Editor’s note: This is the second installment in our weekly Out & About series featuring fun activities around the area.
WEST HARTFORD — Nestled off Trout Brook Drive, the Children’s Museum houses more than 100 animals in its Wildlife Sanctuary.
“We have about 150 individual (animals) here, just at our West Hartford campus, and it spans about 86 species,” animal curator Nick Barnett said.
Barnett has been involved with the museum’s sanctuary for years in different capacities, and he’s now in charge of managing the animal collection by coordinating caretaker schedules, developing diets, getting the animals proper enrichment, and making sure they are “happy and healthy.”
He said his favorite part of the job is educating.
“That’s kind of how I got into it. I was inspired when I was younger to learn more about animals, and places like museums and nature centers, they’re kind the stepping stool for a lot of our upcoming generation,” Barnett said.
The sanctuary hosts a multitude of programs for students, starting with an hourlong behind-the-scenes opportunity for kids over 10 years old to get up close and personal with some of the animals and learn how to prepare their food and do other daily activities.
The sanctuary staff tries to offer hands-on opportunities for visitors. The museum also has longer programs for students to get a more in-depth look at caretaking and veterinary practices.
“If you’re interested in animals and you’re a student, this is definitely the place to come,” Barnett said. “There’s a lot of hands on opportunities to get up and close and personal with animals.”
Five-year-old Dorian Wicke, of Newington, is one of the sanctuary’s frequent helpers. Wicke has helped so much with the animals, he can identify which ones get certain food bowls, and he even had one of the museum’s opossums named after him.
“Most of the students that come here, they enjoy the fuzzy stuff,” Barnett said. “Our opossum is a very big hit, too. Dorian, he’s very well behaved for a opossum.”
For people just coming for a day visit, the sanctuary staff offers multiple demonstrations daily. If things are slow, they might let you meet an animal face to face.
The big event is at 3 p.m. every day, when Barnett and his staff make rounds to feed the animals. The staff sometimes let people help.
“It’s those encounters with animals that make people stay here,” Barnett said.
The Wildlife Sanctuary was founded in 1981 and includes a Lizard Lair, Turtle Town, and various mammals.
About 80 percent of the animals were once unwanted pets that were either surrendered and brought to the museum, were released and found by others, or just left at the museum’s doorstep. The resident bobcat was left in a box in the museum’s iconic lifesize whale structure outside the front.
The museum also offers the largest museum planetarium in the state and lots of educational activities and programs for kids of all ages.
For hours and visiting information, visit The Children’s Museum website: www.thechildrensmuseumct.