Join us on Saturday October 14, from 10:00 – 11:00 am for Animals in our Backyard, and meet some furry friends courtesy of Briar Bush Nature Center.

Part of our mission at Tyler Arboretum is to help connect people to the natural world.

We believe that in those moments of connection, we learn something new, about ourselves and about the wild and wonderful planet that we call home.

Those moments of connection, whether they happen in a garden, in the woods, or in a classroom have the potential to inspire a lifetime of environmental stewardship, help you discover a new interest, and even connect to you a potential vocation.

In fact, I can trace my own personal career back to one of those moments with Briar Bush Nature Center. I was in third grade and I was having a Very Important Day. On this day, towards the end of the school year, Briar Bush was visiting my grade school with one of their animal programs. We were crowded into our old gymnasium, seated in rows on the scuffed wooden floor. It was 90 degrees out and the air inside was hot and charged with excitement. Summer was coming and there were animals on stage.

We were very quiet, we had been instructed to keep calm and still so that we wouldn’t scare the animals. I remember almost not breathing as I watched the educator on stage take out a box turtle to show us.

This is her job. I remember thinking. She gets paid to do this every day. Maybe I could too?

This was a revolutionary thought to me, that people could have jobs related to nature. In that moment I was 100% sure that this was exactly what I wanted my career to be. No matter what, I was going to do work that helped people connect to the natural world, and to learn to love the incredible planet that we call home.

These moments are so essential, to children of all ages. Here at Tyler, our plants are our ambassadors, the beautiful gardens and majestic trees encourage people to come in, take a walk, reflect on this special and unique place. At Briar Bush their ambassadors are the animals in their care – and they work very hard to make sure those animals feel like valued employees.

Putting Passion to Work

Katie Fisk is the person behind their care. Katie has been at Briar Bush for 14 years and comes from a zoo background. She’s worked in places like Zoo Tampa and Busch Gardens of Tampa Bay and her mentality is ‘just because we are a small nature center doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves to the standards of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums).’

As the Animal Curator, she sets rigorous protocols for the care of Briar Bush’s resident animals. Each animal is given health care, the best nutrition, and plenty of time to rest and recuperate after being out on programs. Katie has a team of 30 volunteers who help with the cleaning and feeding that goes into caring for these special animals, as well a specific team whose entire job is to make the animals happy.

As Katie says ‘Enrichment shouldn’t be a luxury for these animals. Without the volunteers this level of care simply would not happen.’ We can relate – at Tyler we feel the same way about our volunteers!

Crested Gecko Charlie likes to blend in.

Eating is top priority for Gonzo, the Three-toed box turtle.

Check out Kermie the Bearded Dragon – she loves to play!

I found my dream job at Tyler Arboretum!


Because of all of this careful care and love, Briar Bush has found that their animals are living well beyond their expected lifespans. Which is perfect for these creatures who have become valued members of the nature center’s team of educators. We’re thrilled here in Lucille’s Garden to help provide for their nutritional needs by donating the greens, squash and other foods that are too damaged to give to the Media Foodbank. A diverse palette of food means each animal ambassador can get exactly the right blend of treats for their unique species.

Animal Ambassadors

So, who are these animal ambassadors? Most of them come to Briar Bush because they are wild animals that rehabbers cannot re-release into the wild, or they are pets who have been abandoned or whose families are no longer able to care for them. They run the gamut from large birds to prey, to native wildlife, to popular pet species. In fact, they are such a diverse collection of animals that Briar Bush has to carry no less than four state and federal permits to keep them! With a skunk named Abby, a rabbit named Pear, and resident screech owls Scarlett and Raymond, Briar Bush is able to offer a wide range of programs.

‘We’re a small nature center with a big reach,’ says Katie.

And it’s true. Briar Bush visits schools, senior centers, and even Arboretums like Tyler where they will be offering two upcoming programs this Fall – Animals in Our Backyard and Nature at Night – Birds of Prey. Register now! You are not going to want to miss these great, family friendly programs.

Eileen, the Virginia Opossum, is a bit more outgoing.


So, what’s the number one thing Katie wants everyone to know about wildlife in Pennsylvania? ‘If people have a pet that they need to find a home for, or most importantly, if they find a wild animals that they think might need help make sure that you reach out to the professional’s in the field.’ Not sure who to call? Reach out to Briar Bush Nature Center! While they themselves only rarely have space for a new surrendered pet and are not licensed rehabilitators to accept wildlife, they are happy to connect you with organizations who can.

You can learn more about Briar Bush Nature Center on their website, or by following them on Facebook. With programs for adults and children alike, there is something for everyone. And make sure to register for our upcoming programs here at Tyler Arboretum. We’re excited to work with Briar Bush to offer opportunities for our members and visitors to connect with wildlife in this unique way.

Join us on Saturday October 14, from 10:00 – 11:00 am for Animals in our Backyard or Wednesday, November 8 from 7:00 – 8:00 pm for Nature at Night, Birds of Prey with the educators from Briar Bush Nature Center. Both of these are live animal programs featuring native Pennsylvania wildlife and different birds of prey.