the zoo and asked if they would give her a home. She was one of my favourite animals when we took our tour. I never would have picked her enclosure as one of my first choices, but she was amazing! When Jennifer, our tour guide, approached the door, Scarlet, the crane, got so excited that she started to dance and fluff her wings and jump up and down. You could see how much she loved Jennifer and that she was so excited that she had come to visit.
Scarlet likes things that sparkle and shine. My sister was wearing a sparkly shirt, and Scarlet kept pecking at her. She never hurt my sister, she just really wanted to see what her shirt was all about. It was really funny. We got to pet her head, and it feels like a big pom pom. I would never have learned about the African Crane had she not be part of this zoo, had Jennifer not suggested we go and visit her.
Another animal rescued by this zoo was the two red foxes that they have. Their names are Bryn and Kari. To look at them, they don’t look red at all. Red foxes have several different colour variations. What happens is that these foxes are often kept in captivity and bred for their fur. They are bred so they can produce specific colours that they are looking for – which is why there are so many varieties of “red foxes”. Bryn and Kari were rescued in 2015. Bryn is a “silver fox” and Kari is a “white mark cross fox”. During our tour we were able to feed them and pet them. They act a lot like dogs. They were very gentle and kind. So sad to know that they had spent some of their lives not knowing what it was like to be loved and treated well. Now they are happy and healthy – and definitely loved.
Next, I would like to talk about our visit with the black and white ruffed lemurs. These animals come from Madagascar. I don’t know how these animals ended up at the zoo, but I do know that they are endangered and need safe places like the Brantford Twin Valley Zoo to increase their numbers. 17 species of lemurs are already extinct which is very sad. While visiting them at the zoo, we were allowed to feed them – they like cheerios – and we were also able to pet them. These lemurs LOVED being petted. Can you guess where they loved being scratched the most?? They actually love being scratched under their armpits. Whenever you scratched them there, they got a glazed look on their face – the kind of look that says “I’m in heaven!!!”
Finally, the grey wolves. They were born at the zoo and have a very special bond with Jennifer, even though she wasn’t there when they were pups. It was incredible to watch. As we were walking up the hill to go to their enclosure, Jennifer let out a very loud wolf howl!! I could not believe she could make that sound. She howled two or three more times and then the wolves started to whimper with excitement. They came up from the far corners of the enclosure to get closer to her call. She howled again, and they started to call back to her. She has become the leader of their pack and they totally love and respect her. She could reach into the enclosure and pet them like dogs and they were so happy to spend time with her. We were allowed to feed them boiled quail eggs, but we were not allowed to pet them – they don’t love us like they love her. To get the eggs to them, we had to throw the eggs over the fence and they would catch them in the air.
The private tour at the Brant-Brantford Twin Valley Zoo was something I will never forget. I learned so much about the animals and how they are cared for. I stood close to lions and tigers and fed lemurs and black bears. My love for animals and to see them cared for has increased since being at that zoo, and I can’t wait to go back next summer. One day, I want to work there. It has become my dream job, and I am going to do everything I can to make that dream come true.
Thank you so much for listening to my speech. I hope that I have taught you a few things about the various animals I saw at the Brantford Twin Valley Zoo, and that you are also interested in booking a private tour and learning first hand about these amazing creatures!
12 1/2 years old
Written January 2020