Keeping It Green at Oakton

Your source for the most current sustainability news from Oakton Community College

Going Wild in the Lee Center!

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A small group of students, staff and faculty were privileged to meet very important guests last week in the Lee Center Ecology lab.  On Tuesday, February 3, we were joined by two servals, Kyan and Churchill, and their trainers from Brookfield Zoo.

Serval Cat 2

(Photo: Bob Nowak)

The African cats are part of the Zoo’s Animal Ambassador program, which was developed to connect people with animals in unique and life-changing ways. Often, these encounters allow individuals who otherwise would never have a chance to experience the Zoo or wildlife to connect with animals in a personal way. Servals are great jumpers (as they demonstrated for us!) with the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. They have an excellent sense of hearing which even allows them to sense rodents underground, possess a better capture success rate than other large cats and live solitary lives. They are also beautiful!


<img class=" wp-image-185 alignleft"

src=”; alt=”DSC_1703_Gulezian” width=”354″ height=”437″ />                                         DSC_1707_Gulezian











(Photos: Paul Gulezian)


The two males are about 10 months old and were hand reared by trainers to start building the bonds that are necessary to ensure their success in this unique program. Though the servals were wearing harnesses, it is important to note that they are not pets. They are carefully trained individuals who have strong relationships with their human trainers. When at the Zoo, the servals are housed together in the same enclosure and lead “spoiled” lives including treats, toys, and cozy blankets. But when out on an encounter, whether on Zoo grounds or offsite at places like Misericordia, local libraries or Oakton Community College, the animals are carefully focused on their trainers and ready to work! They are also important ambassadors for fundraising events, inspiring individuals to donate towards conservation initiatives. DSC_1708_Gulezian

(Photo: Paul Gulezian)


At Oakton, they were getting some much needed practice for these roles. Animals, just like people, are not necessarily able to jump right into the spotlight. It takes months of hands-on training and dedication to get these Animal Ambassadors ready for their public appearances. This visit allowed the servals to practice getting in and out of their crates, travelling for an extended period in a vehicle, and being exposed to all kinds of new smells and spaces. It is important for them to have these new experiences so that they can be prepared for the many events in their future.

Serval Cat 3

(Photo: Bob Nowak)

Their trainers, Tami Jo, Maggie and Nicolette shared a bit of their own career stories to students in the room. Each of them had experience in a community college setting prior to earning a four year degree. Their number one piece of advice was getting lots of hands-on experience! Often, this means travelling across the country and to various Zoos in order to get exposure to many species and the limited opportunities available. But it paid off for them and it is clear they love their jobs! The keys to getting this dream career: Perseverance, willingness to “pay your dues” in a variety of internship and seasonal positions, a degree in animal sciences, zoology, biology, fisheries, or something related, and great communication skills! To find out more about the Brookfield Zoo, Animal Ambassadors or Careers in Conservation, visit the Chicago Zoological Society website.


Serval Cat 1

(Photo: Bob Nowak)





Author: Debra Kutska

Thanks for visiting! I am the Sustainability Specialist for Oakton Community College. I look forward to introducing you to the many green initiatives in which we engage and collecting input from YOU as to how we can continue to improve. Please feel free to contact me with your suggestions at any time at

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