When Passion Meets Purpose at the Creature Conservancy
By Patricia Jensen, STN Reporter
If you’re cruising down Ann Arbor-Saline Road and get caught at the light on Pleasant Lake Rd, something odd might catch your eye.
You might notice a group of unique animals gathered nearby, enjoying the sun while munching on the grass at their feet. If so, you have found the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Clinic, Creature Comforts Bed & Bath, and the Creature Conservancy.
“I like teaching people about animals,” said Steve Marsh when the Sun Times News stopped by for a visit. A big part of Marsh’s mission is strengthening the connection between people and animals.
The Creature Conservancy was started 17 years ago by Vicki & Steve Marsh after an alligator was unexpectedly dropped at the veterinary clinic office doors. Ever since that auspicious beginning, Marsh has worked hard to create a memorable experience for visitors. People are naturally drawn to his authenticity and genuine enjoyment that he displays in his work.
The creature conservancy houses approximately 80 species of animals. About half are rescues, most of those being former pets, and the other half intentional with their own unique origin story. Harper the cougar, for instance, was relocated from the Columbus Zoo to make room for cougar cubs rescued from a forest fire. A newer rescued resident, a mongoose, is a much more social species that will need a companion brought in from another zoo.
As an old horse-riding arena, the building is full of character, and they’ve done well making it work for their specific needs. A larger room is equipped with a small stone stage and seating for special curated programs that are included with your admission during a weekend visit indoors.
One of the more popular programs, “South America” includes a quick pet of a two-toed sloth. It quickly becomes apparent how well-loved and cared for the animals are by each volunteer as they share them with the audience and patiently answer many questions from excited visitors.
Like many places, The Creature Conservancy struggled financially through the pandemic and almost didn’t survive the major funding cuts that happened throughout the country’s shutdown.
“We went from a staff of 14 down to 1 person,” says Steve. “It was scary. Most of the people we had to lay off stayed and kept helping. The Conservancy is a play space organization, our biggest source of income was our summer camps and field trips.”
He recently built an extension to the Raven Poe’s Habitat to ensure he could continue engaging with visitors while tending to the bird. It’s all part of Steve’s mission to connect people directly to the animals as a lesson in compassion. The subtext of that mission is that connecting leads to empathy, kindness, and understanding. His desire to engage with visitors is apparent.
“We show people how really cool things are and let that settle,” says Steve. “Once you meet an opossum, it changes your view of the next opossum you pass on the side of the road. The minute you simply start telling people what to do, they’re digging in their heels. But if you just expose them to how cool these animals are, it softens their approach.”
They infuse this philosophy into their unique programming.
A current program, “Spooky Species,” is happening on select dates this October and includes the raven, spiders, snakes, owls, bats, and vultures.
“We like to use animals that people don’t like,” says Steve. His reasoning being that it makes way for more personal connections and squashes the fear of misunderstood creatures. Check their website for more unique programming opportunities. You may walk out of the Creature Conservancy an empowered environmentalist.
Visit The Creature Conservancy during their weekend open hours Saturdays and Sundays from 1 pm-5 pm. With special programming happening on the stone stage at 2 pm and 4 pm. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.thecreatureconservancy.org/ or at the door.
Photos by Patricia Jensen