Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 56

A LIFETIME OF CARE FOR CREATURES

BIG Guy, BIG Animals
Wildlife biologist Justin McVey loves working with critters-the larger, the better.

By NANCY HENDERSON | Photos courtesy of JUSTIN MCVEY

U

Justin McVey, here at work with cubs as part of an N.C.
State/N.C. Wildlife Commission project, talks about bears:
"They're super-adaptable and really smart. If there's a bear in
a habitat with a lot of people, it learns where the food sources
are and how to get into a trash can readily."

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BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

nsure of the direction his career should take but
thinking he might make a good animal keeper,
new college graduate Justin McVey began applying for jobs. Two facilities-the Dallas Zoo and
the Kangaroo Conservation Center, a wildlife
refuge for Australian critters in Dawsonville,
Georgia-called him for face-to-face interviews.
After meeting with the owners at the Kangaroo Conservation Center, they asked if he wanted to help catch some
joeys (baby kangaroos).
"I was gung-ho and thought that was super cool," recalls
McVey, 41, a wildlife biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission near Asheville. "I was really supposed to stand in this one place and kind of corral the joeys
to go toward one of the other keepers. And I jokingly asked,
'What do I do if the thing comes toward me?' And they said,
'Grab it by the tail.'
"None of us thought that would ever happen, but sure
enough, a joey is coming right at me, I dive out, grab it by
the tail. I got grass stains all over my pants and I came up
with this joey," he says, laughing. "And I'm thinking, 'I better get this job. I just showed you I can catch a kangaroo.'"
Growing up in King, North Carolina, just north of Winston-Salem, McVey took to the woods-and all types of animals. He was still in high school when he got his foot in the
door at a local veterinary office, first as the janitor and later
in the kennel, taking the dogs' temperatures, administering
vaccines and performing other tasks.
"I was just trying to make a name for myself," he says.
"For an 18-year-old kid to have that dedication was something else, but it paid off."
When it was time for college, McVey asked his mentors at the vet clinic for advice about a major. Their suggestion-zoology, which could lead to many different careers-
turned out to be the right one.
After graduating from N.C. State in Raleigh, McVey briefly labored as a machinist before moving to north Georgia in
early 2001 for his new job with the Kangaroo Conservation
Center in the Blue Ridge foothills, where he did everything
from preparing the marsupials' meals to maintaining the
buildings and leading public tours. He especially enjoyed
interacting with the 'roos, feeding them peanut butter sandwiches with vitamins and medicines tucked inside.


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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020

Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 6
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 8
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 9
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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 18
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 19
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 20
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 22
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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 27
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 31
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Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 66
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover4
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