Space Farms Celebrates 85th Anniversary
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 • 5:33pm
SUSSEX, NJ - Space Farms Zoo and Museum celebrated its 85th anniversary Saturday at an indoor ceremony.
Lori Space Day began the program by introducing the Space family members Fred, Parker, Jill, and Hunter, the fourth generation to be part of the zoo.
Fred Space took the microphone and expressed his thanks to the crowd. “I appreciate everybody coming here today, and I appreciate all the things that happened over the years to make it happen.”
He then reminisced about Space Farms’ beginning and shared some stories.
"Back in the day, there was a popular dance called the Jitterbug," Fred said. "Well, on the back wall is a picture of my two sisters, they used to call them the ‘Critterbug Sisters,’ on account of their work, kind of a take-off on the dance. They drove a 1934 Ford pick-up truck with a hand wench. They’d go around to the dairy farms to pick up dead animals we called ‘critters’ and bring them back to feed our animals."
"Can you imagine two teenage girls doing that today?” he asked incredulously.
He continued, “Through the years, I don’t know how many kids, maybe hundreds of them, had their first job helping out at Space Farms. Some of them come back with their children or even grandchildren. They’re not blood family, but they’re all family, either from the local church or the school, everybody knows everybody. Give some credit to Alice Peterson, over there in the gift shop; she’s been here over 35 years with us.”
Lori then called Hunter to the podium, who told the crowd about the new tiger cub they had gotten a few months ago. “Up until now, he hasn’t got a name, but today, we are going to announce the winner of the Name the Tiger Contest. The winning name is Blaze.”
At this announcement, balloons fell from the ceiling.
Later, Lori and Hunter shared a chilling story about Hurricane Irene. A tree in the grisly bear cage split in half, with a good portion resting on the chain link fence that kept the bears in the cage. Since bears climb trees, this created a bridge for the bears to escape.
In the height of the storm, the men had to enter the cage with the bears and use chain saws to cut out the fallen branches, with the storm raging and limbs of trees falling around them. Lori and Jill stood on the other side, diverting the bears’ attention by feeding them ice cream.
“This job is never boring; you are doing something different every day!” Lori exclaimed.
During storms, everyone is on “rain duty” to watch for falling trees. It is a lot of responsibility to care for these types of animals.
Lori is known there as “Zoo Mama".
She is the one who raises the babies, bottle feeding even the young tigers.
“If I want to know if my fawns should come off the bottle, I watch the herd to see if they’ve stopped nursing their young," Lori said.
She says her family is world famous for their animal care techniques.
“I learned what to do from working side by side with my parents and grandparents," Lori said. "I learned why we do it in college."
Lori has a degree in Biology from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY.
“We trade baby animals with other zoos, such as Turtleback Zoo. In 1971, President Nixon passed the endangered species law, which helped animals in the wild, but limited the gene pool for those in captivity," Lori explained. "We trade with other zoos for genetic diversity. Baby animals are easier to transport, and they more easily adapt to new environments.”
When asked if she is afraid of any of the animals, she replied, “I have a very healthy respect for each one of them. You have to know them. It is easier to take a lion away from its mother than a baby buffalo.”
Another of Laurie’s talents is painting. She is a folk artist and created much of the wall art throughout the zoo and museum.
“I do it all, but mostly, I scoop a lot of poop," she joked.
The Space family also provides an educational outreach in the spring. Laurie Space Day takes some small animals and makes presentations at schools and libraries. She recently spoke at Project Self Sufficiency, telling people what they need to know about getting an animal related job.
Parker Space, Sussex County Freeholder, is manager of the whole operation. Recently, he was interviewed by Al Cole of for his program People of Distinction. That program will air on Thursday, August 9, 2012 on Live 365 Radio.