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The Unconventional Menagerie


The Unconventional Menagerie is a rescue, a pet shop and an animal education centre. They always keep me coming back to their Instagram feed with their funny, poignant and sometimes heartbreaking animal stories.
Run by  Christian Castille and Ben Warden, I catch up with Christian to find out more about their unusual job. 
1. How many species do you keep?
We currently care for over 250 species of animals
white tree frog
2. What is the strangest animal you've ever had to rescue?
It depends on what you consider strange. Odd situations with even odder circumstances, or just bizarre animals. For example we recently had to rescue a death adder, a highly venomous snake that was being kept illegally as a pet. One year at Christmas we had to rescue a badger in a attic, still to this day we don't know how it got up a 4 storey building.
animal rescue
3. How has Coronavirus affected your rescue efforts?
Its had a huge impact, we found ourselves, we do this by running a educational centre and offering outreach programs and opportunities based around animals, but this had to stop during lockdown which caused us to have no income, so we had to continue to work but take a no wages, which meant while the animals got fed, our staff struggled greatly. As many rescues closed there doors, it meant we were the only rescue in the area still operating. It meant long days, sometimes 17 hours long and at some points over 30 rescues a day.
4. What is your favourite animal that you look after?
For myself our biggest Male king cobra is my favourite. I shouldn't really have favourites, but the king cobra is without a doubt the largest venomous snake species in the world and requires so much experience to deal with but also demands the upmost respect. For me it's a pleasure and a honour to work with.
king cobra
5. What do you love most about what you do?
I love educating people, I love dispelling myths and changing peoples opinions that are based upon misrepresentation. I like doing our school talks, standing in front of 60 kids ,feeling like a rockstar. Inspiring them to be the best version of themselves. They don't need to be interested in animals as a job, but I like to show them that if you follow your passion then you can achieve great things.
I don't believe that school works for lots of children, its based upon one path of teaching, but for many children who can't follow that path, they aren't classed as trouble makers because there way of learning is different.
I was labeled as a trouble maker myself because I didn't get the conventional way of learning. Perfect example is I was rubbish at geography from a text book. Yet learning about animals, evolution, locations and habitats, I discovered I knew lots about geography, but had to understand it in a different context. 
This is how I teach children, I trick them into learning through fun animal encounters.
educating children about animals
6. What's the worst part of what you do?
Dealing with humans I think. Not all, but some just don't seem to live in the real world, have no filter and don't understand what it is to be nice. Such as people who think any animal in captivity is wrong, but keep a pet cat which goes outside and kills tones of wildlife for fun.
As a rescue sometimes animals come into us in very poor conditions and we have to make the decision of if it's worth saving or in too much pain. These are never nice moments, you learn to try and not let them affect you, but I'd be lying If i said it doesn't feel like a weight on your shoulders that you carry around for each one you can't save.
7. What training, if any, have you had to deal with dangerous animals?
Training is very important, I'd like to refer to it as mentoring and experience. Over the years ever since a kid I've had many great mentors whom have crafted me into the person i am today. Each one had there own area of expertise which I've picked up on, this goes for both of us who own the centre. We then use our knowledge to educate and teach the next wave of keepers.
snake venom
8.What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in animal care?
My advice would be to reconsider. Seriously, 99% of our work experience students quit within 2 days. Think long and hard.
You will stink all the time, your best shoes become ornaments and your work shoes become your every shoes. You spend 90% of your time cleaning up poo, you will get people moaning that animals smell of animals and you need to bite your tongue. It's hard work , long hours and for little pay. But the happiness it brings you is worth it. It comes down to what you want out of your life.
For us, we could never sit in a office doing the same thing day after day, give me a field full of poo while a badger chases after me that I've just freed from a fence any day !!!
 rescue fox
9. Do you think it's important to educate children on how to treat animals?
Children need to learn about animals for many reasons. Racism, the way they operate in relationship, attitudes, cultural divides are in most cases things adults differ on based upon there upbringing.
I'm a big believer that if you teach a child to have respect for the smallest forms of life, then they grow up to respect greater forms of life. Many people have animals, animals great responsibilities and routines. Life skills such as the first love you will loose in most situations is a beloved pet. Knowing how to cope with grief as a child can make a huge difference when your an adult. I believe children caring and learning about animals really can set them up for adult life.
snake education
10. Do you have any animal phobias?
No we don't have any phobias, we have healthy respect for all animals.
You can donate to The Unconventional Menagerie direct using their PayPal 



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