Dr. Shawna Adams stood inside the air-conditioned room at the M.R. Davis Public Library in Southaven, Miss., on June 27, 2023, safely sheltered from the summer heat. In front of her sat rows of children struggling to sit still, and chattering parents sat in the room’s perimeter.
Screeching sounds emanated from one of the cages that sat atop a long, black table behind Adams. Black cloths draped over the cages, keeping their contents hidden for the time being. At 2 p.m., Adams addressed the crowd: “Are you ready to see some animals?” she asked. The children answered with eager nods and a few boisterous “Yeah!”s.
There to educate local children about different animals, Adams unveiled the first animal of the presentation: a Colombian red-tailed boa constrictor named Stephanie who slithered and coiled herself around Adams’ body. The wildlife expert walked around the room, giving children and parents a close-up view of the snake while asking questions about reptiles and how they differed from mammals.
Other animal guests included a black Silkie chicken, which Adams used to demonstrate that not all animals with scales are reptiles, or even cold-blooded; Trevor the coatimundi, an animal native to South America; and Rainbow, a yellow-naped Amazon parrot who frequently interrupted the presentation with high-pitched “Hello!”s. “He’s like a toddler begging for attention,” Adams teased.
‘Free, Fun and Educational’
Shawna Adams works as a wildlife programmer for Animalogy, alternatively known as the Natural History Education Company of the Midsouth, or NHECM. Animalogy provides educational wildlife programs for schools and organizations throughout the Midsouth including Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Illinois.
In 2005, Bob Tarter, a wildlife biologist, bought the pre-existing NHECM from Scott Shupe, who founded the company in the late 1970s, and incorporated it. Once Tarter took the reins, he transitioned Animalogy into a full-time company that focuses on educational programming to teach people more about animals and conservation.
Animalogy primarily buys its animals from breeders. While Adams asserted that Animalogy is “not a rescue facility,” some of the company’s animals had previous owners, like Rainbow. Additionally, Animalogy has the permits and USDA certification required to take care of the animals in their care.
David Brown, the marketing manager for First Regional Library, a five-county library cooperative that includes M.R. Davis, said that the FRL has been using NHECM for 10 years now.
“They’re always one of our most popular programs,” Brown told the Mississippi Free Press. “That’s why we always have it year by year.” He further explained that live animals are “always more popular” and that programs like this are “free, fun and educational” for visitors.
This summer, the organization had enough funding for all 14 branches of First Regional Libraries to host NHECM, and Shawna Adams presented for all of these events.
‘An Abundance of Animals’
As a child growing up in eastern Kentucky, Shawna Adams exhibited a love for animals.
“I’ve always been the person who when she was a little girl would get in trouble for bringing in all the orphaned animals,” Adams told the Mississippi Free Press. “You know, like the cats and the dogs and the rabbits and the little songbirds and anything else that I found that I thought needed to be cared for would be snuck into my bedroom as a little kid.”
Adams took that compassion for animals into higher education, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology. She then went on to teach high-school biology and chemistry for about 15 years. For the last seven years, she has taught as an assistant professor of biology at Dyersburg State Community College in West Tennessee.
She had also worked as a veterinary technician concurrently with her professorship until the vet she had worked for had to close his practice. In 2015, she found a job with Animalogy, where she is able to implement both her love for animals and her love for teaching.
“My cousin introduced me to Bob (Tarter), who’s the owner of the company, and we just kind of hit it off,” Adams said. “And I was like, ‘Hey, Bob, do you need another animal programmer on the side?’ And that’s kind of how it happened.”
Because she is a full-time professor, Adams works with Animalogy as a programmer in the summers during school breaks.
For Adams, being part of the Animalogy team is an incredible opportunity to work with different animals, both native and exotic.
“I’ve gotten to work with the Eurasian eagle owl, which is the largest owl in the world,” she said. “I’ve gotten to work with kangaroos, goats, and all different kinds of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates. It’s nice, really, just cool that I can work with a variety of animals.”
“Where else are you going to work with coatimundis and kangaroos and large snakes and chickens?” she asked rhetorically while speaking on her appreciation for Animalogy. “It’s pretty cool. It’s just a really great way to become more knowledgeable about lots of different times of animals, native and exotic.”
Adams supports Animalogy’s goal to spread messages of awareness, preservation and conservation.
“We have an abundance of animals in lots of different ecosystems, and they’re all very specially designed to survive and flourish in those habitats,” she said. “It’s important for us to be conscientious about what these animals are, why they’re important and how we can basically lessen our negative impacts on the earth and leave more habitat for them.”
Do you know someone with ties to Mississippi whom you believe deserves some recognition? Nominate them for a potential Person of the Day article at mfp.ms/pod.