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Children Learn About Wildlife at Richmond Free Library
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:01PM / Saturday, October 24, 2020
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Jennifer Leahey displays Jules, a barred owl, at the Richmond Library on Saturday. Jules can't be released back into the wild because of a wing injury.

Hera, a red-tailed hawk, has vision issues after being infected with West Nile virus.

Chili the chinchilla is a domestic animal.

Leahey uses gloves to carry Kenny the skunk.

Little Mooney the bat.



Children pet Chili the chinchilla. 

RICHMOND, Mass. — There were some furry and feathery guests of honor at the Richmond Free Library this weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, founder of Nature Matters Jennifer Leahey wowed local children and parents  with a presentation of live animals.

This event was sponsored by the Richmond Cultural Council, said Library Director Kristin Smith. "We are grateful for their continued support."

Though this is not the first time the library has hosted an animal event, it was Nature Matter's first time here. The event was at full capacity, and each of the socially distanced chairs placed in a semi-circle full of eager animal lovers.

The presentation was aimed at families and children of all ages.  Leahey was chosen by the library because her programs are about connecting people with animals, because she rescues animals and turns those that cannot be released into animal educators, and because she is from Berkshire County, Smith said.

Additionally, this presentation was a safe, socially distanced event where all attendees wore masks.

"We are hoping that this will be an opportunity to bring a safe socially-distanced, family-friendly, always-popular program to the community," Library Trustee Kathryn Wilson wrote in an email.

The animals in Nature Matter's presentation included Kenny the skunk, Jules the barred owl, Moony the bat, Chili the chinchilla, and Hera the red-tailed hawk.

Leahey credits her children Brenna and Thomas Leahey for the greater part of naming these animals.  She said some wild-life rehabilitators don't name their animals to prevent them from seeming like pets.  Though Leahey's family respects them as wild animals, the children couldn't help but give them names.

These are rehabilitated wildlife, as they have been injured in a way that makes them unable to survive in the wild. Kenny was born in captivity and lives in Leahey's home, Jules is unable to fly because of a wing injury, and Hera has vision impairments because she is a survivor of the West Nile virus.

Leahey's children joked that their mother says Kenny is the favorite child.

Leahey started Nature Matters a few years ago because she has always been very passionate about wildlife and the environment.  Previously, she was a curator for live animals at the Boston Museum of Science and a coordinator of farms at Old Sturbridge Village.

She has been in the Berkshires for 15 years, residing on a family farm in Lee that has been in her husband's family since the 1880s. The 300-acre working organic dairy farm has pastures, fields, woodlands and wetlands that border the town's reservoir and October Mountain State Forest.

At the farm, Leahey was doing an after-school program to expose kids to the idea of nature connection and getting people outdoors.  This is where the idea for Nature Matters came from.

Nature Matters is a non-profit organization and Leahey has state and federal licenses for wildlife education, birds of prey and animal exhibition.

"What I really wanted was to create opportunities for families to connect with other species and the natural world," she said.

Leahey feels that even though our culture has access and information to the natural world, we are still living in this place of disconnection from it.

"I think connecting with other beings can also help us connect to ourselves," she said. "I feel like it's a healthy thing on so many levels."

For more information on Nature Matters visit www.naturemattersinc.org/

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