Wild Bunch Newsletter - January 2007
Reflecting back on the year 2006, I can only say it has been an even busier year than the previous ones. We faced many challenges, and I wonder how we managed as well as we did. The Wild Bunch Wildlife Refuge has become well known throughout the whole Northern Neck area and beyond. Consequently, many more wild animals than we ever imagined we could care for were brought to us in 2006. Game wardens from counties that have no resident rehabilitators brought us all sorts of wildlife needing help. The general public, not only in the Northern Neck area but also throughout the Commonwealth, turns to the refuge when they find injured, orphaned, or sick wildlife.
During the year, Wild Bunch cared for over 580 native wild animals, as well as some domestic animals, such as ducks, geese, and other birds that the public found and did not know where else to turn to for help. Following is a list by species of the mammals, reptiles, and waterfowl and other birds that Wild Bunch received during 2006. Most were able to be rehabilitated and were released back to the wild during the year.
The animals received by Wild Bunch in 2006 include: 8 bald eagles, 1 barn swallow, 7 barred owls, 1 beaver, 4 black vultures, 4 blue herons, 4 blue jays, 5 bluebirds, 6 box turtles, 1 broadhead skink, 11 Canada geese, 1 cardinal, 1 cedar waxwing, 5 Cooper's hawks, 5 doves, 6 ducks (misc.), 5 fawns, 4 flying squirrels, 30 geese (misc.), 2 goldfinches, 11 grackles, 3 gray foxes, 78 gray squirrels, 6 great horned owls, 3 green herons, 6 groundhogs, 1 hawk (misc.), 1 house finch, 2 hummingbirds, 1 kestrel, 2 kingfishers, 1 mallard, 1 mockingbird, 1 night hawk, 65 opossums, 29 ospreys, 1 pelican, 1 quail, 56 rabbits, 123 raccoons, 11 red foxes, 10 red-tailed hawks, 11 robins, 4 screech owls, 3 seagulls, 10 skunks, 4 sparrows, 2 terns, 2 turkeys, 1 warbler, 1 white pigeon, 3 wood ducks, 1 woodpecker, 1 wood thrush, and 15 wrens.
Due to the unfortunate disappearance of forest, woods, and farmland, many wild animals lose their habitat to construction of townhouses, highways, shopping centers, and other human-related projects. As a result, many wild animals not only lose their home, shelter, and food source, they increasingly get in trouble with the public. Many of these animals end up with a rehabilitator after they are discovered in backyards, garden sheds or other manmade structures. Instead of being left alone, many of these animals are either trapped and taken to a rehabilitator in the hope they will be saved or are turned over to authorities with the sad outcome being that they often are euthanized or otherwise disposed of. For the rabies vector species (bats, foxes, groundhogs, raccoons, and skunks), Virginia law requires that the animals be euthanized if they are not released on the property where they were found. It is not legal for these animals to be relocated to another area. If this were explained properly to the public, hopefully, most people would think twice before they called in the authorities. Besides rehabilitating and caring for hundreds of wild animals at the Wild Bunch Wildlife Refuge, we also received close to 3000 calls from the public with wildlife-related questions. Dealing with such a large amount of calls, especially during baby season (March through September), entails a great amount of time. In many cases, this involves explaining to the caller what do to make an unwelcome wild animal leave without the use of trapping or other means. Also, in order to educate the public and help the animals, we send out information and details about the type of animals they called about.
In some cases, we make home visits to check the area and emphasize to the caller that what we recommend should work. For instance, in some openings under decks, garden sheds, attics, and other structures, we install a one-way door so the animal can leave but can't get back into the den. After a few tries, the animal will give up and the area can be sealed permanently. Of course, this does not work during baby season when the mother would leave and could not get back in and babies would be inside, unable to leave unassisted or to survive. At any rate, we discourage people from calling trappers, pest control companies, or animal shelters, as they would trap the animals and probably kill them. The best outcome is when we can provide information that allows the caller not only to tolerate, but also to appreciate their wild neighbors and see them for the fascinating beings that they are.
Resolving wildlife problems and giving advice to the public has helped many animals survive that otherwise might have been trapped, inappropriately relocated, or killed. This is probably the most important part of our mission because if we give the proper direction and assistance, most animals will not be hurt and often will be allowed to live unharmed where they have made their home. Also, talking to the callers often eliminates many "kidnapping" situations where baby animals are wrongly thought to be orphaned and are taken to a rehabilitator when their mother usually is around and is best qualified to take care of her babies. Wild Bunch produced an excellent one page information sheet on our organization and the services we offer. We provide this concise but useful document to the public, authorities, possible donors, and others.
