It’s not uncommon to spot Jenna Forrester spending her lunch break inside the lemur cage with an armful of bananas and biscuits.
“They like the biscuits soaked in PowerAde,” says Forrester, animal-department manager at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. “It’s got a good flavor and makes it easier for the babies to chew.”
As Forrester raises a banana into the air — three cases of which Sweetbay Supermarket donated to the gardens over the weekend — the lemurs engulf her.
“Ringo and Paula are both in their 20s and had twins, Yoko and Ono, in March,” Forrester says. “Usually, their lifespan is 25 years in captivity, so the fact that they’re still having healthy offspring is pretty amazing.”
Although she’s partial to primates, Forrester also has a soft spot for birds. She has formed such rapid attachments that the birds allow her to hold them in her arms like a baby and rub their bellies.
Forrester grew up in Homestead with any animal she could adopt or rescue — horses, goats, iguanas, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, cats and dogs.
“My favorite thing about Jungle Gardens is that the majority of animals are donated,” Forrester said. “We’re making a positive difference in their lives.”
She started working for Jungle Gardens three years ago as an animal keeper and worked her way up to the bird and mammal curator and, finally, animal department manager.
“I enjoy the department, the changes I can make and having more leeway to make changes and bring in my ideas,” Forrester said. “I don’t even consider it work, and the customers always bring a smile to my face.”
Yet one can never be fully prepared for off-the-wall questions often asked by visitors.
Said Forrester: “I was in the alligator enclosure with a bamboo pole and a hose when this lady asked, ‘Ma’am, is that real?’ Another time I was holding a baby gator and someone said, ‘Will she grow up to be an alligator?’”
When entering the alligator and crocodile enclosures, Forrester always goes in with a plan.
“We do everything safely, but it’s dangerous because I’m never completely comfortable and often on edge,” Forrester said. “The day I get that comfortable with them will be the day I stop doing what I do.”
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