Wild Bunch Newsletter - May 2006
Wild Bunch wishes to give you a brief update of our activities during the month of April. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Virginia organization devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of native wildlife. 83 acres in The Northern Neck of Virginia near the Rappahannock River serve as our wildlife refuge. The officers and directors are Erika Yery, Pat Crusenberry, Diana O'Connor, Charlene DeVol and Bonnie Brown.
Baby season has officially begun. In April, Erika received 1 groundhog, 11 baby raccoons, and 2 red fox kits. At the Refuge, Diana received 1 beaver, 11 bunnies, 2 flying squirrels, 18 grey squirrels, 1 groundhog, 13 opossums, 3 raccoons, and 4 red foxes as well as 1 bald eagle, 1 barred owl, 2 black vultures, 1 bluebird, 2 great horned owls, 1 hawk, 3 ospreys, and 1 warbler.
Spring not only brings us many orphans needing care but also a great increase in calls about wildlife concerns. Typically, these calls are about perceived wildlife "nuisance" issues such as foxes under decks and raccoons in chimneys and attics. We believe it is important to listen carefully to callers and give advice and information that will help the caller as well as the animal. Some calls involve pets that were killed while out during the night. Often, people blame foxes for killing pets, particularly cats that are allowed to roam. Although many people still can't believe that coyotes now live in our area, it is likely that the outdoor pets were killed by coyotes that were hunting at night. We strongly encourage people to keep their cats indoors, not only to help protect cats' would be prey but also to keep the cats themselves from becoming prey.
Erika received a call in early April about a fox cub that apparently had no eyes. We kept this fox cub for a week, not completely sure at the time what the diagnosis was. After careful examination, it turned out that the animal suffered from a congenital brain abnormality called Hydrocephalus (Greek Hydro = water, cephalus = head). Hydrocephalus is an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain, leading to their enlargement and swelling. Human infants can also have this condition which has been called "water head". Recently, a procedure was developed that, by putting a shunt in the brain, will often correct the problem. For foxes, however, there is no cure, and the animal has to be euthanized. Hours after we lost the first fox, a second one arrived with the same condition and, unfortunately, also had to be euthanized. We knew right away that a miracle would not occur. This was a very sad way to begin the new rehab season.
April is typically the month when our overwintered raccoons are released. Each year, we have a few raccoon orphans that are born late in the season and are too young to be released with the others in the fall. They spend the winter in the large outdoor cage. This year's overwintered group was made up of the "Bear" family. Each had arrived as a young, single orphan. All were males. The largest one was dubbed Big Bear. He lived up to his name as he grew into a hefty animal that could play very rough with his companions one minute and gently take a treat from us the next. Crying Bear was so named because even as a baby, he was very vocal. This trait and an endearing gentleness continued as he grew up. The third of our three "bears" was Little Bear. For his first few months, he was so small that he appeared to be a miniature raccoon. When they were moved into the big outdoor cage, Little Bear regularly displayed his climbing and gymnastic abilities, twirling around the rope ladder, deftly crossing the fire hoses strung across the cage, and playing in the bucket swing. All the Bears enjoyed the big cage's amenities and they especially liked the peanut butter cookies they received as treats.
One lovely day in late April, Erika, Charlene, and Bonnie put the "Bears" in carriers and took them to a prerelease cage at the Refuge. Diana O'Connor cared for them there for a few days. On another spectacular spring day several days after their arrival at the Refuge, Erika and Bonnie went to say goodbye to them and open their window to freedom. Although we are always a bit sad on release day to see the raccoons go, we do enjoy seeing them as they first march down the ramp under the opened window of the release cage and begin to take in the sights, smells, and sounds of their new forest home. Our three "bears," however, had a different plan for their scheduled release day. When the window was opened, Crying Bear went out the window and immediately climbed up to the nest box over the cage. While that was a bit disappointing to us, it turned out to be much farther than Little Bear and Big Bear got. No amount of encouragement - or even peanut butter cookies and marshmallows - could entice Little Bear and Big Bear to go out the window and down the ramp while we were there. Eventually, we reluctantly left them knowing that Diana would monitor their progress and care for them while them were using the cage. Even after they leave the cage, the window will be kept open and supplemental food will be provided as they make their transition to their new wild life. As we prepare this newsletter, Diana reports that the Bears have left the cage. We are glad that their curiosity has won out and that they are exploring their wonderful new world. We enjoyed their time with us and will think of them often.
While at the Refuge, Erika, Bonnie and Charlene checked on the maintenance work and improvements that had been undertaken in preparation for the rehab season. A beautiful new fox cage is nearing completion and will be a wonderful enclosure for gray foxes. Gray foxes usually live in trees and need plenty of climbing possibilities. The new cage will have several large trees for climbing. An important feature of a fox cage is that there be plenty of dirt and ground cover where the animals can dig and hide food. However, the cage must be designed so that the foxes can't dig themselves out. This is certainly one of those lessons that are learned along the way. Two other cages have been constructed. These will house a variety of rehab birds and mammals.
Erika took advantage of the visit to the Refuge to explore the extensive beaver dam area we discovered last year. The industrious beavers have expanded their territory and have built many dams and lodges along one of the large streams not far from the release cages. This has helped to create beautiful wetlands where many wildflowers and swamp plants are now blooming. While many people view beavers' habits as a huge problem, the wild habitat of the Refuge is a perfect situation for them. Each different species has special needs and brings special benefits. We welcome the diversity they provide.
Our True Story for May is "Our Mischievous Wild Neighbor, the Gray Squirrel". Wildlife rehabilitators receive many calls about squirrels and, particularly, baby squirrels daily this time of the year. Squirrels born in early February are now much more mobile and at a stage where they start to explore their territory. They climb down trees, run across streets and are often not afraid of people or predator animals. Many youngsters are killed during the first year of their life, when they are not yet streetwise.
We want to thank everyone who continues to help our wild friends. We are grateful for the donations that make it possible to help so many animals. We could not manage the large scope of work we must accomplish without your help and support. Financial donations to the refuge can be mailed to Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, 402 West Alexandria Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-4204. We hope you realize how deeply we rely on your support and how much we appreciate everything you do to help us out.