Majical Miniatures: Saving Camels and Kangaroos

9 Dec

After weaving her way through a room of prairie dogs and lesser anteaters, Jenna Forrester meets with her colleagues to discuss Holly, an ailing wallaby. Networking and sharing information about every animal is a part of working for Majical Miniatures, an animal sanctuary and rescue center.

Forrester started working with Majical Minaitures in June. She was inspired by Arianna Saint Jennings, who founded the sanctuary in 2004 after she moved from Los Angeles, where she managed and directed a cat hotel. Her job is to take care of injured wildlife, orphaned pets, and animals captured form the wild and sold in the pet trade.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything other than work at a rescue center,” said Forrester. “The zookeeper life is not for me. There is a great fulfillment that comes with being an animal’s last chance for survival and not making money off the animals.”

Majical Miniatures sits on about 20 acres, and they are about to expand.  An education building is expected to open next year. The goal is to educate people about the ranch and the needs of exotic animals.

As she stepped into a caged area to feed the parakeets, Forrester explained that the facility is often mistaken for something it is not.

“People aren’t always quite sure how it’s run,” she said. “This is not an adoption agency.”

Although Majical Miniatures does adopt out some of their domestic animals such as ponies, dogs, and cats, some people show up to the ranch with the expectations of bringing home one of their more exotic animals, such as a kangaroo.

The intrigue of foreign pets is how many animals arrived at the ranch in the first place. In the exotic pet trade, animals are transported to the United States from the wild to be sold. There are also breeding programs so people may adopt the animals of their dreams.

“Many people think, ‘a miniature pony is the size of a large dog, so why not?’” said Forrester.

Permits are required for most animals, but the vendors don’t care, and people keep them illegally.

“We report such people to Florida Fish and Wildlife,” said Forrester, “but sometimes animals are left at the front gate. Their owners are afraid of getting in trouble.”

One example of such an animal is an albino kangaroo.

“He arrived in a very rough shape. He was sunburned and had a ribbon tied around his tail so tight that the nerves in the tip of her tail died, and it fell off.”

Not all animals are being cared for at Majical Miniatures as a result of the pet trade. Belle, a doe, was rescued after being hit by a car. She broke her jaw, and her bottom teeth had to be removed.

“She is one of the touching stories,” said Forrester.

Most of the recue animals are released, but some have to reside at the ranch because they are unfit to return to the wild.

“We do not advertise we have the deer here, because we do not want people thinking it is ok to go out and get a deer as a pet; it’s illegal.”

Majical Miniatures has also been accused of hoarding animals, though they have been approved as a non-profit animal rescue by Florida Fish and Wildlife.

“You hear about the people with 70 cats, and those animals always suffer,” said Forrester. “That was the initial reaction of a lot of people who heard about how many animals eventually came to live here.”

Even though Majical Miniatures does not breed animals and all of the males get fixed to keep room for more animals, there is not enough room to accept every animal that people try to bring by. Forrester hates to turn down animals, but she tries to help people find placement for them, depending on each case.

“Some people have tried to donate a macaw because it no longer fit with the decor of their home. That was not an emergency situation in which I felt the need to say ‘ok, I will take it right now.’ Some people get sick from the animals in their home because of dander or have more understandable reasons for giving up their pets.”

Many young people have interest in working with the animals at Majical Miniatures, and the organization greatly appreciates the extra help. Some people come and check in on animals they had to give up and offer to volunteer. Volunteers cannot be younger than 16, but the allure of working with the exotic animals attracts people of all ages. However, they must realize what it takes to take care of the animals.

“I don’t get to play with cute little animals all day. We have to unload trailers, clean; there is a lot of hard work,” said Forrester.

However, the work does not deter everyone.

“We do have a lot of volunteers who commit and come out week to week,” she said.

Volunteers must also understand that each animal has its own unique personality. Sometimes they bite, such as the prairie dogs, and sometimes they get aggressive, such as wallaroos, which become very stand-offish once they hit maturity.

“Even this [wallaroo]that we bottle fed, his name is Tugboat, now has a totally different type of personality. But there are very few who do not let us interact with them,” said Forrester.

Although there have been no serious injuries at Majical Miniatures, working with some of the animals can be dangerous. There are some animals that employees and volunteers have to be careful around.

“The camel, which came from people who owned a circus, has feet the size of dinner plates, and he can kick backwards and sideways,” said Forrester.

Employees do not allow volunteers to work with the larger animals until they have been trained by someone with experience.

Confidence is important in caring for the animals, both the large and the small ones. Animals sense fear.

“We have marmoset monkeys, and one bit a girl on her first day. She has been scared of them since, and they sense that and take advantage of that and play off it.”

Forrester and her colleagues are very experienced with working with animals and training volunteers. Many have done veterinary work or hold degrees in biology. However, none of them have many pets of their own.

“I don’t feel the need to have a lot [of pets] at home. I don’t think it would be fair since I spend so much time here,” said Forrester.

As far as exotic pets, Forrester warns that even those with a passion for animals should be careful.

“People can have the best of intentions, but if you don’t have the proper size property or the money to call a vet or the time to take care of it, you can’t take in the pet,” she said. “They are not for someone living paycheck to paycheck. You never know when there will be a $2000 vet bill.”

With an exotic animal also comes the unglamorous. They have very particular diets, and it is necessary to check the animal’s fecal matter to see if they are healthy and if their diets are working.

Majical Miniatures is a full-time job. The animals are dependent on the employees, and the owners and staff must stay up to date with permits and records. It is not as profitable as a zoo. There is no entrance charge, and Majical Miniatures gets most of its money through grants and donations. For Forrester, the reward is making a difference for animals.

“There is not a lot of money to be made; I will never make six figures, but there is such a great joy in seeing these animals let their guard down and let you in, even though they have been through a lot,” said Forrester.


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