Aquariums in North Carolina bring joy and wonder to families across the state, and they also play an important role in educating the public with animal ambassadors.
At the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, animal ambassadors are used to teach visitors more about conservation and specific species.
“Animal Ambassadors are not pets; they are animals we keep in house,” said educator Cady Breslin. “They are not on display to public because they are obviously getting a different experience.”
Instead, alligators like Lex are here for educational purposes. Lex cannot be found in one of the regular habitats — she is usually with one of the educators serving an important purpose at the aquarium.
“They are ambassadors to let the people know how animals should be treated, what’s the best conservation practices for them, teaches about habitats so they are basically a connection to people to get them to care about animals in their conservation,” Breslin said.
Breslin says Lex is not a pet and is not treated as one. But, she says studies show if people are able to connect with animals like Lex it fosters empathy for the animal.
“They want to protect it,” she explained. “That leads to conservation mindness and conservation actions.”
The American Alligator was listed as an endangered species by the endangered species act of 1973. Through conservation efforts by 1987, the alligator was removed from the list. Having alligators like Lex comfortable enough to interact with the public helps remove negative images some people may have had toward the animal, Breslin adds.
“Getting to see people go, ‘I was so scared of alligators, or I was scared of snakes,’ they take that step and they touch their tail or they say, “I had no idea they were cool, I didn’t know they did this in their habitat,'” she explained. “All those things are just rewarding to see our message is getting across and maybe these guys can go back in their homes, research more about these animals and learn to love them and want to protect them.”
The aquariums are back open at 50 percent capacity, but animals like Lex will not be seen out and about just yet due to congestion and social distancing guidelines.
Help the North Carolina Aquariums care for their animals and continue programming by adopting an animal.