A Labor of Love

By Kai Rambow

The tiny fawn vacuumed its bottle in three gulps. It was very hungry and had only been rescued a few hours earlier.  Fortunately, it was now at Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. Owl’s Nest is the largest rehabilitation facility in Central Florida covering east to Orlando, south to Bradenton and north to Gainesville. During the summer months they are at capacity. The goal is to help wildlife recover and be returned to the wild. They have an 80 percent success rate. Anything above 50 is considered to be good.

With ease Kris Porter, the director, seamlessly transitioned from one bird/animal to the next one.  Porter is an expert, a retired zoologist with Busch Gardens. Zoologists have studied the behavior and physiology of animals. If Porter knows the species, they’ll take it. Porter says, “rehabilitation is my retirement,” but to see her in action is to see boundless love for animals.  It is also probably what inspires over 325 volunteers to be a part of the mission.

This fawn, only arrived the morning I visited, hungrily inhaled her bottle.  Several fawns are successfully rescued and returned to the wild every year.

To be a rehabilitation facility, licenses are required. Even veterinarians are not allowed to do rehabilitation, unless licensed. A state license covers mammals and reptiles. To look after feathered friends requires a federal license.

That does not cover everything though. For example, there are many calls in a year about raccoons. To work with raccoons safely requires vaccines because of distemper and rabies. The shots cost $700 and the state won’t cover those. One of the volunteers, Julia, has helped raccoons recover because she is becoming a veterinarian, and so got vaccinated.

Nitro, a silver fox, was abandoned by someone and found emaciated at a month old. The species is not native to Florida, and so could not be returned to the wild. He is shown to school children, so they can learn more about animals.

Sometimes people who contact the organization are frustrated. One, because they sometimes don’t understand what is involved. Two, because they sometimes have unrealistic expectations. While I was there a call came in to rescue a turkey stranded in the middle of the road in a heavy rainstorm.  A rescue attempt under those conditions would endanger a volunteer’s safety. And even though Owl’s Nest works with a wide variety of species, the facility does not rehabilitate turkeys.

Porter has great organization skills. Charts keep track of animals’ progress in recovery. A huge binder, set on a stand for easy access, has detailed information on diets for various animals. Experienced volunteers help new volunteers transition to being good animal care givers.

If you would like to learn more or become a volunteer, you can visit their website: “owlsnestsanctuaryforwildlife.com”. Should you encounter an injured or abandoned bird/animal call the Florida emergency number at 888.404.3922.  They will know where an animal should go.  While Owl’s Nest covers a wide variety of animals, there are specialists such as raptor and sea life centers.

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