July 09--ASHEBORO -- An 11-year-old from New York is having her wish to be a zookeeper come true at the N.C. Zoo.
Joelle Loomis is spending two days at the Asheboro park, with her family, learning about the animals and roles which keepers fill -- thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which arranges experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions, and its supporters.
"It's really amazing and interesting," she said Tuesday about her visit, which continues today. As her first day at the zoo was nearing a completion, she insisted that she still wanted to become a zookeeper. Most of Tuesday was spent in the Africa region; today's activities will center around North America.
Why the N.C. Zoo?
Joelle said her Make-A-Wish coordinators suggested visiting either the N.C. Zoo or San Diego Zoo for her wish to be a zookeeper. The N.C. Zoo was her first choice. "The North Carolina Zoo seemed so different. I really wanted to see it. It sounded like a lot more fun."
On Tuesday, she and her family had an opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and be around the zoo's giraffes, baboons, gorillas, rhinos, elephants and Rocky Coast birds and mammals. They took a truck ride onto the African Plains to view rhinos, a noisy ostrich and the antelope collection.
First order of business for the day was zoo personnel presenting Joelle with her own navy blue N.C. Zoo staff cap, T-shirt and ID badge.
Today, they'll be at other locations, like the Cypress Swamp, visiting the cougars; kidZone; Kitera Forest for the chimpanzees; and the Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Joelle is also interested in animal research and she and her sisters met with Corrine Kendall, the zoo's new assistant curator of research, at the gorilla exhibit Tuesday morning to learn about some of the zoo's field conservation programs.
Kendall handed out photographs of the zoo's three adult females' "noseprints," which help distinguish them from each other. As they talked, the nearly 2-year-old male offspring of two of the female gorillas delighted zoo visitors.
Today, Joelle and her family will meet with Duke University researchers at the chimp exhibit.
In a rhino barn annex, Joelle had an opportunity to meet Stan, a 44-year-old rhino who's now retired from most of the rest of the herd. The docile creature loved having the skin behind his ears rubbed -- like so many other animals -- as he munched on alfalfa. Joelle and her sisters donned gloves to spread paint on his rear area and the painted area was transferred to a canvas for taking home.
One of the out-of-staters remarked on how "orange" the animals were due to the North Carolina clay.
Joelle was also being presented with a painting by one of the zoo elephants later on Tuesday.
Aboard the rear of a truck on Tuesday, Joelle and her entourage of family members, zoo staffers and media rode onto the African Plains, viewing species like Thompson's gazelle, Common waterbuck, Sitatunga, Eastern Bongo and Greater kudu, most standing in shady areas and appearing curious about the visitors. Four female rhinos sat in pairs in the shade.
"This is the size of an average city zoo," Rod Hackney, the zoo's public relations manager, said about the African Plains.
Joelle had been surprised in May with a wish granting party at her central New York home in Whitesboro. A baby tortoise, with a ribbon and rose, carried the message that her wish to be a zookeeper had been granted and that she and her family would be headed to North Carolina in July.
This is the third time a Make-A-Wish youngster from out of state has visited the N.C. Zoo, according to Karen Jarvis, zoo registrar and a local Make-A-Wish coordinator through the Make-A-Wish of Central and Western North Carolina chapter. Several children from within the state have been feted at the zoo, too.
Joelle was diagnosed last fall with childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). She's currently in remission.
Her mother, Dusty Loomis, said in late September 2013 that Joelle appeared pale and had no color, not even on her lips. "She was very tired and lethargic, but had no fever. I thought she was coming down with the flu or may be anemic." She was taken to the emergency room and almost immediately diagnosed with leukemia. She underwent 29 days of intense treatment.
Joelle's twin sister, Jocelyn, is healthy as is older sister, Alexandra, 15, a rising high school sophomore.
They're all along for the North Carolina visit, with Joelle's father, Bill Loomis, too.
All five were enthusiastic about the zoo visit on Tuesday and looked forward to even more adventures today. They arrived in North Carolina Monday, flying to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. They're staying at the Hampton Inn in Asheboro and will return to New York Friday, flying out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Fund-raisers to pay for Joelle's medical expenses have been held in New York; an American Red Cross Blood Drive, in her honor, is planned for Saturday at the Fusion Community Church in Cobleskill, N.Y.
The family has visited other zoos. The Utica Zoo is their local zoo; they have also been to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., and the Philadelphia Zoo.
"This is much better," Bill Loomis said.
"I love how it's so natural," Dusty Loomis said.
"It's really big and all the animals have room," exclaimed twin Jocelyn. "The Utica Zoo is so small and the animals are close together." The 11-year-olds will both be in the sixth grade this fall.
"I love everything," Joelle said Tuesday about her visit to the N.C. Zoo. "I like animals. I've always liked animals."
They also took a break from the animals for awhile on Tuesday, having lunch at Junction Plaza and then viewing "Rio, the 4-D Experience" and enjoying the Endangered Species Carousel. The three girls rode the carousel three times -- Joelle atop an elephant first, then with her sisters in the spinning bird nest and finally on a dolphin.
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