On the phone Tuesday night: “I got to go to bed. I’m cleaning snake cages early tomorrow morning.”
“Because they sh*! in them Mom.”
“This is another one of those volunteer things isn’t it?”
“No, this is for fun.”
“Okay. Just be careful. Don’t get bitten.”
8:30 am Wednesday. Being a sloppy reptiles interior designer = the punishment you have to endure when you’re sarcastic with your mother. When all is said and done though, I will talk about my morning with Star Eco Station forever…
Star Eco Station in Culver City, CA exists because people try to smuggle exotic animals into the US (via LAX) because they’re desperate for money (the people not the animals) or out of their freaking minds. If the animals survive the journey - stuffed into cardboard tubes, taped against sweaty humans, crammed into suitcases, or mislabeled in an innocuous looking Fed Ex box - they can look forward to being skinned for accessories, fought for money, kept in some moron’s trophy room, or paraded down a red carpet on Paris Hilton’s arm.
Customs or other very shocked airport employees find the lucky ones. Often the animal is so traumatized and injured officials have no choice but to put the animal down. Star Eco Station is a haven of last resort for some of these tortured animals. Currently, Star Eco Station houses over 200 kidnapped animals from around the world.
I attended a very brief volunteer orientation Saturday morning so I could come back on Wednesday and do whatever menial task the Star Eco Station staff may ask for. All with the understanding that I will probably never get to touch an animal for my safety and theirs. I’m introduced to Devon, animal husbandry expert (Look it up teenagers it’s not what it sounds like), and he puts me to work chopping old fruits and vegetables donated by Trader Joes for the herbivores.
Devon and I talked about the animals while we chopped. He tells me about the parrots which outlived a succession of masters (parrots aren’t good pets they can live over 100 years!), the alligators found in a Fed Ex box, the mockingbirds found in a tube. We talk about how volunteers and employees of Star Eco Station go on to work at zoos and animal sanctuaries. Then he’s asked by an anxious employee to step out of the room. He leaves for a few minutes and when he walks back in he shouts over his shoulder, “Could someone clean up the blood? Thanks.”
“What blood?” I ask before I can stop myself.
“Do you really want to know?”
“No, but now that you’ve said that I kinda have to know.”
“We breed our own rats.”
“You can stop there.”
We divide the food (chopped zucchini, sugar snap peas, apples, bananas, etc.) into bowls for the birds and Devon asks me to go ahead into the parrot room and open the automatic skylights.
Standing in the humid room, among bird smell, aiming a remote control at the ceiling I hear a slimy, “Hey Baby.”
Oh good. I’m just getting cat called by a bird. What a relief. “Hey yourself. Which one of you said that?”
“Oh it’s you. Oh my God.” I say to a beautiful white parrot.
“Oh my God!” Shouts someone and I spin.
“Oh my God, which one of you said that?”
“Oh my God!” says a mischievous green parrot.
“There you are. Hahahahahaha.”
“Hahahahahaha.” – An exact replica of my laugh.
“Okay stop laughing that’s creepy.”
“Oh my God!”
“You can say that again.”
Devon comes in and suggests that there is nothing else I can do in the birdcages. I beg to differ I’m of a simple mind and can keep this game up forever. He points me to the reptile room where I am put to work by Manny redecorating some gecko cages with fake shrubbery. He then asks me the thing I’ve been dreading all morning “Can you clean that reptile cage?”
“Oh yeah! Sorry about that.” He removes said creature and I get back to work.
Because I’m press…kinda, and was very sweet and worked without complaint I got to hold one lizard which no beginner volunteer is ever allowed to do. I held Crayola the chameleon [pictured above]. Crayola, like women from New Mexico, likes the color turquoise. Crayola has amazing feet that wrapped around my fingers so that if my hand had turned over he would not have moved. I wanted to keep him, and the geckos, and the angelfish, and one of the black mockingbird and... this is the problem. No one should have these animals. They’re wild and like most wild animals make lousy pets because they are a pain in the ass to take care of – trust me. But they are pretty to look at so if you want to interact with them just come volunteer at or visit Star Eco Station.
Star Eco Station rehabilitate’s animals, but their central mission is prevention through education. If they can teach children not to treat animals like possessions and to respect wild animals in their habitats then the cycle of animal cruelty will end.
Anyone can volunteer at Star Eco Station. You simply need to attend a volunteer orientation, and then you’re free to come in, and help prep the animals food, clean cages, walk the tortoises, and various other chores that the staff needs.
Star Eco Station is fun, educational, and honestly an adventure. I guarantee one visit will give you stories to tell for the next month - at least.