We also help other rehabilitators. In 2006, Wild Bunch assisted rehabilitators in Virginia and Maryland with supplies and caging and, mostly, giving advice.
Wild Bunch again conducted the "Raccoon Care and Rehabilitation," seminar which over twenty experienced rehabilitators from Virginia and Maryland attended. Several of these dedicated raccoon rehabilitators came from remote areas of those states. Class participants received a manual containing details on topics covered in class as well as additional material such as reference and resource lists. The six-hour seminar also fulfilled the required six hours of educational training Virginia rehabilitators need to complete in order to maintain their permits.
Wild Bunch also conducted several programs called "Animal Magnetism" for elementary school children. This is an introduction to native wildlife and focuses on their benefits. It is rewarding to us to be able to interact with young children and help them to understand the important role that wildlife plays in their lives. Learning to co-exist with our wild neighbors is so vital to our world.
Other programs, sponsored by the Arlington Animal Welfare League and conducted by Wild Bunch, featured presentations on native wildlife and wildlife rehabilitation to juveniles and adults. We believe that it is so very important to teach people of all ages about our wild neighbors. Learning more about these animals will hopefully make it a better world for all of us. We encourage participants to share the handouts and other information with family and friends
2006 was also a year for significant improvements to our facilities in addition to the ongoing maintenance that is required. The state-of-the-art gray fox cage was completed just in time for the very busy rehab season. We had an adequate fox cage that was mainly geared for the housing of red foxes, (previously, we had to use this cage for both red and gray foxes); however, gray fox cages have different requirements from those used to house red foxes. Gray foxes usually live in trees and need plenty of climbing opportunities. They also need plenty of dirt and groundcover where they can dig and hide food but the cage must be constructed so that the foxes can't dig themselves out.
In addition to the new gray fox cage, a large bank of three multi-purpose cages were constructed to house opossums, groundhogs, skunks, squirrels, cottontails, and other small mammals. One section also is used for waterfowl, owls, and ospreys. The cages were necessary to house the many different animals that, until now, we had difficulty housing properly. These cages have double doors and latticework around the cage enclosure to give the cages extra protection. The new enclosures have made a big difference in being able to rehab with less stress than usually occurs during the busy season. Just having enough housing for all species that come in, has made life considerably easier. If we only had more rehabilitators and other help. Over the years, one of our continuing challenges has been finding competent, caring, and reliable volunteers to help Diana with the innumerable tasks that are involved in caring for the hundreds of animals of many species that are taken in at the refuge. In late October, we found by chance, such a helper, Kelly Westermeyer. Kelly and her family had moved to the Fredericksburg area from Ohio, where she was a wildlife rehabilitator. She has an undergraduate degree in wildlife management and has volunteered at the Columbus Zoo and the Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus, Ohio. She was very excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of volunteering at the Wild Bunch Refuge. Although Kelly has a husband, young children, pets, and a job, she began volunteering at the refuge shortly after we met her and she is also willing to rescue and transport animals in the future. We are grateful to have found Kelly, and hope she will spend alot of time at the refuge helping our wild friends.
One of our planned improvements to the refuge is to acquire a heavy-duty generator to provide back-up power in case of a power failure. Strong winds quite often hit this area of the Northern Neck and, consequently, power is often lost. This means not only no electricity, which could spoil much food, stored in the freezers, but also no water as the water supply comes from a well. We have reviewed several generator estimates and have finally found a reliable source. The acquisition and installation of the generator will be a significant expense which we hope will be at least partly financed by donations but, one way or another, we plan to have it installed and running before the 2007 baby season begins.
A continuing maintenance headache is the bridge connecting most of the Wild Bunch land with the area containing the input center, outbuildings, outside cages, release cages, and feeding stations. Two years ago, during a series of heavy storms, the bridge suffered serious damage and needed major repairs. We learned the hard way that the original bridge, which had cost a considerable amount, had been poorly constructed. In 2004, major repair work was started so that the bridge would be better able to withstand the heavy rainstorms that occur periodically. The bridgework has been completed, but the seawall (retaining wall) that was to be constructed as part of the project, has not yet been done. The builder unfortunately was paid, but disappeared before finishing the complete bridge project. We are still hoping to have this problem finally corrected in 2007. Unfortunately, this type of problem occurs all too often, as it is very difficult to get experienced, dependable, and reasonable contractors and workers in the Northern Neck area, as noted in the situation involving the bridge. We are often faced with having to pay exorbitant fees for poor work. Clearly, this problem is not unique to the Northern Neck area but it is a great frustration for us.
