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These volunteers are working to save small mammals in our neighborhoods

Wildlife Welfare rehabbers save about 1,000 animals, including baby squirrels, each year.
Wildlife Welfare rehabbers save about 1,000 animals, including baby squirrels, each year.

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A motherless baby squirrel. An opossum with a broken leg. An injured rabbit too weak to hop.

Encounters with wildlife can lead to difficult choices: Do I walk away and let nature take its course or try to help the frightened animal and risk making the situation worse?

Wildlife Welfare has a better option. By tapping into its network of trained rehabilitation experts, help is just a phone call away.

Wildlife Welfare specializes in helping small mammals, such as chipmunks, flying squirrels, possums and rabbits, except for those that could potentially carry rabies, such as foxes and raccoons, said Tricia Hoover, one of a handful of volunteers who started the organization back in 1991.

Hoover said her group initially formed to raise money to build a center for wildlife rehabilitation, but over time found that working with a network of volunteers is more efficient.

“We now have rehabbers in about seven counties surrounding the Raleigh/Durham area,” she said. “We not only care for the animals, but we provide training and assign mentors, which allows new rehabbers a chance to work with and under an experienced rehabber.”

Wildlife Welfare’s trained rehab volunteers care for animals that are orphaned, starving, dehydrated, in pain, poisoned, injured or otherwise sick. They often come in multiples, such as when a mother opossum is hit by a car, leaving three babies too young to fend for themselves.

“We make every effort to regroup young orphaned babies with new siblings of their own age and species so that they have the socialization skills with their own kind, which will lessen the chances of being imprinted on by humans,” Hoover said.

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Opossums are North America’s only native marsupial and can eat up to 5,000 fleas a day. Wildlife Welfare tries to keep opossum siblings together. Courtesy of Wildlife Welfare

The organization’s highly trained wildlife rehabilitation specialists are key to Wildlife Welfare’s 95 percent success rate. Handling and treating wild animals take special skills.

“For the public to take matters in their own hands without our help usually causes more harm to the animal than good,” Hoover added.

One of the unusual things about the organization is the size of its payroll: $0.

“We have very low overhead and no paid employees, so every dollar is spent on medical care, food, formulas, supplies and training materials,” Hoover added.

Volunteers who don’t have the time or space to serve as in-home rehabbers take on other chores, such as transporting animals to release locations or for veterinary visits, building outdoor boxes and other housing structures, and release cages for rehabilitated animals. Some also take on clerical and other administrative chores.

Though the organization members know they can’t save every injured squirrel or chipmunk, they give approximately 1,000 animals each year a second chance.

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Donations help buy formula for the baby animals. Courtesy of Wildlife Welfare

Christine Rosario is a volunteer rehab provider who got her license after she found an injured squirrel and got in touch with Wildlife Welfare.

After the squirrel was rehabilitated and released successfully back into the wild, she decided to undergo training with the organization. She passed the state’s wildlife rehabilitation examination and now helps animals at her own home, as well as serves as a mentor for other trainees.

Spring and summer are the busiest months for the volunteers, but the activity continues year-round, especially wherever land is being redeveloped.

“We often get calls from the public that start out with: They’re building new condos in my neighborhood and I found an animal,” she added.

When trees are felled and underbrush cleared, animal homes are frequent casualties. When a nest is destroyed, young babies may be separated from their parents permanently and must be fed by hand.

“I have two opossums right now that will be ready for release soon,” Rosario said

In case you are wondering, opossums are North America’s only native marsupial and can eat up to 5,000 fleas a day – plus other cleanup duties.

The babies are fed up to six times a day on a regimented feeding schedule, Rosario explained.

“The very young ones can’t maintain their body temperature on their own, so we keep them warm with heating pads. We track our progress in a log that we keep for our records.”

As they start to mature, animals receive less and less contact with humans to prepare them for re-entry to the wild.

If this seems a lot of trouble to take for a small wild mammal that has a relatively short lifespan in suburban and urban settings, Rosario and the other Wildlife Welfare volunteers are convinced the effort is worth it.

“There’s nothing quite like raising an injured squirrel back to health, and when you release him, seeing him climb right up the nearest tree,” she said. “It’s a magical moment to see him do what a healthy squirrel is supposed to do.

Wildlife Welfare

P.O. Box 19432 Raleigh NC 27619

wildlifewelfare.org

Contact: Tricia Hoover, 919-741-0718 or contact@wildlifewelfare.org

Wildlife Information Hotline: 919-387-1662

Donations: Supplies such as 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch hardware cloth, baby receiving blankets or cloth diapers, good quality Timothy or Alfalfa hay, SnuggleSafe heat pads, large cages.

$10 would buy formula to feed the baby animals, produce for the rabbits, fleece for bedding, heating pads and other care equipment.

$20 would buy wood to build a nest box or tub for housing animals or a set of feeding dishes and a water bottle.

$50 would pay for materials to build a release cage or X-rays for an injured animal.

Volunteers: Wildlife Welfare needs people who can build squirrel boxes (they supply the plans) and animal transporters willing to pick up and drive injured or orphaned babies to rehabbers in our area or transport animals between rehabbers.

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