Local wildlife and the people who care about them just took a double hit.
Last week, an injured lesser scaup duck found on Georgia Street in Tallahassee and then taken to the wildlife rehabilitation center in Quincy tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), a very contagious and untreatable disease. St. Francis Wildlife was forced to temporarily stop accepting wild birds in an effort to stop the disease’s spread.
This week, North Florida’s oldest and largest wildlife rehabilitation center made the very difficult decision to temporarily stop admitting all animals, with the exception of Rabies Vector Species (RVS) – raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats – because 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 accept any wild birds or animals.
Baby season explodes in North Florida
Every year, St. Francis Wildlife rescues and rehabilitates more than 3,000 injured, orphaned and sick wild animals with the goal of returning each to its natural wild home. About 2,000 of these are spring and summer babies.
Our wildlife hospital is currently caring for dozens of orphaned (some unintentionally kidnapped) baby gray and flying squirrels as well as foxes, opossums, bunnies, turtles, gopher tortoises, raccoons, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, screech owls and other birds.
Compared with the numbers that usually start arriving later in April, this is just a drop in the bucket. But our small staff is already overwhelmed, so this spring we’ve had to hit the brakes.
Five months ago, our director and wildlife rehabilitator decided to join her husband who is working out of state. Her predecessor, Teresa Stevenson, agreed to return to St. Louis. Francis; she had taken a two-year hiatus to care for her mother in Mexico. Tragically, Teresa never made it; both she and her dog died in a car crash on their way to Florida.
Reeling from this shocking loss, for the past five months St. Francis Wildlife has conducted a national search for experienced wildlife rehabilitators who qualify for the required federal and state wildlife permits and can manage a large wildlife hospital.
But like many businesses – including some of our favorite, local restaurants that have cut back their hours or closed completely – we still do not have enough staff. Not enough experienced wildlife professionals to treat zoonotic illnesses and concussions, heal broken wings and crushed turtle shells and raise orphaned babies. At least not enough to properly care for more wild patients than we already have.
So, while we continue to search for and interview applicants, we must temporarily and regrettably halt new admissions before the baby season flood 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 Allied Animal Hospital. Call St. Francis 24/7 at 850-627-4151. If it’s a displaced baby that can be reunited with its mother, we will help with that. If it’s injured or sick, we will care for it. Do not handle any rabies vector, even babies.
If you find other species such as squirrels, opossums, rabbits, deer, turtles or birds, or if you just need advice, please go to stfranciswildlife.org, or call us at 850-627-4151. Again, Northwood and Allied are not currently accepting wildlife. If we determine that the animal needs 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 backyard wildlife rehabilitation center in Tallahassee. This kind-hearted wildlife lover agreed to postpone her planned retirement a little longer and allow St. Francis Wildlife to refer some calls to her.
Goose Creek has cared for 300 to 500 wild animals every year. Because it would be logistically impossible for them to take all 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 take an animal to them, Goose Creek, like most wildlife rehabilitators, is a nonprofit and will be grateful for your donation.
How you can help
- Do not try to raise a wild baby; reunite it with its 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 possess most wildlife. But if you take the time to try to reunite a healthy, uninjured baby with its parents, nine times out of ten you will succeed. Learn how to reunite baby squirrels, bunnies, fawns, birds and more at www.stfranciswildlife.org/i-found-a-wild-animal or call us.
- It is a myth that wildlife will reject their young if you touch it. Most birds have little or no sense of smell. All mammals and birds have a powerful instinct to reproduce and ensure their precious offspring’s survival. That wild mama just wants her baby to return; she does not care if some stinky human touched it.
- If you find a fawn or bunny alone, its mother is probably nearby. She watches over her odorless baby from a safe distance so her movement and scent do not draw attention. She returns to nurse a few times a day when the coast is clear.
- There is no such thing as an orphaned turtle. Female turtles lay their eggs and leave. Babies are on their own as soon as they hatch. If you find a tiny, uninjured turtle please leave it alone. Do not move it; its natural homing instinct will just guide it back.
- Please keep your beloved cats indoors, especially during baby season, and supervise dogs outdoors. Every year, we receive hundreds of babies that 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.
Working together, our community of animal lovers will weather these temporary, tough times, and so will our wild neighbors.
Sandy Beck is the education director for St. Francis Wildlife. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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