Just over the bridge and on the other side of the vast refuge property is our extensive beaver dam area. The industrious beavers have expanded their territory and have built many dams and lodges along one of the large streams that meander along near the release cages. The industrious beavers have helped to create beautiful wetlands where many wildflowers and swamp plants are now blooming. While some people view beavers' habits as a problem, the wild habitat of the refuge is a perfect environment for them. Beavers bring much pleasure and special benefits to the Wild Bunch Refuge. We welcome the diversity they provide.
This fall, we met with a forestry consultant about the benefits of doing a controlled burn of the wildflower meadow at the refuge. This meadow has become overgrown with vegetation that is not attractive and, more importantly, not useful to wildlife. We learned that prescribed burning is the deliberate use of fire under specified and controlled conditions to achieve a resource management goal such as improving wildlife habitat. Our primary goals in doing the burn would be to increase the food resources and cover available to wildlife. The forester discussed what preparations would be needed to be accomplished as well as how and when the prescribed burn should be carried out. The plan is that only one third of the meadow will be considered for a prescribed burn at this time. In late winter, this plan will be finalized and it will be executed before spring.
We also worked very hard in 2006 to further educate ourselves. We provide the best care available for injured and orphaned wildlife. But, in addition to raising wild babies, curing illnesses, and mending broken bones, we are continually confronted with new and more complex problems like the West Nile Virus that make it imperative that we stay on top of information about new emerging diseases and protocols that must change as the diseases themselves change. The care and rehabilitation of wildlife, indeed the conservation of all wildlife, is far more complex and challenging than ever before. In May, Wild Bunch received some welcome news when we were notified by the federal coordinating committee of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area that Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation was approved to participate in the 2006 fundraising campaign. The CFC is a charitable donation program for federal government employees. It is the largest workplace charity campaign in the country and the only program authorized to solicit and collect contributions from federal employees at their workplace. The annual charitable donation drive provides funds to a wide variety of non-profit local, national, and international organizations. We are hopeful that our participation in CFC will provide much needed additional funds to support wildlife and our activities at the Wild Bunch Wildlife Refuge. Our CFC designation number" is 7600. Please encourage any federal employees you know to consider making Wild Bunch one of their CFC charities. Australian rehabilitators, Phillip and Lesley Machin toured the refuge this summer. The Machins are very involved in wildlife rehabilitation in Australia and operate their own wildlife refuge there. They were curious to see some of local Virginia animals we care for and view our facilities. They had never seen a raccoon before and were impressed. They also compared the similarities between our opossum and their marsupials. Owls and other raptors were also of great interest to them, while we were impressed with their pictures of various reptiles, kangaroos and wombats that they handle. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) produced a video on their "Coats for Cubs" program. This program was established as a way to help people divest themselves of their furs and have those furs used to help orphaned and injured wild animals. HSUS distributes the furs to licensed wildlife rehabilitators, who use the furs to create bedding for the wild animals in their care. Wearing furs is no longer fashionable and although it is too late to save the animal killed to make the fur garment, at least that sacrifice can help out other wild animals in need. Part of the Coats for Cubs video was filmed at our Alexandria location. To view the video go to the HSUS website homepage at www.hsus.org, scroll down to the "Animal Channel" section at the bottom of the page, click on "See more videos on Animal Channel," and finally, click on "Coats for Cubs." All of that sounds complicated but is well worth the trouble.
Please visit our website at www.wildbunchrehab.org for information about Wild Bunch and wildlife-related matters. It includes numerous photos of the refuge and of some of the animals we have helped over the years. One of the changing features of the website is each month's "True Story." For example, in January, the True Story is "Happy New Year Angel." It is hard to believe that this very sad and rewarding experience occurred 20 years ago. Since that time, hundreds if not thousands of various species of wild animals, have crossed our threshold, and we hope to continue assisting them for many years to come as the need seems to only get greater. To all of you who have helped to make the Wild Bunch Refuge a unique and wonderful place, my sincere thanks and gratitude. Please help us keep pace with the rapidly changing threats facing wildlife and the ever increasing amount of wildlife that need our help. We welcome and need your continuing support.
The gift you give wildlife today will make the New Year better for all of us!