For many animal-loving New Yorkers, keeping pets that require ample space for exercise and play, such as cats and dogs, isn’t always an option. Enter Fauna, an exotic pet store that sells an array of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic creatures, tucked away on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Known for its rare selection of pets as well as its humane treatment practices, Fauna has recently introduced several educational programs for children intrigued by animal science.
Led by Fauna’s Director of Education, Jose Rodriguez, the new children’s programming invites animal-crazy kids to learn more about animal care through Story Time, After School, Herpetology, and Summer Camp programs.
“Education is really at the heart of everything Fauna does,” Rodriguez says. “We really take pride in being involved in the community, and we do a lot with the schools in the area. We absolutely love when people come in and ask questions. Our goal is to educate the public more than anything else.”
After studying pre-veterinary medicine and environmental science at Rutgers University, Rodriguez started at Fauna after recognizing his passion for teaching children about wildlife.
“Once I finished school, I began to run an after school program out in New Brunswick, New Jersey,” he says. “This was a really great opportunity to introduce animal science to after school programs and I did that for a couple of years. I developed a small curriculum where I taught animal science and I really enjoyed that.”
Aimed to inspire younger animal enthusiasts, Fauna’s Story Time program combines stories and interaction with different animals in the shop, led by Rodriguez.
“We start off the session by reading two or three preliminary level books based on animals and the environment,” Rodriguez says. “Afterwards, I leave enough time for any questions the children may have, as well as time for interacting with the animal we discussed that day.”
The 30-minute Story Time sessions are held Tuesdays at 10am, Fridays at 11am, and Sundays at 1pm.
Designed for children 8-12 years old, Fauna’s After School program aims to promote interest in wildlife through arts and crafts, stories, documentaries, and of course, one-on-one interactions with an assortment of animals.
“The quintessential child in this program would have a real interest and passion for animals at a young age, much like I did,” Rodriguez says. “I find that no matter what kind of animal we are engaging with that day, the children have tons and tons of questions—whether it be a reptile, a really common animal, or something off-the-wall. They always have questions and are always interested in the animals because they love science and nature.”
Fauna’s After School program is held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays beginning at 4:30pm.
For school-aged children with a specific interest in reptiles and amphibians, Fauna also hosts a junior herpetology club, which aims to give participants an in-depth look at reptiles and amphibians.
“It’s a more intensive program that focuses on as many animals in the shop as possible—specifically reptiles,” said Rodriguez. “We try to incorporate interaction with these animals as much as we can. I think it really prepares them as they get older in school, because we teach the children some of the fundamentals of animal science.”
Held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, the club meets at 4:30pm for an hour.
Rodriguez is also eager to implement a summer camp program for the second year in a row.
“Last year we had a summer camp that was really successful, and we would love to do that again this year,” he says. “It’s an intensive program, but it’s also a fun way to start the summer by teaching the kids animal and pet care.”