October 24, 2013 Updated: October 24, 2013 at 6:22 pm
Skunks often get a bad rap. They stink. They're an easy target for cars. Nobody wants to be their friend.
Tiger Lilly pooh-poohs such stereotypes. The 8-year-old skunk is the sweetheart of The Loft, an animal outreach and education center at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
"She's the most personable skunk you'll ever meet. She's pretty fantastic," said Jenny Diaz, an education interpretive keeper.
Tiger Lilly, along with the 40 or so other displaced animals that have found a second home at the zoo's education center, also have a big job.
"They meet people and teach kids and adults about animals in their backyard and help them learn without fear," Diaz said.
On Thursday, Tiger Lilly and her friend, Poe, a black raven, were gearing up for work this weekend. They're the stars of a show being presented during Boo at the Zoo.
The annual event is the nonprofit organization's biggest fundraiser that draws some 16,000 people for trick-or-treating and special Halloween programs.
Tiger Lilly will demonstrate how easy it is to be green by scooting a plastic water bottle into a recycling bin. Poe will help Diaz, dressed as a witch, brew a special potion - a pesticide - which gets rolled into a lesson about natural bug zappers and protecting wild animals and their habitats.
The show, "Cauldrons for Conservation," will be presented at 5:25, 6:25, 7:25 p.m. Oct. 25-27 and on Halloween at the zoo's Lodge at Moose Lake.
Diaz, a Rampart High School graduate and wildlife biologist, works with the animals daily, training them to perform.
"They love being on stage. It's where they get treats and lots of attention," she said.
Each and every one - snakes, black widow spiders, Madagascar cockroaches, prairie dogs and leopard geckos - entertains, educates and delights zoo visitors in The Loft. They also go on road shows to nursing homes, schools, birthday parties and summer festivals.
"We've even gone to weddings and the rodeo," Diaz said.
Some - rats, ferrets and Mister, a 23-year-old parrot who periodically screeches and even Tiger Lilly - used to be pets.
That leads Diaz to dole out this advice: "Choose your pets wisely."
"We have a Burmese python, and we tell people while they're cute when they're small, he needs his own room when he's full grown," she said.
And it's illegal to keep a skunk as a pet in Colorado.
"When Lilly came to us, she was so overweight she couldn't walk," Diaz said.
Other critters who live at The Loft are genetic misfits. A boreal toad, for example, has a bad case of scoliosis. Hoosier, the barn owl, was hand-raised and too tame for the wild.
Tiger Lilly, who has been de-scented, has free reign of the place and gets a naughty streak when there's a whiff of food in the air.
She's been known to steal salad from the red-footed tortoises, Tanya and Timmy. She also opens the refrigerator to sneak treats - a self-taught maneuver .
"She's the star of this building. People come in here looking just for her," Diaz said.
But it was the cockroaches that were a hit Thursday for a group of toddlers in the zoo's "First Adventures in Nature" program.
Two-year-old Quinn Hall gently petted one that Diaz held out in her palm.
"She's never seen a cockroach before, but she touched it and wasn't afraid," said her mom, Shannon. "It's good for her to learn they're not scary."