My work with the Belize Raptor Center

Earlier this year I decided to spend a few months in Belize working with rehabilitated raptors at the Belize Raptor Center with bird trainer Aron Smolley. And let me tell you what a HOOT it was!

BRC is a small raptor rehabilitation center and sanctuary in San Ignacio, Belize. It is situated in a semi-forested area outside of town, 25 minutes up and down a very bumpy, hilly dirt road. There are 7 education birds at the center, birds who came in for rehabilitation and who for one reason or another cannot be returned to the wild. These birds serve as ambassadors for their species in educational outreach programs.

Aron moved to Belize in November 2016 to help offer more progressive bird training methods to BRC, and I came to help with rehabilitation and to learn some of these training methods. Bird training is important because it allows for the trainer to build a trusting relationship with the bird, so that the bird willingly participates in educational programs for the public. BRC is i…

Thailand Elephant Sanctuary with Jennie of the Jungle Part 2 - Elephant Nature Park

November 2015 was my first-ever trip with my new business Jennie of the Jungle, and I chose to take clients to volunteer at Lek Chalert's Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. The Elephant Nature Park is among a few of the only legit conservation organizations/sanctuaries in the country. Many organizations claim to rescue elephants, but in reality they deny them true freedom and natural behavior, the ability to socialize and form family groups, and continue to exploit them and their negatively trained behaviors for profit. As a general rule, if you can ride an elephant, it is still being abused.

Elephants have to have their spirits broken in order to learn behaviors that are unnatural to them, such as riding people around, doing tricks, and yes - even painting. Breaking an elephant's spirit takes years and years of abuse - which, in Thailand and many surrounding countries, involves beating, burning, skinning, starving, and other brutal tactics that we don't like to think abou…

Thailand Elephant Sanctuary with Jennie of the Jungle Part 1

In November of 2015 I made my first trip as Jennie of the Jungle, taking wildlife-loving clients to work with elephants at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. And the experience was simply amazing. I learned a lot about a new country and what it takes to be responsible for the experiences of others, and learned that confidence is the key to getting what you want out of life...

I arrived in Bangkok after dark, got a cab from the airport and thought I was headed to the studio I had rented to spend some time preparing for one of my clients who would arrive three days later. Little did I know, this cab driver (and most of the other ones, too) did not have any idea where he was going. He turned around and asked me the address multiple times (which I had given him in writing and in Thai, no less!). He ended up coming to a complete stop on the freeway and backing up until he reached the on-ramp he didn't mean to enter. As semi-trucks came straight for us at a startling speed, I thought…

Portrait of a Bird Trainer

Meet Aron Smolley, Senior Bird Trainer at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This lucky duck has been working at the Aviary for the last five years. He has worked with many types of birds, including toucans, parrots, vultures, roadrunners, hawks, eagles, owls, crows, cranes, and more! Here are some of the bright birds he's currently working with...
Aron and the Aviary contribute to conservation efforts on a daily basis by using education birds to inspire curiosity and love in those who visit. A love for the natural world and its animals is important in instilling a desire to protect it. Aron not only cares for the birds at the Aviary, he is also responsible for creating and presenting the Aviary's bird shows, which focus on educating visitors about the simple things they can do to protect the environment, birds and their habitat. Some of these topics include recycling and stopping the use of pesticides.

To put on successful bird shows, Aron and his team must train the …