Originally founded in 2004, our organization early-on focused mostly on community education (especially in-school curriculum enrichment) based around live-animal presentations: our Wildlife Encounters® shows! Programs and classes delivered by highly skilled& passionate educators and presenters (see profiles below) feature a wide variety of non-releasable wildlife that live with us because they were:

  • Injured in the wild and not able to survive independently
  • exploited by the illegal trade in wildlife and placed with us by authorities
  • abandoned, abused, neglected or otherwise surrendered former pets
  • captive-bred in a US-based protected environment to participate in public education & species/biodiversity conservation efforts.

The Wildlife Encounters Ecology Center & Farm School is a family & employee-run, community-focused educational organization that is legally operating as a tax-paying limited liability corporation.  Facilities in Rochester, NH are not generally open to the public but may be during certain seasons by appointment.  That location is licensed, permitted and regularly visited and/or inspected by: the City of Rochester, Rochester PD/Animal Control, NH Fish & Game, NH Department of Agriculture, USDA and US Fisheries & Wildlife.

Please note: The Wildlife Encounters Ecology Center is not a zoo or production breeding facility. The owner and some staff are however professional members of various zoological, wildlife and conservation entities and many have degrees in biology, ecology, sustainable agriculture, conservation and more!

With regard to reproduction, propagation & breeding.   The most fundamental biological mandate of all living things is to reproduce and pass on it’s genetic traits.  It is the root of all biological desires and behaviors, and the most natural “right” of all things to pursue in the attempt to ensure the survival of it’s species.

Though we do not currently participate in any of the conservation efforts (AMP/SSP) for captive propagation of endangered species or domesticated farm animals, we do support and advocate for them so long as they are conducted ethically and as naturally as possible. Furthermore, we fundamentally disagree with and strongly oppose the efforts by small ideologically-driven segments of society to deprive domestic and wild animals and plants of their reproductive rights – and further oppose their long term agenda of domestic animal extinction and exclusion of animals from human society.

We support and/or are members of a number of “zoological and conservation industry” entities such as: the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA), the Feline Conservation Federation (FCF), the Green Alliance (GA), the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and many more!

Our outreach programs are offered in all New England states.

We believe that public education, and a resulting change in human and societal behaviors and practices, are key to the objective of living environmentally and personally responsible lives that will help conserve and protect global biodiversity.

Our philosophy, morality, conduct and messages focus on communicating the interdependent relationship between our three core mission components: Animals, People and Earth.

Our current Rochester, NH facilities of 18 years… featuring indoor and outdoor habitats and approx 3000 square feet under roof – continues to support our Ambassador Animals and outreach educational services.

  • Licensed and inspected by USDA, US Fisheries & Wildlife, and NH Fish & Game

However, in the summer of 2017 we secured the preservation of the historic 77 acre Swain family farmstead formerly known as “Highland Farm” in Barrington, NH.  This is referred to as the “Ecology Center & Farm School”, which we envision developing into a unique science and nature-based community education center here in the NH Seacoast region!

  • 2020 Form W-9 PDF
  • 2020/21 USDA License for Facility Inspections and Compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.    HERE
  • Proof of Liability, Auto or Workman’s Comp Insurance – Provided with all contracts upon request.

*Requests for customers, hosting entities or venues to be added as “Additional Insured” Parties, may be done at no charge, but requests must be submitted in writing/email – with the exact entity name(s) and address(es) as they are required to appear on the binder, NO LESS THEN 2 WEEKS IN ADVANCE of the required administrative deadline or service delivery date.


    1. Wildlife Encounters® Logo Banner with animals – for community outreach program advertising  
    2. Wildlife Encounters Ecology Center & Farm School – official entity logo    

The Team

Derek Small – Founder, Director & Environmental Educator

Derek was raised on a family farm in Maine, and attained a B.S. of Education in Physiology, Health & Nutrition from Plymouth State University. Once the Fitness Director of the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club and then later a successful Personal Trainer in Manhattan… Derek’s life and career took a turn toward environmental conservation & public education through working with live animals in 2002.
For more than a decade since, through formal and informal schooling, Derek has diversified his knowledge and his message strongly into areas that span not only wildlife, ecology and biological sciences… but land stewardship, energy & food production and more! In 2010 he was introduced to the concepts of “ancestral health” and bio-mimicry which have since blended with his existing foundation into a philosophy that guides the Wildlife Encounters Ecology Center & Farm School on a path (and a goal) to effect major change for the benefit of Animals, People & Earth!

