CENTRAL TEXAS (KXAN) – Tucked away in the Texas Hill Country is Alveus Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization where emus, cows, foxes, and chinchillas have delighted audiences for more than two years. As founder Maya Higa works to educate the public on animal conservation needs, she’s tapped into social media to expand her audience and help people see the humanity in exotic animals.

Along with its role as an animal sanctuary, Alveus serves as a virtual education center, streaming animals on Twitch to teach the public more about these exotic species and environmental dangers facing them.

Higa’s background is rooted in wildlife work, having grown up on a small farm in California before studying agriculture in college. In April 2019, she began streaming on Twitch a red tailed hawk she was rehabilitating. That was the spark that attracted audiences and inspired Alveus Sanctuary, she said.

“I learned that model of people falling in love with an individual animal and then caring about their species and planet,” she said.

With Twitch, she said she was able to tap into a demographic of people who might not otherwise have been exposed to environmental conservation. That led to a global outreach where thousands tune in at any given time to watch the animals in their sanctuary habitat, or to learn more from one of Higa’s educational lessons.

Some of the animals living at Alveus include emus, parrots, cows, chinchillas, reptiles, foxes, crows and marmosets — just to name a few, Higa said. Many of the animals are dubbed “ambassadors” for various causes, such as emus representing the exotic meat trade or parrots with the illegal pet trade.

How did the animals get to Alveus Sanctuary?

Each animal comes from a different circumstance that led them to Alveus. Some came as rescue or neglect cases, while others are wild animals who are unable to be released due to a variety of issues.

Some came with injuries, while others were retrieved from overstock zoos. Higa said her hope is that people can be more mindful of the various threats posed against these animals, while realizing conservation efforts are issues that impact everyone.

“Conservation is a global fight,” she said. “The more people we have fighting it, the better our planet is going to be. And the more people that we have that care about species, the more people are going to worry about the decisions they make.”

While Higa acknowledged the mixed bag that comes with creating digital content and working on social media, she said it’s been inspiring to see the number of younger people learning about these issues at an early age.

Not everyone might know that 33% of amphibians are at risk, or it takes 125 chinchillas to make a single fur coat. But knowledge is power, she said, and that education puts young people in a position to make a difference.

“If they knew, they would care, because they love these animals,” she said. “And so my job is to be that bridge and teach people.”

You can find Alveus Sanctuary on Twitch, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. More information about Alveus Sanctuary, including how to donate, is available online.