Photograph by Daniel Cohen
Lots of students take field trips to the zoo as part of their curriculum. But the Millbrook School in Dutchess County is notable as the only high school in the nation with its own accredited zoo.
The six-acre Trevor Zoo is located on the grounds of the coed independent high school in the village of Millbrook. “Our primary goal is to be an educational facility, which is true of all zoos, but especially in our situation, since we’re an integral part of the school,” says Director Alan Tousignant.
Dating back to 1936, the zoo is named for Frank Trevor, Millbrook School’s first biology teacher. Accredited by the global Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the facility is home to more than 180 exotic and indigenous animals ranging from alpacas to wallabies — and including seven endangered species. Animal residents include lemurs, wolves, emus, and critters with exotic-sounding names such as the golden lion tamarin (a small Brazilian monkey) and the muntjac (the oldest known type of deer, dating back 35 million years).
Even though Trevor is a relatively small facility, it’s still very effective and inviting, Tousignant says. “We’re trying to convey to students and other visitors an idea of the diversity of animals in the world, of the different regions and what pressures they experience in their natural habitat.”
About 60 students (dubbed “Zooies”) work with the critters on any given day (including nights and weekends), feeding and caring for them and their habitats. The Zooies also research and maintain zoo exhibits — and take their full schedule of academic courses.
“For our students, it’s a very hands-on learning opportunity,” says Tousignant. “We don’t have any poisonous animals, or large ones that are considered dangerous, like lions or bears. That’s because we encourage students to maintain direct contact with the animals. We don’t want them to only do things like prepare the animal’s diet, then stand back and just watch.”
Some students apply to attend the Millbrook School specifically because of the zoo program, Tousignant says. “And others sometimes just decide to volunteer at the zoo and then develop a passion for working with animals after they get here.”
A number of the school’s grads have gone on to careers at zoos, aquariums, and in conservation and other environmentally related areas. Some weave their zoo experience into their careers in unexpected ways. “One graduate, a young woman who was a zoo volunteer, now works in the stock market,” says Tousignant. “What she took away from her involvement at the zoo was a desire to develop a portion of the stock market that is more green-based. So she went to work for a company that is strictly green — they invest in green or environmentally conscious businesses. And it all started with her time at the zoo.”
Trevor Zoo also reaches out to the community, holding programs for schoolchildren, animal researchers, and scientists — and the public is welcome to visit, too.
“We’re open 365 days a year, and we get about 30,000 visitors each year,” Tousignant says.
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