Rehabbing furry friends
MARQUETTE — A small group of volunteers are helping rehabilitate baby wildlife in the Marquette County area.
Wilson Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center first opened in 2019. Director Kyann Clarke said she realized pretty quickly just how expensive it is to be a wildlife rehabilitator.
“This isn’t a job that we are paid to do and so that first year, I was paying for everything out of pocket and couldn’t take donations from the public because I wasn’t a nonprofit,” Clarke said. “I spent the better part of 2020 trying to gain that nonprofit status so that I could start taking donations from the public and be able to buy the things that I needed to give the best care that we can.”
Wilson Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center was granted nonprofit status in 2020 and after a year, the center gained three volunteers.
“Laurie Dobson is our wildlife transporter. So sometimes people need help getting wildlife to us and so she’s gracious enough to donate her time and gas money to go and pick up those animals for us,” Clarke said. “Elena Rakowski is a veterinary technician that has experience with wildlife rehab and she primarily rehabs all of our wild bunnies.”
Clarke’s husband, Roscoe, also volunteers with the rehabilitation center, building all of the enclosures for the animals.
Clarke and her three volunteers do not get paid for the work they do and as a nonprofit organization, the money donated to the rehabilitation center is the only funds received from the public, Clarke said.
“(Total donations) varies year to year. Certainly, we are getting more support now than we did when we first started just because people are more aware that we are here,” Clarke said. “We have a Facebook page so if a wild baby is admitted and a finder does not provide a donation, I will put a post up asking if people have the means, if they wouldn’t mind contributing to the rehabilitation of that animal.”
The rehabilitation center also has an Amazon wishlist for the beginning of wildlife season.
“(Wilson Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center) is open from April first to October first and the reason why is because we are here to support wild babies in the event that something has happened to mom, we are not allowed to admit adult wildlife for wildlife rehabilitation,” Clarke said. “So there are no babies being born during the winter months, so there’s really just no need for us to be open during that time.”
Clarke said at the end of March the wishlist will be posted on Facebook for the community to donate items. As for monetary donations, Clarke said 100% of the money goes back to the center.
“You know, we see a lot of wild babies that come in, that are injured, but (with) the majority of them, something has just happened to their mom,” Clarke said. “They are just these pristine little creatures that just need to be fed for a little while and then they’re perfectly fine to go back where they came from.”
She said a part of wildlife rehab that many people do not take into consideration is how important it is when animals are going through the rehabilitation process.
“They don’t become a pet, you cannot release a wild animal that has been made a pet back into the wild and expect it to survive, it won’t,” Clarke said. “So it’s really important when you’re a wildlife rehabber that these babies that come in, even though they look at you as mom, that you keep them wild because the goal is for them to go back where they came from.”
The rehabilitation process is different for each animal, Clarke said. Each animal has its own specialized wildlife formula that is as close as it can be to the animal’s mother’s milk and are fed every four hours at the beginning.
She also said animals that come in with their eyes closed will go into an incubator and stay in there until the eyes open.
“We really do try our best to give them the best care that we can, especially in what we’re putting in their little bodies,” Clarke said.
Fawns usually are admitted to the center during the last week of May or first week in June, Clarke said. Fawns are then cared for until Oct. 1 when they are released back into the wild.
“Release day is my biggest reward,” Clarke said. “The number one question that I’m asked is if it’s hard or sad for me to let these animals go when they’ve spent so much time with me.”
Newborn squirrels will spend eight weeks at the center, bunnies will spend around five weeks and fawns spend months.
“I always tell people, no release day is my biggest reward, because there are so many animals that don’t make it,” Clarke said. “There are so many animals that come in and it’s a hospice situation. We’re providing a warm, safe and quiet place for them to pass on if they need to. So release day is really special and absolutely the most rewarding and the goal for every wild baby that’s admitted at Wilson Creek.”
Despite the center opening in 2019, Clarke has been an animal-lover since she could remember.
“I’ve always had a special connection to them and throughout my life, injured and orphaned wildlife have kind of just found their way to me,” Clarke said. “My mom likes to say I rehabbed my first bird when I was four. We moved around a lot when I was a kid and you know if someone’s cat would get a bird or if something fell out of a nest, it kind of just ended up with me.”
Clarke was also a veterinary technician and for years spent time as a living collections coordinator at a natural history museum.
“We live in a pretty wild place, there’s a lot of encounters between the public and wildlife. If you are a person that has had a wild baby put in your path, it can be a very stressful or a very traumatic situation depending on what situation that baby has been found in,” Clarke said. “Having a place to get that baby and to get that baby quickly, because time is of the essence, it’s very helpful to the community.”
She said if the center is successfully rehabbing then wild animal populations will grow.
“The other thing that I try really hard to do as a wildlife rehabber is educate our community,” Clarke said. “I do wildlife talks at the different libraries, some homeschooling groups, boy scout troops and our local schools just to get accurate information out into our community because a lot of times, unfortunately people’s good intentions orphan wildlife needlessly.”
Currently, Wilson Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has four grey squirrels that are almost ready to be released, five baby red squirrels, one flying squirrel and two opposums. Clarke said due to the late cold weather, the season so far has been slow for the center.
Clarke said anyone who has found baby wildlife is asked to call her either at her landline 906-345-9554 or her cell phone at 406-552-5680.
To keep up to date with current animals being rehabilitated or to donate, visit the center’s Facebook by searching Wilson Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Dreyma Beronja can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 548. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.