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Natural Awakenings Space & Treasure Coast Florida

Walk on the Wild Side with Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary

Apr 01, 2011 01:34AM

What do you do if you discover an orphaned baby squirrel, a displaced cottontail rabbit, a screech owl in need of flight training, a pelican tangled in monofilament dangling from a tree, or half a dozen abandoned river otters? Before you get in over your head or put yourself in a potentially dangerous or illegal situation, call the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary (FWH). The above is just a small sampling of the thousands that have been treated at the hospital and the diverse and lengthy list includes kestrels, falcons, gannets, herons, songbirds, raccoons, skunks, turtles, and many others including endangered and threatened species.

If you do happen to stumble across a sick or injured animal, the FWH web site has an entire page devoted to frequently asked questions including what animals should not be handled, reasons why you shouldn’t raise orphaned or injured animals, and what to do if you find an animal in need of assistance. The site includes Special Creature Features which document recuperation and release of several animals via diaries, pictures, and videos. The Wildlife Wisdom page includes care and handling tips such as teaching children to care and respect wild creatures and their habitats, picking up litter than could harm wildlife, and using non-toxic products on lawns and gardens.

The FWH’s mission is to aid sick, injured, and abandoned wildlife and eventually return them to their place in the ecosystem. Those that cannot be released are used in education programs, sent to the Brevard or Lowry Park Zoo, or moved to other rehabilitation facilities. The hospital is open 365 days a year to receive native wildlife and migratory birds and this time of year averages 100-150 per week with a total of 3,600-3,900 per year.

Public awareness is raised through four wise educational ambassadors: Gonzo, an Eastern screech owl; Eleanor and Kona, two barred owls; and Owliver a great horned owl. Each owl has a permanent injury that prevents them from being released into the wild; however, they act as celebrity guests at educational programs for civic groups, scouts, and schools, making special appearances at environmental events and FWH fundraisers.

It is comforting to know an organization exists to look after the welfare of Florida’s wildlife, but like the animals that have been cared for, the hospital also has struggled to survive. The first facility was a tiny trailer and through the perseverance of Director Sue Small and tremendous community support, their current facility is a 4,000 square foot state-of-the-art hospital. Today FWH is non-profit, state and federally licensed, and does not receive any state or federal funding; it relies entirely on donations from the general public.

So if you happen to be one of those nature lovers who always seems to discover the baby bird in the bushes, if injured wildlife randomly appear on your doorstep, or you are simply passionate about Florida wildlife, consider lending a hand to FWH. Cash donations, membership, and volunteer time are always welcome, especially this time of year as wildlife babies are abundant. They are labor intensive; for example, baby birds need to be fed every 15 minutes, 10-12 hours a day. FWH needs to stock up on supplies to get them through the summer. What better way to help the babies then shop for items on the wish list or better yet, attend the Third Annual Baby Shower held at Palm Shores Town Hall on Saturday, May 2. There will be special appearances by Gonzo, Eleanor, Kona, and Owliver and the event will include wildlife education opportunities, pictures, PowerPoint presentations, a used book sale, bake sale, hot dogs, games, and prizes for children. "Bring donations for the babies," Sue suggests, "The baby shower gives everyone an opportunity to learn about the hospital and have a good time."

Florida Wildlife Hospital is located at 4560 North US Highway 1 in Melbourne. For more information, call 321-254-8843, email [email protected], or visit

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