For years, Kim Connolly worked as a zookeeper and science educator for kids of all ages in a variety of school settings. Requests from parents of her students for additional animal science classes and birthday party visits led to her starting Redmond-based Animal Encounters in 2012.
Since it began, the company — which educates people about myriad animals by bringing the animals to them and allowing them to interact — has moved from doing a few events a month to sometimes six programs a day, with four full-time employees and as many as 12 part-time staff. We caught up with Connolly to learn more about her favorite Eastside haunts — and what it’s like looking after animals both cute and strange
Hiking Tiger Mountain
To grab a drink
To be inspired
Bellevue Botanical Garden
Four Past Midnight by Stephen King
Currently listening to
Google Arts & Culture
Mantra you live by
There is always room for improvement. Try to do at least one thing better each day.
Best professional advice you’ve received
Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Do what you think is right, and stick to your goals.
Hiking and spending time with my animals and family.
What’s the most-loved/requested animal you have? What is the strangest?
Our wallabies are very docile are and always a huge hit, but I think that baby rabbits are the No. 1 crowd favorite. We don’t always have them, as animals are only bred as we need more animals to replace those that are retiring or to expand our programs, but when we do, they are super popular.
I think most people would agree that our strangest animals are our Tanzanian cave spiders. It is often called the “Harry Potter bug,” as it was used in one of the franchise movies. This animal is so unusual-looking just by itself that the movie creators didn’t add any features to make it appear more spectacular — they just made it a little larger than in real life. It is also known as an “arachnid alien,” as it just doesn’t look like it belongs on this planet.
What goes into caring for and keeping these animals? Give us a peek behind the scenes of what the logistics look like.
Caring for the animals is by itself a full-time, 365-day-a-year job. Many of the animals have specialized diets, and meal prep is pretty complex. We always have someone around to monitor the health and safety of the animals, and we work with several veterinarians to make sure everyone has care plans that are correct for their needs. We’re also USDA/APHIS licensed, which includes random inspections and following various protocols to ensure we’re meeting or exceeding their standards for animal care.
Why do you think it’s important that kids have the opportunity to encounter animals that they might not otherwise ever know about?
There’s a quote that summarizes how I personally feel about our mission: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968)
Being able to interact with animals can create a stronger attachment and appreciation than just viewing or education alone. Touching an animal is a far more memorable experience than one without a tactile component. Kids who learn to be kind and gentle with animals grow up to become much nicer people, in my view.