Placerita Nature Center’s Amazing Animal Show

by Natalia Radcliffe

Before Roger McClure took the job, Frank Hoffman, known as Ranger Frank, was in charge of the animal show.

Ranger Frank, however, is not a volunteer. He is employed as the recreation services supervisor, in charge of practically everything, from paperwork to answering visitors’ questions and taking care of animals – even cleaning the bathrooms, if need be. He was previously employed by George Lane Park in Quartz Hill and has been at Placerita since 1995.

“I love my job, love the people I work with, and I feel so lucky to be working at Placerita,” he says.

Ranger Frank earned a degree in Natural Resource Management from Pierce College and worked part-time at Placerita when he was in school. He said that what he learned in class he could apply at his job, and what he learned at his job heightened his learning in college.

His favorite animal is the red-tailed hawk, and he is pictured here with one of these birds, named Aiyana, a Native American word meaning “eternal blossom.” She is seven years old, and is living at Placerita because of an injured wing.

Another animal that is a permanent resident of Placerita is the striped skunk, Bridget (she has been de-musked, so she can’t produce that infamous odor). This skunk has imprinted on people, meaning she is not afraid of humans. That trait, combined with the fact that she does not exhibit any wild behaviors, makes her non-releasable, so she will never be let back out into the wild.

Though his red-tailed hawks are his favorite to handle, he does enjoy the challenge of working with other birds of prey and opossums. He has also had some pretty interesting experiences during forest fires and in handling rattlesnakes. In his time at the park, they have had to evacuate five times, and prepared to evacuate 14 times.

His favorite part of the job is working with people, both with visitors and staff. “I like teaching life lessons about wildlife, stewardship, and environmental issues that are going to be valuable in their futures,” Ranger Frank says.

This includes stressing two things: First, there are no Blue Jays in California. The birds that have been sighted are either Steller’s Jays, which look like Blue Jays except they have black markings on their heads instead of white. Or they are Western Scrub Jays. Second, snakes are vertebrate animals, containing a skeleton. He was pleased to know some of the kids knew this when he asked this question at one of the animal shows.

“If I can teach someone something they have never learned before,” says Ranger Frank, “then that’s icing on the cake.”

 

Speedy, a male California Desert Tortoise is age 33 and could possibly live up to 100 years. Unlike turtles, these animals cannot swim. Speedy is a vegetarian, only eating plant-based foods and his bumpy shell indicates nutrient deficiency – normally, they have smooth shells. Speedy has this defect because his previous owner only fed him iceberg lettuce, which has no nutrients. Myth: the rings on a tortoise’s shell do not represent the age of the animals, as tree rings do.

Penelope, a 33-year-old female gopher snake, is five feet long and diurnal, which means she hunts during the day. She is also oviparous, laying eggs instead of giving birth to live babies, as rattlesnakes do. Gopher snakes lay between 3 and 22 eggs. Since these animals are not venomous, they have other means of defending themselves. This includes puffing up the head, using the glaze gland to hiss, and moving the tail rapidly to incur a rattling sound, all to look and sound like the poisonous rattlesnake.

Chilean Rose-Haired Tarantulas are named for the pink color on the abdomen. Females can live up to 25 years, while males only live four to five years. Tarantulas have an exoskeleton they shed until they reach full size, the process taking about a day to a day-and-a-half to complete. After they shed they are vulnerable until their new exoskeleton hardens, which takes about six to eight days. Even though it looks like these animals have 10 legs, they only have eight. There are two shorter “legs” in the front of the animal near the mouth called pedipalps, which are used for capturing and handling food. During animal shows this spider is portrayed as a California Brown Tarantula, but these animals are actually a lot bigger, seen pictured here.