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Rare ocelot helps publicize Fragile Planet Wildlife Center


ALEXANDRIA BAY — The cool cat, with an eye-popping pattern of dark spots and stripes over a golden coat, often prowls Scenic Park.

Ocelots are strongly nocturnal in the wild. But Magic always makes a scene in broad daylight.

The 2-year-old and 26-pound Magic is the face of Fragile Planet Wildlife Center on Bailey Settlement Road, just outside the village.

He can’t help but to attract attention as he goes about his business on public outings.

That’s satisfying for Nicholas E. Stacey and Tyler C. Thomas, co-founders of Fragile Planet. Magic is always on a leash on his outings, but Mr. Thomas and Mr. Stacey feel unencumbered with their plans for Fragile Planet.

Their center opened last year and has an array of exotic animals. The center is licensed for wildlife rehabilitation and offers public and school programming.

Mr. Stacey and Mr. Thomas have a passion for animals and their habitats.

“Our focal point is endangered species,” said Mr. Thomas. “We choose that because there is a need now, more than ever, to push conservation.”

Ocelots are mainly found in Central and South America. They are listed as endangered in Texas, the only U.S. state where they can be found. The animals are prized for their silklike fur.

“It takes roughly 200 ocelots to make a single coat and people do it (kill the cats to make fur coats),” Mr. Stacey said.

Mr. Thomas said that wildlife experts estimate there are approximately 100 ocelots in the wild in the U.S.

Magic jump-started the creation of Fragile Planet when he was given to Mr. Thomas and Mr. Stacey last year.

“In New York state, in order to have a certain species of wildlife, you have to do a certain amount of programs and educational things a year,” Mr. Thomas said. “So, that being a requirement, we decided to make something of it.”

Magic was donated as a kitten to the owners of Fragile Planet by Wildlife in Need Inc. out of Charlestown, Ind. The cats cannot be sold or traded across state lines. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

“To get one is rare,” Mr. Thomas said. “The only way to get one is if it is donated to you. There are only a handful or private facilities that breed them.”

Fragile Planet’s ocelot population could see a growth spurt. A few weeks ago, it added a female ocelot, Delilah. Mr. Stacey said in late September that Magic and Delilah had not been introduced to each other yet, but it would happen soon.

“They didn’t grow up together, so they’re not too friendly to each other yet,” he said. “But they can see each other and they can smell each other. It’s a slow acclimation process.”

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Mr. Thomas, a 2005 graduate of Alexandria Central School District, attended Jefferson Community College, where he studied animal management. He said he’s completed all animal management courses, but eventually plans to return to JCC to officially earn his degree. He moved to Oklahoma in 2007, where he met Mr. Stacey, a native of Broken Arrow, Okla., when they worked together at an animal sanctuary.

They moved to Northern New York because Mr. Thomas has a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia that causes his heart to beat extremely fast at times.

“We were working anywhere from 18 to 20 hours a day. It wasn’t doing it for me in that climate,” Mr. Thomas said. “With my heart condition, I wanted to be closer to home and in cooler weather.”

The pair had collected some animals in Oklahoma, mainly a few reptiles and small mammals. Mr. Thomas said his father,, Merritt C. “Charlie” Thomas, and his mother, Julie A. Thomas, suggested he move back north with the animals, as Mr. Thomas’s father had some enclosures and other equipment from when he once had operated a small children’s zoo in Alexandria Bay.

Fragile Planet is operated by the business partners on about an acre of land on Mr. and Mrs. Thomas’s property on Bailey Settlement Road.

The facility is not open to the public.

The pair said they don’t want some of their animals to get used to humans since it is safer for them to stay away from humans when they are released.

“We’re trying to keep the animals wild,” Mr. Stacey said.

Fragile Planet has about 25 animals, ranging from frogs to the ocelot. In a few weeks, the facility plans to take possession of a highly threatened brush-tailed bettong. The animal, a little larger than a mouse, is native to Australia.

“It’s like a miniature kangaroo,” Mr. Thomas said.

The facility has two hawks. One, Granite, was attacked by a great horned owl and went blind in one eye. The other, a Harris’s hawk, is Scout, a former falconry bird.

“People were hunting with him and he caught a prey that was too big and it broke its femur,” Mr. Thomas said.

Because of their injuries, the two hawks are non-releasable.

The center also plans to take possession of a Chinese alligator by the end of the year.

“We’ll be one of under 10 private facilities in the U.S. to get one of these,” Mr. Stacey said.

With more animals, Fragile Planet hopes to eventually move to a larger facility, which might be opened to the public by appointment.

Fragile Planet has eight state and federal wildlife permits, ranging from a New York State wildlife rehabilitator permit to a U.S. Department of Agriculture class A exhibitors permit.

One of Mr. Thomas’s and Mr. Stacey’s goals is to establish a breeding colony of a few select endangered and rare species whose offspring will be utilized in other zoos, sanctuaries and wildlife centers around the nation.

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Fragile Planet gives outreach presentations at schools and community fairs. But not every animal is available for every request.

“We leave everything up to the animals,” Mr. Thomas said. “Just like people, they have bad days when they don’t want to do anything. When people call to book a program, we encourage them to request anything in particular they want, but with the understanding that when that day comes, if an animal doesn’t want to work, it’s not going to be forced to.”

The cost of operating Fragile Planet is funded by the day jobs of its owners. They declined to say where they work, but Fragile Planet’s Facebook page says it’s owned and operated by a professional zookeeper and an animal-enrichment coordinator.

Fragile Planet isn’t a nonprofit organization, so a donation cannot be used as a tax write-off.

“We encourage sponsorships,” Mr. Thomas said. “We’re always thankful for any donation, with the understanding it’s not a tax write-off.”

The two owners of Fragile Planet say they can’t imagine working in any other field.

“I kind of grew up with it,” Mr. Stacey said. “It’s what I feel I can do better than anything else. It’s also what I feel most comfortable doing.”

“With the wildlife rehabilitation, there’s nothing more rewarding than taking something that’s been injured, orphaned or displaced and being able to watch it return to the wild, where it belongs,” Mr. Thomas said. “I love the educational aspect because it’s an important message to send the public. I like seeing people light up and get as excited about it as I do.”

Because of Magic’s protected status, Mr. Thomas said that the law prohibits people from touching the cat at public presentations.

But for crowd interaction, Fragile Planet has a star attraction: an English Lop rabbit. The animals have comically long ears.

Mr. Thomas purchased the rabbit, Moose, to be used in public and school programs.

“We get more excitement out of kids than any other animal when we put the rabbit down on the floor and he comes over and sits his front paws on their lap,” Mr. Thomas said. “And they love playing with those big ears.”

WHAT: Fragile Planet Wildlife Center
WHERE: Bailey Settlement Road, Alexandria Bay. The center is not open to the public.
PRESENTATIONS: The center offers public and school programs.
OF NOTE: The center is hosting a promotion on its Facebook page. With any new “likes” at the end of this month, if Facebook friends explain why they think conservation is important, the center will select a posting and offer a free program for that individual.
ON THE NET: (Facebook link)
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