County needs an urban wildlife center

In previous columns, I have talked about urban wildlife and their lives. These little creatures – opossums, rabbits, squirrels, birds, deer, turtles – are all around us, yet we rarely see or interact with them.

Urban wildlife – they do make us laugh with their antics, give us something to point out to our children and grandchildren, and serve as silent helpers in removing carrion, pests and protecting our gardens. Bird songs acknowledge there is joyous life out there, while opossums clean up ticks and garden insects in an unseen way. Even those sometime pesky squirrels serve to amuse, eat garden pests (yes, they are carnivores) while sometimes serving for other creatures in the food chain.

Now it’s time for our area to move ahead and step up, to recognize how much these creatures do improve our lives. We need a Wildlife Center!

We have veterinarians for our cats and dogs – yet what do we do if we find an injured bird, or baby squirrel fallen from its nest? How do you feed or should we feed an orphan opossum, or a fawn whose mother has been killed? The fact is that we have no such help in place. Vets are mostly not trained or equipped for such wildlife. Animal Control? This is not their mission, nor are they trained to handle much less rehabilitate such creatures which often need special treatment and care. Animal removal services? You already know what sometimes happens to urban wildlife that fall into their hands, despite claims to the contrary…

What would an Urban Wildlife Center do? Simply put, it would serve as a permanent location to call and take injured and orphaned non-domestic wildlife – to raise, or treat and rehabilitate, and, if necessary to euthanize such creatures to end their suffering.

Licensed rehabbers such as myself take baby opossums from the car-struck mother’s pouch and can raise them when they weigh less than half an ounce; squirrels less than half that size can also be treated, reared and released. Debilitated wildlife – caused by the wrong ‘food’ that we put out for them in a misguided attempt to rear them – can be treated so they can return to the wild. A young fawn – many of which should not have been handled in the first place – can be nursed and reared in an environment where it can learn to live on its own. And even the lowly baby squirrel – if you just release, it will invariably die – needs a special “soft release” to allow time to build a stash and live on its own. These are the things a center could handle.

And we would teach! A proper Urban Wildlife Center should do more than simply care for animals, and should do educational programs for pre-school kids, grade- and high school students, and even adults. We could help people understand better the significant role these animals play in our environment and how to better learn to exist.

Cost for such a center? Actually, very little! A one-time cost of $3 per each county resident would pay for the initial startup costs for land, facility, equipment and staff; once operational, it would cost a mere dollar per resident per year to run such a facility. Wouldn’t you be willing to pay this to ensure our valued way of life?

We have vets for domestic animals, and push hard to secure proper habitats for bees and butterflies. We have a Hillsborough board for our trees, and an entire clubs for gardens. None of these will survive without a balanced wildlife interaction. You can’t have one without the other.

This has become so serious that world-wide studies have shown that in fewer than 15 years we will no longer have songbirds in our yards. This will lead to fewer raptors with a loss of food sources. An overpopulation of rodents and plant eating insects and a basic loss of balance. Isn’t it time we step up for our forgotten neighbors?

Linda Ostrand has been a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator for more than 25 years. She can be reached at 919-428-0896.