Former counselor takes zoo to classroom
by Staff Writer
Michelle McKay and her family have an odd living arrangement.
They co-habitat alongside some of the world’s most exotic animals.
McKay owns Zoofari Mobile Zoo. Zoofari takes its animals to various events. The animals include a striped skunk, bearded dragons, a Bennett’s wallaby, a red-handed tamarin, a serval cat and an opossum.
Zoofari provides lectures to school-aged children, businesses, churches and assisted living facilities about the importance of animal conservation and ecological issues that affect exotic animals.
“I have always been an animal person,” McKay said. “I wanted to be a veterinarian and went to school ultimately for education.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, master’s degree in counseling and a certification in elementary education.
During her time as guidance counselor, McKay had a bearded dragon in her office that gave students the opportunity to engage deeper because of their interest in the animal.
After being laid-off, McKay saw the budget cuts in public schools as an opportunity to bring her love for animals to students. She created a program that would provide education for school-aged children as well as provide ways to bring the field trip concept to the classroom. Zoofari eliminates the need for buses and school chaperones for field trips.
“The kids loved it, and it was a great addition to our vacation Bible school,” said Sonya Heights, coordinator of Eagle Heights Church Vacation Bible School. “We didn’t even have to worry about transportation. She came right to us.”
McKay has also worked at the Conservators’ Center in Mebane, an organization that provides educational programs on the rescue and placement of big cats. After working with baby tigers, McKay realized the need to train others on how to work with big cats and other exotic creatures.
“I wanted to be able to have a variety to use as animal ambassadors for their wild cousins that would be a good representation of different continents and habitats,” she said.
Zoofari is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It costs $15,000 a year to run Zoofari, which includes medical costs and specialized diets for each animal. The animals’ daily diet also includes fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which has been donated by Josh’s Farmers Market in Mooresville.
She also rescues opossums. “They are immune to a snake’s venom, and they are also a dead end host to rabies,” McKay said.
Zoofari also takes its mobile zoo to elderly care facilities to provide therapy visits for residents.
“When Michelle brought the animals to the facility, the residents just loved to be able to interact with animals that many of them had never seen before” said Rhonda Fisher of the Churchill Assisted Living Home. “It was a great experience for all of the residents involved.”
Want to know more?
To learn more about the Zoofari Mobile Zoo or to book a session, visit www.zoofarinc.com