Teddy the Porcupine Gets an Easter Treat — and His Zookeeper Gives Us the Inside Scoop
Teddy Bear, the Internet’s favorite porcupine, always celebrates holidays with a new video — and he didn’t disappoint for Easter, donning bunny ears in his latest YouTube appearance.
But Vetstreet wanted to know more about Teddy — and that voice you always hear in his videos. It turns out that it belongs to Allison Blankenship, owner of Zooniversity, a traveling teaching zoo in Texas. She dishes about the 9-year-old porcupine — and how he became an Internet sensation.
Q. Have you always worked with animals? Can you tell us about your work at Zooniversity?
A. Allison Blankenship: “I grew up wanting to work with animals, but girls in my generation were taught that only a corporate life could be called 'success.' So I became a Fortune 50 corporate executive and developed training programs for executives, physicians and pilots during a long 20-plus-year corporate career.
I then made a rather dramatic midlife career switch to follow my heart — I wanted to teach the public about the critical conservation issues facing our planet, using rescued exotic animals as teachers. In 2001, with a giant leap of faith, I founded Zooniversity. That first year we had nine rescued exotic animals, and we taught 26 programs. Today, we have more than 100 exotic 'teachers,' and we deliver 700 conservation-based wildlife shows each year to schools, libraries, churches and private events throughout Texas.”
Q. What’s a typical day like for you?
A. “We have long days here at Zooniversity. Today, we were up at 4 A.M., loading some of our animal teachers into travel carriers to make an hour-long trip to a rural school in Central Texas. We also give special intensive care to new rescues. This week, it's four Virginia opossums whose mother was hit by a car. Last week, it was a blind, anorexic gecko whose 10-year-old owner was misinformed on gecko care. We've also nursed joey wallabies, prairie dog pups and unwanted exotic pets. In between, we deal with the daily unglamorous responsibilities of running a business. We always do a postmidnight check on the animals before we call it a day. Days off? Rarely. Vacations? Unheard of.”
Q. And what’s an average day like for Teddy Bear?
A. “Teddy Bear only teaches at our large, stage-style events, and his schedule is monitored so that he has rest days between shows. Although he is technically nocturnal, Teddy will spend parts of the day awake, investigating his enclosure, visiting with his keepers and (of course) eating. He loves to climb, naps perched in his tree and investigates visitors. When teaching, he nibbles on slices of sweet potato while 'talking' into the microphone. He is not frightened by laughter or applause, and seems to consider the travel and destinations as interesting enrichment.”
Q. Teddy Bear seems really friendly. Is this unusual for a porcupine?
A. “Teddy Bear will turn 9 years old this June. He was an orphan whose wild mama gave birth to him in a rancher's barn in West Texas. Teddy came to us at 3 days old. He was a rehab challenge — he had massive peritonitis from an infection caused by a retained umbilical cord, and he struggled to maintain weight for the first 2 months. He eventually rallied and grew into a strapping, 18-pound big boy porcupine. He is 100 percent imprinted on humans — he has never seen another porcupine. He exhibits natural porcupine behaviors, but his vocalizations are more frequent and demonstrative, probably because he hears us vocalizing.”
Q. We know he loves corn. Any other favorites?
A. “Corn is not actually part of Teddy's daily diet. The sugar content is too high, so it's only an occasional reward. He obviously loves it — and vocalizes more when gorging on his favorite snack. His other favorites are dandelion greens, sweet potatoes and Greenies [the canine treat].”
Q. What gave you the idea to record these adorable Teddy videos?
A. “My daughter bought me a digital video recorder, and I finally broke down and recorded a few of our animals for fun. I stuck the videos on YouTube and forgot about them. Six months later, I awoke one morning to find 600 emails in my inbox and three phone messages from major TV networks. Someone, somewhere, saw the "Teddy Bear, the Porcupine, Doesn't Like to Share" video, posted a link on a viral video website and it took off! His combined videos are now approaching 3 million views. Fans demanded a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and they literally expect a new video with each holiday!
Of course, Teddy isn't always cooperative for the shoots. He can be a rather testy celebrity. His first video was a viral hit on the third attempt — some of the later videos took 40 to 50 attempts to capture Teddy looking and sounding cute.”
Q. Do you have other star animals at Zooniversity?
A. “Our most popular animals, besides Teddy, are Tasha the fennec fox and Sid, a two-toed sloth, but they're not video stars . . . yet.”