Local wildlife and the people who care about them have just taken a double hit.
Last week, an injured duckling found on Georgia Street in Tallahassee and then taken to the Quincy Wildlife Rehabilitation Center tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), a highly contagious disease with no cure. St. Francis Wildlife was forced to temporarily stop accepting wild birds in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
This week, North Florida’s oldest and largest wildlife rehabilitation center made the very difficult decision to temporarily stop admitting all animals except rabies vector species (RVS ) – raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats – as they can pose a potential public health and safety concern.
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Our two Tallahassee veterinary partners, Northwood Animal Hospital and Allied Emergency Veterinary Hospital, will temporarily not be accepting any birds or wild animals.
Baby season is booming in North Florida
Each year, St. Francis Wildlife rescues and rehabilitates more than 3,000 injured, orphaned and sick wild animals with the goal of returning each to their natural wild habitat. About 2,000 of them are spring and summer babies.
Our wildlife hospital is currently caring for dozens of orphaned baby gray and flying squirrels (some unwittingly kidnapped), as well as foxes, possums, rabbits, tortoises, gopher tortoises, raccoons, hawks at epaulettes, barred owls, owls and other birds.
Compared to the numbers that usually start rolling in later in April, that’s just a drop in the bucket. But our small team is already overwhelmed, so this spring we had to slow down.
Five months ago our director and wildlife rehabilitator decided to join her husband who works out of state. His predecessor, Teresa Stevenson, agreed to return to St. Francis; she had taken a two-year break to care for her mother in Mexico. Tragically, Teresa never made it; she and her dog died in a car accident on their way to Florida.
Reeling from this shocking loss, over the past five months, St. Francis Wildlife has conducted a nationwide search for experienced wildlife rehabilitators who qualify for the required federal and state wildlife permits and can operate a large hospital for wildlife.
But like many businesses – including some of our favorite local restaurants that have reduced their hours or closed entirely – we still don’t have enough staff. Not enough experienced wildlife professionals to treat zoonotic diseases and concussions, heal broken wings and crushed turtle shells, and raise orphaned babies. At least not enough to properly treat more feral patients than we already have.
So, while we continue to source and interview applicants, we unfortunately have to temporarily halt new admissions before baby season begins.
If you find wildlife in need
St. Francis Wildlife will continue to accept rabies vector species (RVS) – raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. If you find one of these animals, do not take it to Northwood or the Allied Animal Hospital. Call St. Francis 24/7 at 850-627-4151. If it is a displaced baby who can be reunited with his mother, we will help him. If he is injured or sick, we will take care of him. Do not handle any rabies vector, even babies.
If you find other species such as squirrels, opossums, rabbits, deer, turtles, or birds, or just need advice, go to stfranciswildlife.org or call us at 850- 627-4151. Again, Northwood and Allied do not currently accept wildlife. If we determine the animal is in need of a wildlife rehabilitator, we will temporarily refer you to Goose Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.
Noni Beck (no, we’re not related) left her job at St. Francis Wildlife many years ago to run her own wildlife rehabilitation center in Tallahassee. This kind-hearted wildlife lover has agreed to postpone her planned retirement a little longer and allow St. Francis Wildlife to return a few calls to her.
Goose Creek cares for 300 to 500 wildlife each year. Because it would be logistically impossible for them to take the 2,000 animals that St. Francis Wildlife would typically admit this spring and summer, we are working hard to resolve our current staffing crisis. If you bring an animal to them, Goose Creek, like most wildlife rehabilitators, is a non-profit organization and will appreciate your donation.
How you can help
- Don’t try to raise a wild baby; reunite him with his mother. No matter what you read on the internet, raising and releasing a healthy wild baby with the skills it needs to survive is a precise science and can be dangerous. It is also illegal to own most wild animals. But if you take the time to try to reunite a healthy, unharmed baby with its parents, nine times out of ten you will succeed. Learn how to collect baby squirrels, rabbits, fawns, birds and more at www.stfranciswildlife.org/i-found-a-wild-animal or give us a call.
- It is a myth that wildlife will reject their young if you touch them. Most birds have little or no sense of smell. All mammals and birds have a strong instinct to reproduce and ensure the survival of their precious offspring. This wild mama just wants her baby back; she doesn’t care if a smelly human touched her.
- If you find a fawn or rabbit alone, its mother is probably nearby. She watches over her scentless baby from a safe distance so that her movements and smell do not attract attention. She returns to nurse a few times a day when the way is clear.
- There are no orphan turtles. The female turtles lay their eggs and leave. Babies are alone as soon as they hatch. If you find an uninjured small turtle, leave it alone. Don’t move it; his natural instinct to return will only guide him.
- Please keep your beloved cats indoors, especially during baby season, and supervise dogs outdoors. Every year we receive hundreds of babies who are caught by pets. Learn how to keep your cat happy (and safer) indoors at abcbirds.org/catio-solutions-cats/.
For updates on this developing situation, please check the St. Francis Wildlife website, stfranciswildlife.org and our Facebook page, facebook.com/Wildlife.Matters.to.Florida.
By working together, our community of animal lovers will get through these temporary and difficult times, just like our wild neighbours.
Sandy Beck is the Director of Education for St. Francis Wildlife. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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