According to online blog Fear Of, ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, is the second most common zoophobia, affecting almost a third of all adults.
17-year-old Chelsey Vivar will not be one of them.
As an animal care intern for the Environmental Nature Center, it’s her job and her joy to tend to the center’s three snakes, not to mention their tarantula - the most common zoophobia - rabbits, salamander, bearded dragon, toads and other critters.
“I believe some people have a fear of animals... possibly because of a not so pleasant experience they had in the past or they are just afraid because the animals might be venomous or could bite,” says Vivar.
“I was afraid of spiders and I still am to a minimal degree. Now that I work with Charlotte, our tarantula at ENC, I have grown a little more comfortable now that I work with her which has helped me to handle more animals. Also, watching someone handle Charlotte made me realize she's actually harmless and nothing to be afraid of.”
Vivar’s all-time favorite animal is China’s cuddly, charismatic panda bear, she also has an interest in marine life and reptiles, the latter inspired through working with the gopher, king and rosy boa snakes at the ENC.
“Their behavior is so interesting,” she says. “They don’t act like other animals.”
Vivar discovered the Environmental Nature Center while attending Early College High School in Costa Mesa where a principal’s email alerted her to the animal care internship opening. She’s been helping out at the ENC since last fall and plans to stick around until she goes off to college later this year.
Vivar is heading to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, one of a few colleges in California that offer zoology studies. She will be working towards a Bachelor's Degree in zoology and then plans on applying to veterinary school with the hopes that her career will allow her to travel and meet exotic animals.
Until then her responsibilities include checking up on the ENC animal's health, cleaning their enclosures, feeding them and performing enrichment activities, such as soaking the snakes to ease their shedding process, letting the reptiles get some sun and giving the bunnies time to run around.
If anything doesn’t seem right, such as when the Center's bearded dragon Kevin’s appetite faltered, she makes sure to monitor the animal while pinpointing the problem with the help of her supervisor Valerie Bain (Kevin turned out okay-her activity was low simply because she wasn’t getting enough light).
At Humboldt, Vivar will be kept busy taking botany, biochemistry and other zoology courses. She is especially excited for Humboldt’s outdoors wildlife program, its focus on hands-on learning and its proximity to nature.
The university is near the California-Oregon border and close to several national parks, such as Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Six Rivers National Forest, and the King Range National Conservation Area; to the left lies the ocean.
“The dorms I chose are right next to these redwoods trails,” she says. “You’re right next to nature, you can go out and just go out for a run [under the trees] and the beach is only ten minutes away.”
For Vivar, a passion for nature and its animals has always been inherent and her commitment to their care is evident in the way she overcomes her obstacles, such as controlling her queasiness when feeding frozen mice to the snakes and learning to comfortably handle Charlotte the tarantula.
“If it's possible, step out of your comfort zone by handling or lightly touching that animal or at least observing it,” Vivar suggests to those struggling with zoophobias. “Maybe read about that particular animal and learn more about it.”
For those who want to start getting to know an animal or two, stop by Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to visit Kevin, Charlotte, Fernanda, Fiesta and more of our non-human friends!