“My favorite animals are the baby skunks,” says Joanna Wauhop (Wa-hop), owner, with her husband, Mike, of ZooPro Adventures, based in Virginia Beach. “They have no smell, of course,” she adds. Mike is partial to snakes and once had 30 of them in his private collection. The Wauhops have been showcasing a variety of animals for educational purposes since 2006.
Both Mike and Joanna grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Mike’s degree is in biology; Joanna has a business degree. A zookeeper job at the Virginia Zoo brought them to this area. Mike worked there for 15 years, while Joanna was an at-home mom for their two children. After overseeing the improvements, growth and expansion at the zoo, Mike was ready to move on. “He had always wanted his own business,” Joanna says. Mike’s brother, Trapper Dan, owns ZooPro Wildlife Removal (featured in the Oyster Pointer November 2017). ZooPro Adventures joined him under the “ZooPro” umbrella.
“Our primary goal is education,” says Joanna. Programs are given in schools, and they can be tailored to meet Standards of Learning (SOL) objectives. “We work with the teachers,” Joanna says. “We also go to festivals, fairs, picnics, corporate events, camps, birthday parties, ball parks. We work with the Scouts. Programs are held in libraries and day-care facilities. We especially want to encourage and sustain the curiosity and interest of the children. We are also promoting conservation.” Adults are interested too. Dads come to events with their children. “We once brought our animals to a 45th birthday party,” Joanna adds.
ZooPro owns 50–75 animals, counting hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. “None is very large or dangerous,” says Joanna. There are birds and reptiles (including frogs, alligators, lizards, snakes and tortoises). Mammals include skunks, opossums and hedgehogs.
Some animals are endangered and require special permits. “We get calls from people wanting to get rid of animals,” Joanna continues. “Sometimes it’s a bird that is too noisy. Or, an animal has grown too large. Nocturnal animals don’t make good pets. They sleep during the day when the child wants to play, and then are too noisy at night.” Owning alligators is illegal.
ZooPro owns a mobile exhibit with approximately 25 animals. The interior has a rainforest décor. The animals are in closed quarters and for display only. Children walk through. The reptiles travel best (mammals not as well). ZooPro has traveled to Roanoke, northern Virginia and North Carolina. Generally, however, they stay busy enough with local business.
“Taking care of all of these animals isn’t easy,” says Joanna. The cost is enormous. Veterinarian bills are very high. Proper diets and habitats must be maintained. ZooPro doesn’t use donated food. “We go through 1,000 mice a month for the birds of prey and snakes. Lizards like crickets,” says Joanna.
There is a lot of paperwork. Joanna serves as office manager and handles insurance and licensing. Watchdog agencies include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Department of Game and Fish. “There are a lot of annual reports,” says Joanna. “We are definitely held accountable. We are subject to surprise inspections. We maintain a good relationship with PETA. They are in our backyard.” The paperwork keeps Joanna in the office, but she helps out wherever needed. There are two other important employees: KJ Meyer II, supervisor of animal programs and JB Bean, animal care supervisor.
At fairs and festivals, ZooPro Adventures is the most popular exhibit, with long lines. Boys generally favor reptiles; girls favor mammals. “We encourage appropriate handling and touching of the animals,” says Joanna. “I remind everyone that any creature with a mouth will bite!”
At home the Wauhops have only a dog. However, two 50-pound tortoises live in the backyard. “It is surprising how much personality they have,” she says with a smile.
The Wauhops enjoy seeing the excitement of the children and families having fun together. “It is a pleasure to be able to provide this service to the community,” Joanna says.
TO THE POINT
Address: 553 Lynn Shores Dr.,
Virginia Beach, VA 23466
Owners: Mike and Joanna Wauhop