Wildlife Geeks is a Wild Ride
by Roberta Bolduc
Owner and founder of Wildlife Geeks, Chuck Alberding, has always been an animal lover. Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, his parents’ five-acre Florida home was host to horses, goats, pigs, peacocks, and a variety of other animals.
Chuck says his whole family was “into” animals and tells the story of presenting his mother with a baby skunk on her 50th birthday. “She named her Camie and would take her to church in a sort of cage/pouch. My mom had Camie for 12 years,” remembers Chuck.
Today, Chuck, partners with the Greenville County School System and introduces his entourage of mammals, snakes, reptiles, and amphibians to children in grades Pre-K-8th grade. His presentations focus on the unique characteristics and habitat of the animals as well as the importance of conservation of all species.
Wildlife Geeks’ rock star is Amelia, an adult prairie dog Chuck rescued while volunteering at a wildlife preserve in Florida. Attracted by food in a cage containing lemurs, Amelia was being attacked when Chuck happened upon the scene, distracted the lemur and saved Amelia from sure death. Badly injured, it was touch and go for a while. “I didn’t give her a name because it looked like she wouldn’t make it,” recalls Chuck. Later, as a testimony to her determination to survive, he named her after Amelia Earhart, the famous aviator. Today, a long scar rambles down Amelia’s back, a reminder of her intrepid spirit.
Back in 2008, Wildlife Geeks was not even a glimmer on the horizon. Chuck was working as an audio visual director at a hotel in Raleigh, North Carolina. His destiny to work with animals and teach others about their unique value in society began to unfold in 2009 when he was laid off from his job. Doing freelance work, he began volunteering at the Museum of Natural History in Raleigh, working with arthropods (invertebrate animals having a external skeleton).
Having found his calling and with a letter of recommendation, he went on to work with the Museum of Life and Science in Raleigh. From there he interned at a tiger rescue group in Mebane.
When his father’s triple bypass surgery called him home to Florida, Chuck worked as a docent at a central Florida zoo. This was his first taste of being involved in an educational program to introduce animals to elementary-school-aged children.
A job with an audio visual company brought Chuck to Greenville. In late 2015, Chuck filmed a video about his program that was presented as part of the first school presentation at Carolina International Preparatory School. Wildlife Geeks’ first live animal booking with the Greenville Country School system was at Green Charter School.
Also known as the Prairie Dog Whisperer, Chuck’s educational program now features three adult prairie dogs, including Amelia, plus a 6-week-old baby named Chickapea, along with a three-horned chameleon, a ball python and other assorted critters. The prairie dogs are not native to South Carolina and are procured through a licensed breeder.
Individuals using any mammals in a program require an exhibitor’s license and must be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Chuck also carries liability insurance. Of uppermost concern, he says, is the safety of the children in his audience and the animals. During his presentations he alone handles the animals.
He interacts with his young audience by asking them questions and encouraging discussions about conservation and humane treatment of animals. The presentations include books and videos to educate and build excitement before the actual animal is introduced. At the end of the presentation the children are allowed to approach and individually touch the animals. A sharp eye is kept out for any signs of nervousness in the animals during the presentation. If detected, the animal is returned to its cage.
Wildlife Geeks is branching out to other counties in the Upstate. Programs are scheduled this summer at seven Anderson county libraries. Another venue for Chuck and his critters is children’s birthday parties. Wildlife Geeks has provided entertainment and education at over 100 birthday parties and presentations to date. The parties lasts about an hour and the guest of honor is allowed to be Chuck’s special assistant and receives a birthday gift. A prize is awarded to the child with the highest number of correct answers to Chuck’s questions on the animals, their habitat and wildlife conservation.
Wildlife Geeks sounds like a fun way to learn about conservation, wildlife, and the important role all life forms play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
For more information on Wildlife Geeks and their birthday parties, call 843-592-8079 or go to WildlifeGeeks.com.
Roberta Bolduc is the Publisher of and a writer for Natural Awakenings Upstate.