Derek been delivering live-animal educational programming in New England for 18 years. Well known for his presentations in the educational community as well as the more “for fun” venues, he is also well regarded in the professional environmental education community.

Professional Member: Zoological Association of America (ZAA)
Member of the ZAA Education Committee
Past Board Secretary & Legislative Chair: Association of Professional Wildlife Educators (APWE)
Certified Member: Feline Conservation Federation (FCF)
Member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA)
Consultant to Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

Jennifer Gibbs – Outreach Programs Office Manager,  Environmental Educator & Co-Owner

Resident of Rochester, NH

Jennifer has always had a love for animals since childhood when she would spend her weekends with her Papa at Benson’s Animal Farm. For the past 28 years, Jennifer was employed as a Patient Care Coordinator in the medical field.

Upon buying a home next door to Wildlife Encounters with her husband and two children in 2012, it wasn’t long before she started volunteering to clean animal enclosures and accompanying Derek to presentations and educational exhibits. After several years of self-study, in house training and working with our Ambassadors… Jennifer progressed from volunteer, to Wildlife Educator and currently to one of 2 full-time staff, working also as Outreach Programming Manager!

Although she is passionate about all of the animals we call her the “bird Mom”. Overcoming her fear of birds wasn’t easy but after doing a lot of research on bird behavior and seeking the advice of some parrot specialists in Florida her confidence in working with them and understanding them has truly grown. Jennifer has made a particular bond with “Big Bird”, a 10-year old cockatoo that Wildlife Encounters took in after a particularly difficult first years in an abuse and neglect situation and has nursed him into a beautiful and more confident bird.

Today Jenn is our Outreach Programming Manager.  For our school and community outreach program customers, she is the voice on the phone and the hands behind the emails!  The majority of the day she spends at the desk, so she REALLY appreciates the opportunity to get out and deliver a program, and see the looks on the kids faces as they meet the ambassadors and “get the message” Jenn shares with them!  Her greatest reward, is when she sees that child again and they remember something she taught them!!

Drew Stazesky – Animal Care Supervisor & Environmental Educator

Resident of Milton, NH

Drew is a native New Yorker, having grown up in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from a private high school in 2012, she went on to attend UNH where she graduated in May of 2016 with a BS in Environmental Conservation & Sustainability. While at UNH she volunteered with the UNH Therapeutic Riding program, was a leader for an after school science program known as “Science Friday’s”, and was an active member of the Native American Cultural Association.
The summer after graduating UNH, Drew worked as an educator at her local zoo in Brooklyn (The Prospect Park Zoo), where she gained lots of experience with formal, classroom oriented conservation and wildlife education.
Drew has always been an avid animal lover, and has been lucky enough to travel to Africa twice! The most recent time was in 2015, where she was in Botswana for 3 months studying wildlife population fluctuations. Her favorite animals include cats (she has 3) and horses (she spent the winter of 2016 as an assistant barn manager & is an avid equestrian). She appreciates all life and the role it plays in the environment around it.
Drew is excited to work with Wildlife Encounters and the opportunity to teach others about the wonders of the natural world and the importance of its conservation!

Today she splits her time with us pretty evenly between program delivery (she especially finds reward in working with intensive needs groups) and working in-house at the Ecology Center’s facilities making sure the animals’ “down time” is comfortable and all their needs are met!

Jean Cumings – Animal Behavior Enrichment Coordinator & Environmental Educator

Resident of Strafford, NH

Jean Cumings has spent her life studying, caring for and teaching about animals. Growing up on a dairy farm, she graduated from U Mass, Amherst with a  BS in  Natural Resource Studies.  She taught middle and high school biology and zoology for over 30 years and has spent countless hours volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation and educational facilities.

