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Headwaters Science Center's famed rabbit to hop into retirement

Orion, a bunny whose No. 1 job at the Headwaters Science Center is to look cute, will retire later this month.

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Orion, a rabbit that has served as an educational animal at Bemidji’s Headwaters Science Center for years, will soon be retiring from his role.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — A beloved and furry community figure has announced his retirement.

Orion, a rabbit that has served as an educational animal at Bemidji’s Headwaters Science Center for years, will be stepping — or hopping — down from his role and will soon be moving to a private home.

A soft-spoken bunny, Orion joined the science center’s team five years ago after having previously been a pet at a daycare. Since then he has worked diligently helping children of all ages learn about mammals.

“He works seven days a week,” said Executive Director Lee Furuseth. “This is the only job he’s ever known.”

The Headwaters Science Center hosts and cares for many different animals in addition to rabbits, with displays for reptiles, fish, birds and even insects, each working to help children learn about science and nature.

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Many of these animals are available for children to touch and hold under supervision.

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Hucksen Spencer, 1, visits Orion on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Headwaters Science Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

As for the bunny, Orion is known for his patience and calm demeanor, letting children pet him without any complaints while they learn about rabbits and how to interact with them.

“He’s very patient,” Furuseth said. “He’s quite calm and just sits on his stool and lets children pet him.”

One of the many things children can learn when they visit Orion and the other rabbits at the center, is the difference between wild and domesticated rabbits.

Orion is a Holland Lop, a domesticated breed that is easily distinguished from wild rabbits by their floppy ears, flattened noses and multicolored fur.

“Those traits wouldn’t serve him well in the wild,” Furuseth said.

Furuseth explained that for many young children Orion is an easy first animal to introduce them to since he’s small, relaxed and the opposite of intimidating.

“To look cute is the No. 1 job,” Furuseth said. “He works really hard at that.”

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Orion sits on his usual stool on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Headwaters Science Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Science center employee and educator James Owens recalled the first time the staff met Orion and how they immediately knew he was a bunny perfectly suited for a job as an educational animal.

“This rabbit kind of snuggled in (when we held him),” Owens said. “We all just instantly agreed this is a fabulous rabbit.”

With Orion retiring, the center has acquired two new rabbits that are currently being trained in to take his place as educational animals.

“It’s going to take two of them to pull it off,” Furuseth joked.

A quiet retirement

Now entering his golden years at age 7, Orion is looking forward to transitioning into a quieter life. As much as he’s enjoyed his time at the science center, it’s agreed that it's best he spend his last few years in a less chaotic environment.

“I think he’s looking forward to ‘less of,'" Furuseth said, “less noise, less people.”

Orion has also begun to show some small signs of his age, and the staff at the center want him to retire while he’s still healthy and happy.

“When you see an animal every day, you can watch how they change,” Owens said. “He’s got more white in his fur, things like that.”

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While the plan doesn’t have a set date yet, Orion is expected to move in with a family in the coming weeks. The move will be a change from his usual life, but Furuseth hopes that it’s one the rabbit will be able to transition into comfortably.

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Orion is put back in his home by Executive Director Lee Furuseth on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Headwaters Science Center.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“Animals become very routine,” Furuseth said. “Hopefully it goes right back to routine.”

As for the science center, Orion’s hoppy presence will be missed by employees and guests alike.

“There are guests that will come this summer and ask ‘Where’s Orion?’” Furuseth said. “He’s going to be missed.”

When those questions are asked a few months from now, Orion will hopefully be living in a comfortable and quiet home, enjoying his time and well-earned retirement.

Related Topics: SCIENCE AND NATURE
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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