What I Do 

Jana Strickland, 39; Owner, Wildlife International/ Animals Unlimited

The company [Wildlife International, Animals Unlimited] was created and started by me back in 1996. It has grown tremendously. We started out basically with the exotic animals and educational presentations. They feature animals such as primates, different types of lemur, an African serval. … We've got kangaroo, monkeys, two different species of porcupine, the list goes on and on.

These animals are very expensive, too; they're not something that cost a hundred dollars; you're talking about thousands of dollars in many cases.

We started the dove releases in 2001. I'm just amazed every time I see them. They're strikingly white, beautiful birds. They give such a peaceful sense about them when you see them.

Surprisingly enough, with all that they represent, they're actually very feisty. On exhibit, you have to be choosy about which pair to put together — which ones get along well and which ones don't.

If you watch these birds before they're released, they just can't wait to go, they love to fly. They instinctively navigate home to the farm. They have that innate homing ability. Well-trained birds can fly 100 to 600 miles at 35 to 65 miles per hour.

You have to train them, work with them, keeping their stamina and strength up, so they are able to fly the distances needed to fly. You're not going to start off and go run a race without physically getting fit before you do it, or you won't make it. Once we got the first group trained, then the other babies had something to follow. Even if we go an hour away, they'll be back here in 30 minutes. We stay roughly within a 300 mile radius.

The older birds, they're stronger, wiser, and they're going to get back to their home before it gets dark. Some of the young birds diddle along the way, and they'll come back later than the older birds. They'll stop to rest and get a bite to eat here and there.

If the bride and groom choose to release them by hand, they open their hands and the birds fly up, circle around and get their bearings, and they head off in the direction of the farm. It's incredible to watch.

We roughly have a total of about 50 animals. It's a 24-hour job. If you love animals, you love life; it just kind of goes hand in hand. … I never seem to tire of it.

— As told to Mark Dwyer;

Photographed by Stephen


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