She loves to travel, photograph and observe wildlife in the US and other countries  including Panama, Thailand, the Galápagos Islands, Australia and most recently Tanzania.  Just a few of her favorite experiences involved fostering a black bear cub, helping protect sea turtle nesting beaches and releasing hatchlings and swimming with whale sharks.

She currently volunteers at the Center for Wildlife in Southern Maine, and hopes to continue to learn how to care for a variety of injured or orphaned animals!

Today she splits her time with us between program delivery (she is especially rewarded with the jobs where we are a special guest lecturer at the assisted living facilities and nursing homes) and her passion for enrichment!   None of us come even close to the creativity Jean brings to making sure the Ambassador Animals have visually and sensory stimulating and engaging things to do and eat during their “down time” at the Ecology Center’s USDA licensed wildlife sanctuary!

Krista Butts – Environmental Educator

Krista Rheinhardt Butts graduated from Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA) in 1996 with a BS in Biology. In college, she earned a Dean’s List acknowledgement, was a member of the Biology Honor Society, Beta Beta Beta, and was listed in the “Who’s Who of College Students”. She interned at the NH Department of Agriculture in the Entomology Division, then received her MS in Management & Organization from Antioch New England Graduate School in 2003. Starting out her career working as a Naturalist at Knights Hill Nature Park in New London she then progressed to the Audubon Society in Concord, NH. Her career transitioned into a 15 year period as Project Engineer for what is now Graham Packaging and Plastics Forming Enterprises. Since having children, Krista was employed as the Business Operations Manager at PLAY!, a childrens’ indoor playspace. Krista has now, happily, made the move back into her biology roots for her career choice and has enjoyed working for Wildlife Encounters since August of 2013 as a Wildlife Educator. Krista is married with three boys. In her free time she enjoys, hiking, camping, and being outdoors with her family.

Faith Dittmar – Environmental Educator

Resident of Farmington, NH

bio coming soon

Virginia (Ginny) Hahn – Environmental Educator

Resident of Somersworth, NH

Ginny became interested in educating with our ambassador animals after seeing Wildlife Encounters present at the school she teaches 7th grade math in.  Growing up with a dog and a guinea pig, she led bike tours throughout college to help kids learn about the outdoors.  She has worked with horses for over 20 years, as she was raising her daughter, and was selected to travel to Puget Sound to work on Orca Whale research.  She is excited to teach everyone the differences between a hedgehog and a porcupine, and much more!

Rick Gibbs – Environmental Educator

Resident of Rochester, NH

Rick is Jennifer’s husband, and a key part of the “Penn & Teller-style” presentations they deliver every summer at Salmon Falls / Lebanon KOA (formerly Flat Rock Bridge Campground), and other locations. Rick enjoys participating in the more relaxed setting of our Exhibit Services where we interact with and educate the public more one-on-one. You will most likely find him a distance from our exhibit tent – following a giant tortoise!

When not out teaching with his wife, or at his “real job”, Rick spends time lending a helping had with anything he can from organization & preparation to grounds maintenance!

Meghan Fernandes – Environmental Educator  (Picture coming)

Resident of Hampstead, NH

Meghan is a science teacher in the Salem, NH School District.

A more complete profile is coming soon.

Jessica Reid – Animal Care  (Picture coming)

Resident of Nottingham, NH

Jess came to know Wildlife Encounters programs first as a customer, hiring our programs for delivery before students at NH Technical Institute in Concord, NH.

Today Jess is a full time mom, and reduces her stress by helping provide excellent care and enrichment for our ambassador animals!   You will likely not see Jess out in the classroom or community – but as all of our team give, her time, hard work and dedication to hours “behind the scenes” are why everyone always comment how happy and healthy our Ambassador Animals are!

Riley Small – Volunteer, Tour Assistant & Junior Educator

Riley is a very experienced volunteer and skilled young educator. As our Director’s youngest daughter, she has grown up with the staff and the animals as a part of her everyday life.

Basically able to “do it all”, you may see her supporting tours, assisting in outreach programs, helping to groom and care for certain animals. The only thing you might not find her doing is cleaning poop, lol.