From Anacondas to Zebras
Jennifer Borders, a science teacher at Northwood Middle School, has had a lifelong fascination with animals and knew from an early age that she wanted to study biology and zoology. She credits her mother, who is a 30-year teaching veteran, with her desire to teach science.
Borders spent her early career working in California at the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos, as well as the Coyote Point Museum, where her interaction with zebras, lions, coyotes, elephants, and wildcats gave her a new perspective on animals. “I joke around with people and tell them I’ve worked with everything from anacondas to zebras,” she said with a laugh.
“We know our own pets have their own personalities. But people don’t realize that exotic animals have very different personalities, too,” she explained. “My favorite animal to work with is the giraffe. They’re so easy going, they’re mellow, they’re kind of laid back, and a little bullheaded,” she said.
“I had the opportunity in Oklahoma to work with the okapi, which is the closest living relative to the giraffe, but they don’t look like the giraffe,” continued Borders. “They have the same kind of tongue, which is one of the genetic features that links them together. They have the zebra-striped legs, but then they’re a cool chocolate brown. And they are so velvety soft. They are about the height of a horse, but have an elongated face compared to the horse,” she explained.
Borders believes her experiences working in natural environments will have an impact on students. Today, the sixth graders are dissecting petunia and lily flowers. Using a desktop USB microscope, she projects the image of a seed pod on the Promethean Board. “That protective coating on the outside of the seed is meant to protect it until just the right conditions,” she said. “They have to have moisture, they have to be warm, they have to know that there’s that little dirt blanket sitting around them, nurturing them and allowing them to grow.”
Borders said working at the Greenville Zoo was one of her favorite experiences because of its size. “I grew up in Colorado, and when I came out to interview at the Greenville Zoo, I fell in love with the city,” she said. “It’s green and it’s pretty, the people are very nice, and it has a lot of the same elements as my hometown.”
She started out working in the Africa section where the giraffes, elephants, lions, tortoises, and vultures live. She also had opportunities to work with the primates and South American animals including flamingos and ocelots. She has a picture in her classroom that was painted by Joy the Elephant just weeks before she passed away.
Jennifer and her daughter, Ophelia, share their home with two cats, a rabbit, a hamster, and a bearded dragon.