Who is Jade Hilliard?
I grew up in Jacksonville. I worked for a large company as a zookeeper for about a decade, before deciding I wanted more opportunities to connect with people and began looking for a smaller facility. I saw that MOSH was hiring, so it was a no-brainer to return to my home city!
Describe a day in your role as the Florida Naturalist’s Center Supervisor.
Most of my day is spent evaluating and updating our animal enclosures, working out how to improve our animal welfare, designing new educational programs, and taking care of the more administrative side of maintaining a living collection. Some days I do get to work daily animal husbandry, but I really depend on our Naturalists like the amazing Hanna to ensure the care of our animals.
Why is it important to educate visitors about Florida’s natural environment?
We can only protect what we know and understand.
Did you know that Florida is the only place in the world to find both crocodiles and alligators in the same waters? Have you heard of Florida’s critically endangered blue calamintha bee? Do you know that sirens (fully aquatic salamanders) are only found in North America, with all four species found in Florida?
Florida has some of the most unique ecology in the United States. Our salt marshes, sand ridge, and coral reefs are only a few of around 80 different ecosystems. We have incredibly specialized habitats and wildlife because of this diversity, which provide tangible and intangible benefits to us. Our actions have direct and indirect impacts on other living beings who call Florida home, so we must take responsibility for their protection.
Who or what inspired your passion to protect the natural world?
Caterpillars. I grew up in a neighborhood full of trees and was greeted by the eastern tent caterpillars every spring descending from these trees. However, as the years went on and my neighbors cut down their trees, I saw fewer caterpillars until there were none left. I lost something profound. Something no one else even noticed. I want more people to notice these little lives all around them.
What’s something you teach that guests find surprising?
Judging other life by human standards of intelligence is a disservice to both parties. Ask me to find a rat in a field, and I am going to have difficulty, but let a hungry snake lose, and they will have little difficulty in finding that rat. We are suited to different tasks, so a comparison of intelligence is inappropriate and arbitrary.
I’m just me.
What are you looking forward to most about the new Museum?
Integrating the natural areas around the Museum into the educational programing/messaging. Science is all around us!
What do you find most fulfilling working at MOSH?
Seeing the direct impact my actions have on our living collection and guests.