ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - At first glance, The Creature Conservatory looks like a zoo, but, in reality, it's a nonprofit organization that places emphasis on education and animal conservation.
The Creature Conservancy has been open to the public since 2014, but its story started long before.
In 2005, someone dropped an alligator off at a nearby veterinary clinic.
When word got out that founder and head curator Steve Marsh took the animal in, others began surrendering their exotic pets that they no longer wanted or could no longer care for.
The Creature Conservancy was born.
Marsh has acquired nearly 300 animals either through rescuing them, bringing them in from other zoos, or acquiring them from USDA-approved establishments to be what they call "animal ambassadors."
The animals include many native species to Michigan, including skunks and opossums.
"We have a lot of native Michigan animals that people have really stigmatized over the years, but they play such an important role in our ecosystem," said reptile curator Xavier Edwards.
The conservancy is open to the public on the weekends when visitors can engage in hands-on activities, explore its indoor and outdoor spaces, and learn about featured animals during live presentations.
"It's a fairly unique small-scale operation that's doing kind of professional animal conservation work -- it's good to see it in the community," said visitor Robert Primeau.
For Whitney Beeler and her son, Jay, it was their first visit to the conservancy.
"It's beautiful and very educational," she said. "My 5-year-old didn't want to leave, and it's clear that everyone who works here has a passion for animals and rehabbing and taking care of animals who need it."
Bird curator Julie Holst said her favorite part about the conservancy is being able to share the animals so closely with community members.
"Since we work so safely with these animals since we respect them since we build bonds with them, we're able to take out really amazing animals to teach people about that they wouldn't know about otherwise," said Holst.
The animals eat nutrient-rich diets of meat and produce that is largely donated from local grocery stores.
"We wouldn't be able to do all that we do without our volunteers who come in day after day, even on holidays, just because they are so passionate about the animals and want to give back to them every day," said Edwards.
The conservancy hosts summer camps, themed private events, and birthday parties, and regularly visits schools and other sites to engage with the community.
The Creature Conservancy is located at 4940 Ann Arbor-Saline Road in Ann Arbor.
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