Life at the Refuge this past year (2016) was interesting, to say the least. We started out taking animals in January, mostly bird of prey. Around the end of March, the various young of raccoons, opossums, foxes, skunks, etc. started arriving as groups. Things were going as normal with all the critters, until the Memorial Day weekend, when our onsite director, Diana, slipped late Friday night on the steps in the carport, falling backward onto the concrete floor, sliding partially under her car, breaking her left femur in a leg that previously had a hip replacement. Luckily Ron, her right hand man, was still there to hear her screaming and called 911.
While waiting for the rescue squad to arrive she told Ron to bring her the young opossums so she could tube feed them as he was not trained in the process. She was busy feeding them while in severe pain when the rescue squad arrived. She was so determined to finish feeding that she would not let them try to get her out from under the car until she finished feeding the babies. Then they got her extracted with some difficulty.
While Diana was in the hospital for about a month due to a hospital acquired infection after the hip surgery, and then at home, Ron, Dennis, her husband, and Terri, a long time volunteer, really stepped up to help. They kept things going during one of the busiest times of the year. They called other rehabbers to take the animals that they couldn't take care of; mainly the baby opossums that needed to be tube fed. Nancy Johnston came and took the babies. Many thanks to her and her helpers as they would have died without their efforts. When Diana came home in a large leg brace and couldn't walk, she could do everything else. She could help feed the more difficult animals, diagnose new arrivals, and generally just give directions on the things needed.
Other things of note were:
A record year for opossums - they just kept coming, 100 in all!
Two baby beavers came in from different sources. They were more than cute, but as we don't normally get them, they were transferred to another facility as we are not set up for their rehabilitation.
Acceptance of raccoons was limited as we could not take care a large group. We still had 28 to rehab.
Many Box Turtles were another rehab challenge this year. We also received some other turtles that we had never seen before. One was a Spotted Turtle and one a Virginia River Cooter. Both were released.
The raptors (birds of prey) came in larger numbers (96) than we have ever had. Song birds and non-migratory birds were down in number because we couldn't take care of them, yet we still had 97 of them come in.
The Ospreys came in normal numbers (21) and most were released.
The big stories were the number of Bald Eagles - 23 in all. What was wrong with them was pretty alarming. Lead showed up in many eagles we sent to the Wildlife Center of Virginia to some degree. Some so bad they couldn't be helped. They came from all over this end of the world: Caroline, Essex, Stafford, Lancaster, King & Queen, King George, Richmond, Mathews, Westmoreland, and Prince William counties. Two eagles came in that were poisoned with pentobarbital used by a veterinarian on a deer that was dumped in a landfill. The saddest thing was all the other animals that fed on the euthanized deer were also poisoned: fox, vultures, raccoon, and who knows who else. These were the animals we couldn't help. If you are interested in reading more about the eagle release you can find it at this Wildlife Center of Virginia website.
The total number of birds, mammals, and amphibians this year were way down from previous years, coming in at 470.
Recently some new volunteers have extensive experience with Facebook and web sites. They have made some improvements in how our Facebook page and web site are recognized and selected in searches for wildlife information. This helps bring the information to more people who might have an interest in our sites. We plan to make other improvements gradually as time permits. We are working on improving record keeping during the year.
Wild Bunch is run by a group of dedicated volunteers who help with the many tasks required to keep things running smoothly day-to-day. However, with the increasing numbers of wildlife we receive each year, our volunteer resources are stretched thin! We are looking for more volunteers to help care for the animals, keep the property in good shape and answer the many calls we receive asking for wildlife help. We are also in desperate need of drivers who are willing to take some of our animals to veterinarians and/or make the often long drive to the Wildlife Center of Virginia (who have been wonderful about accepting and treating some of the animals that require special care and knowledge).
In addition to rehabilitating and caring for wild animals at the Wild Bunch Wildlife Refuge and the Alexandria facility, we received over 3,000 wildlife-related calls from the public. Dealing with such a large number of calls, especially during baby season (March through September), entails a great amount of time. During the winter months (October through February), we receive many calls regarding eagles poisoned by lead and raptors hit by vehicles. Most are usually malnourished and have to be rescued. In addition to fielding calls about babies and raptors, we receive many calls from individuals concerned about animals they perceive to be "problem" animals (e.g., a raccoon or fox denning with babies in the yard, a groundhog under the deck, a squirrel in the attic, etc.). For these situations, we encourage the caller to work with the animal until the family moves on, or explain how to make the animal leave without harming it. After each call, we mail the caller information and details regarding the type of animal they called about to provide further education. In some instances, we make home visits to check the area and emphasize that what we recommended will work better than calling trappers, pest control companies, or animal shelters (which often result in the death of the animal). The best outcome is when one of our callers finds a new appreciation for their wild neighbors and sees them for the fascinating beings that they are.
We are still in need of more outdoor caging for skunks, groundhogs, and other small mammals. As always, there are many expenses just keeping the refuge property functioning. Something always needs to be fixed, repaired, and renewed. We had to purchase two large freezers to store the many frozen rats, mice, birds, and other food needed to feed our wild patients.
While most of our baby season activities involved caring for the animals, we also taught classes, participated in community outreach activities, and attended other events to enhance our ability to help our wild neighbors. Although summer is when we have the most animals to care for, it is also the time when many educational programs for children are held. This summer we conducted several programs geared to educate children about animals and the environment. These sessions emphasized compassion, safety and kindness. It is rewarding to us to be able to interact with young children and help them understand the important role that wildlife plays in their lives. Learning to co-exist with our wild neighbors is so vital to our world.
Earth Day 2016 was celebrated and attended by Wild Bunch at Fort A.P. Hill and several locations in Northern Virginia.
The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends Group was attended by Wild Bunch for the 5th annual "Go Wild" festival. This event involved children and adults alike in such programs as bluebird house building and several others.
As every year, some of our rehabilitators and caregivers were able to attend various excellent classes and trainings at the Wildlife Center of Virginia and other centers. These programs provide the training required to be a licensed rehabilitator in the Commonwealth. There are also several excellent on-line training sessions available on the internet that several of us have attended.
Last year, Wild Bunch was delighted to be selected again to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area. 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 local, national, and international nonprofit organizations.
We would be extremely appreciative if you would encourage any federal employees you know to consider making Wild Bunch one of their CFC charities. This year's designated number is 69040. Wild Bunch Board members have been invited and attended several speaking engagements in various federal government facilities to explain in detail why we would appreciate it very much if we would be selected in this year's Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
Wild Bunch was also included in the Virginia State CFC donation program and we were invited and attended events. The Donation number is: 07922.
Please, visit us on our Facebook page and connect with other wildlife loving people while you enjoy our pictures and stories about individual animals we have taken care of throughout the years.
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. To all of you who have helped make the Wild Bunch Refuge a unique and wonderful place, my sincere thanks and gratitude. My special thanks and appreciation goes to all the dedicated and helpful caregivers and volunteers who have helped and made a big difference in so many animals during this very busy and hectic year.
Thank you for your continuing support as the gift you give wildlife today will make the New Year better for all of us!