Newsletter Archive

Wild Bunch Newsletter – July/August 2007

Wild Bunch wishes to give you an update on our May and June activities. 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. Our officers and directors are Erika Yery, Pat Crusenberry, Diana O'Connor, Charlene DeVol, and Bonnie Brown.

2007 "Baby Season" Is Underway

We have often mentioned that we know baby season is upon us when the phone begins ringing before dawn and continues throughout the day and often late into the night with calls about wild animals needing assistance. Many concern very young animals that for one reason or another, no longer have their mothers around to care for them. Others involve injured, sick, or displaced animals of all ages. The animals that we take in come into our care from a variety of places but our involvement typically begins with a phone call.

In May and June, Wild Bunch received 1 bald eagle (baby), 14 bats, 3 box turtles, 1 Canada goose, 1 catbird, 2 ducklings, 7 grackles, 1 great blue heron, 1 groundhog, 2 mockingbirds, 1 mourning dove, 1 mud turtle, 22 opossums, 3 ospreys, 1 painted turtle, 10 rabbits, 59 raccoons, 1 red slider (turtle), 2 robins, 4 skunks, 1 song sparrow, 9 sparrows (unspecified), 2 starlings, 3 turkeys, 1 wood duck, 5 woodpeckers, and 1 wood thrush.

A major problem that we did not anticipate involves our ability to obtain sufficient amounts of the special mothers’ milk replacement formulas that many of the young wild orphans need until they begin eating solid foods. A usual concern is with the products’ costs; however, this year, it has been with their availability. While we were very aware of the pet food crisis that resulted in severe illness or death of an untold number of cats and dogs, we learned the hard way that the pet food problem had apparently indirectly affected the manufacture and distribution of the products we typically use buckets and buckets of each baby season. We were told that the U.S. Customs Service was delaying entry into the U.S. of some of the formulas’ ingredients. The manufacturer recently issued a letter saying that its products do not contain any of the questionable ingredients but did not mention that there has been a severe shortage of the products at the very time when they are most needed by wildlife rehabilitators. Whatever the cause, we had to be particularly creative to have enough on hand to feed the babies that were arriving daily.

Snapping Turtles

While many of the calls we receive involve orphans that end up in our care if the babies’ mothers have been killed or if it is otherwise impossible to reunite the family, other callers are seeking information or advice. Often, we hear from many people who are calling with very similar concerns. Currently, our popular topic involves snapping turtles.

People are calling to report that they are seeing snapping turtles in unusual places. An adult snapping turtle may be recognized by its large size, muscular limbs and long tail as well as by the sawtooth back edge of its carapace (upper shell). We explain that this is the time of year when female snapping turtles leave their aquatic habitats to lay their eggs on land. They often travel great distances to seek out suitable nesting sites and may turn up in odd places such as yards, gardens, and driveways. At home in the water, the snapping turtle rarely bites when disturbed, preferring to swim away from a human intruder. On land, however, they will snap repeatedly if confronted. For both the turtle’s sake and the person’s, we advise people to leave the snapping turtles alone. The females will return to the water when they have laid their eggs.

The Uplifting Recovery of "Big Girl" Raccoon

We were understandably anxious as this year’s baby season got underway after the devastating and heartbreaking 2006 baby season when we and other rehabilitators struggled to save many young raccoons that were stricken with an extremely difficult to diagnose and usually fatal illness. Sadly, we know that each year, a few will arrive that we cannot save but with last year still fresh in our minds, this spring, we were alert for any hint of a problem. And that showed up when an early favorite, who we initially called "the big girl," stopped eating and became severely dehydrated.

The big girl wasn’t really big. She weighed in 15 ounces when she came to us from the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. Because she arrived alone, she was put in with some slightly younger raccoons who became her new family. From the start, she was a charmer and soon became an active explorer. While her companions fell asleep after being fed, the big girl would splash in a small bowl of water, play with toys, and practice her climbing skills. When she suddenly refused to eat, became severely dehydrated, and grew less active, we did everything imaginable to save her. Charlene, who helps as a caregiver at Erika’s, works for a group of allergy doctors and is a pro at giving shots. She made extra trips to Erika’s, sometimes early in the morning before heading to her job, to give the big girl the rehydrating fluids she needed.

After many days of the intensive care, the big girl, who is now called "Missy," perked up, began eating, and returned to her usual inquisitive, active, endearing self. She now tips the scales at over five pounds. Soon, she and her companions will be moved from the "animal room" inside Erika’s house to an outdoor cage. There, the group will have a pool to play in, branches to climb, and a variety of other activities to pursue that will continue developing the skills they will need later. Thankfully, this wasn’t the start of another epidemic, and we are delighted to see "the big girl" get bigger.

