LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Have you ever imagined being able to hang out with precious looking penguins? Do you wonder what it’s like to train a bird to fly through an arena to land gracefully on your glove?
We just had to know what it’s like to be up close and personal with these amazing creatures. So, we sent THV11's Adam Bledsoe to the Little Rock Zoo to chat with Hannah Baker.
Baker works with the conservation education department at the Little Rock Zoo. How does someone land a job like that? Hannah said her journey started like many others in the industry. She began working as a care taker then worked her way up.
Hannah is one of 98 people in the world who is a “certified bird trainer” with international certification through the International Avian Trainer Certification Board. This certification gives her the unique ability to train and handle birds to “free fly.”
For the start of our visit, Hannah took us to visit the super cute penguins. We thought maybe they pumped super cold air in and had a way to cool the water to almost freezing, because penguins live in cold environments, right? Some do, but not African penguins, which is what resides at the Little Rock Zoo.
They love the Arkansas climate, especially on the 60-degree day we visited. Living on a diet of herring and other fish, Hannah said the penguins are allowed to eat as much as they want during their twice a day feeding.
Watching Hannah work with the penguins was amazing. She talked to them and called them by name, like we would our pets at home. She described their individual personalities and which one likes to eat the most.
After hanging with the penguins, we had an opportunity of a life-time. Hannah escorted us to a very special building where falcons, owls and other birds lived. The coolest thing of all was watching her as she prepared to bring the beautiful 20-year-old bald eagle. The sensation of being right next to this amazing bird was like none other. The eagle perched on Hannah’s arm and demanded attention. One of our beloved family members at THV11, Theba Lolley, has a special love for birds, specifically bald eagles. Theba had the opportunity to join us on this story and the expression on her face as we admired this beautiful creature was indescribable. Theba is a self-proclaimed “bird nerd.” The title is even embroidered on her coat.
Hannah said there are only a few people who are permitted to handle the eagle. She said one must go through a variety of trainings and spend a significant amount of time around the eagle to be able to handle her.
After the eagle, Hannah took us to see her buddies: The parrots. Because of the extensive training, Hannah said the parrots are almost able to “free-fly” throughout the zoo and return to her hand. While we watched Hannah interact with the parrots, she simply gave hand gestures and spoke to them like we would our dog and BAM, they’d fly right to her hand to receive their grape or seed. This happened without fail several times and we could see the joy on Hannah’s face as she worked with these beautiful birds. Her hard work is paying off and everyone who visits the zoo will be able to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
Hannah has spent countless hours working to get where she is. She had a plan and put it in motion. The main thing that I took away from this visit is none of this happens by chance -- lots of hard work and dedication makes the Little Rock Zoo such a special place to visit. Hannah has a cool job. As she was holding the beautiful eagle, we thought “You get paid to do this??” Living the dream.