Community Outreach Efforts and Other Events

While most of our baby season activities involve caring for the animals, we also teach classes, participate in community outreach activities, and attend other events that will enhance our ability to help our wild neighbors.

In May, Erika participated in a favorite annual program, Wetlands Awareness Day at Huntley Meadows, Fairfax County’s large wetland park. Visitors stopped by the table to view posters and photographs of our wild orphans, gather information about Virginia species, ask questions, and discuss their own wildlife experiences. Young visitors were given special coloring books that provided interesting information about many of our area’s wild animals.

In June, Erika gave a presentation to the Junior Rangers, a summer program for children that is run by the Arlington County Park Rangers. For the program, which was billed as "Mammal Madness," Erika discussed her experiences as a wildlife rehabilitator and answered the children’s questions. The Junior Rangers also played with Erika’s wildlife puppets and colored in the wildlife coloring books she gave them.

In late June, Erika went to a special reception that was held at the mansion at the Washington International School. It was hosted by Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Among its many other activities, HSUS sponsors Wild Neighbors Humane Wildlife Solutions, which provides biologically appropriate and ecologically sound strategies for those who seek effective solutions to situations involving human and wildlife problems or perceived problems. Erika was pleased to renew acquaintances with Wayne and other old friends at the event.

Washington Post Online Discussion on Suburban Wildlife

On June 14, Erika led a live online discussion that was sponsored by the Washington Post on dilemmas that arise as suburbs encroach on the territories of wild animals. That morning, the paper had run an article entitled "Suburban Safari" that concerned the sighting of a bobcat and on other interactions between people and wildlife in the Washington area suburb of Reston, Virginia.

For the online discussion, the paper’s readers were invited to e-mail questions and comments. A Washington Post moderator then forwarded most of the e-mails to Erika for an immediate response. While some e-mailers expressed concerns or fears, others were more lighthearted. One person from Fairfax observed that there were a lot of adolescent humans in the neighborhood and wanted to know how to be protected from these "predators." Another said he walks his 150 pound South African Boerboel dog in the woods of Reston and when she leaves a clear footprint in the mud, he writes "wolf" underneath it with a stick. Erika’s responses then appeared on the designated website. She found the experience to be interesting although, in some cases, she felt that the need for an instant response made it impossible for her to address some questions as thoroughly as she would have liked.

New True Story on the Wild Bunch Website

The new True Story on the Wild Bunch website is a bit of a departure from the sort of True Story we usually feature. In this case, a friend of Wild Bunch, who is an ardent birder, was very concerned over an article he had read in the Audubon Naturalist News that discussed ways to permanently dispatch house sparrows. He wrote and submitted "At Home with the House Sparrow" as the next True Story.

While there are controversial aspects to this, members of the Wild Bunch Board of Directors agreed that we do not accept the concept of "nuisance" wildlife and that if an animal’s presence has to be discouraged, it must be done humanely. In addition to taking strong exception to much of Audubon article, the True Story provides a wealth of information about these frequent backyard visitors.

Some Financial Good News

In May, we were notified by the local federal coordinating committee of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area that Wild Bunch has been approved to participate in the 2007 fundraising campaign that will begin this fall. 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 nonprofit local, national, and international organizations. We will be issued our new CFC "designation number" later in the year.

We were first selected to participate in the CFC program in 2006. Earlier this year, we were sent a letter advising us how much had been pledged to Wild Bunch in the 2006 campaign and we were sent a check for the first installment. Since Wild Bunch had not participated in the CFC before, we had no idea what level of funding we might receive. We were pleased to learn that the pledged amount would just about cover the cost of the generator that we purchased and had installed at the refuge in March.

Also in May, Wild Bunch sent out its very first letter to solicit donations. In the years since Wild Bunch was founded, we have been much more subtle about requesting financial donations. However, each year as Virginia’s suburbs encroach further on the few remaining areas that wildlife have left to live at least somewhat naturally, humans are increasingly coming into contact with wild animals. This results in more and more animals that need our care each year. And the refuge, as truly wonderful as it is, is quite expensive just to maintain, let alone to continually enhance. Our letter did bring in some welcome donations and, for that, we are very appreciative.

As Always, Our Sincere Thanks

We want to thank everyone who continues to help us help our wild friends by volunteering, by providing needed supplies, and of course, as mentioned above, by contributing financially. This support makes it possible for us to help so many animals each year. Financial donations can be mailed to Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, 402 West Alexandria Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-4204 or be made via PayPal from our website. We hope you realize how deeply we rely on your support and how much we appreciate everything you do to help.