VIDEO/PHOTOS: Conservancy opens its rehab doors to springtime babies

RAW VIDEO: Back in the wild now

Now back in the wild, a baby ...

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida

1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, FL

— The soothing sound of chirping crickets floats among the cages at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s wildlife rehabilitation center.

Most of the cages are empty but likely not for long.

Spring means an uptick in admissions of baby animals at the center off Goodlette-Frank Road, but, for now, the season is off to a slow start.

That’s fine with center director Joanna Fitzgerald Vaught.

“It gives us time to get caught up and, probably once March gets here, things will be very busy,” she said last week.

The Conservancy admitted 2,256 animals in 2008, compared to 2,387 animals in 2007, according to Conservancy figures.

So far this year, the number of injured pelicans at the Conservancy is less than half of last year’s numbers for the same period.

Since Jan. 1, the center has admitted 23 injured pelicans compared with 52 for the same period in 2008 and 107 for the same period in 2007, according to Conservancy figures.

The decline isn’t necessarily good news for local pelican populations, Naples bird ecologist Ted Below said.

He chalked up the drop to an ongoing decline in populations of the big-billed divers he has tracked since the 1970s.

According to Below’s twice-monthly census of pelicans at their roosting sites on mangrove islands around Marco Island, the population was on the rise until about 1980.

Since then, their numbers have steadily declined at about 4 percent per year, Below said.

Pelicans often are injured when they get tangled up in fishing line or hooked by fishermen.

“A spoon, a plug, live bait,” Below said. “Hey, that’s lunch to a pelican.”

While business might be slower than normal for now, 2009 got off to a quick start for the Conservancy on New Year’s Day.

The center’s first admission of the year was a bobcat kitten found wandering with a littermate on a side street in Pine Woods neighborhood in North Naples.

The sight signaled something amiss with the two kittens, which are normally hidden in a den, out of sight, Fitzgerald Vaught.

Only one of the kittens was captured, and there was no sign of the mother. She estimated the kitten to be about eight weeks old when it was brought to the center.

The bobcat is healthy and is being left alone as much as possible to reduce stress on the animal, she said.

Fitzgerald Vaught said the bobcat will be large enough to be released back into the wild within the next six months.

The Conservancy already has returned three baby great horned owls to the wild after they fell from their nests.

On Monday, volunteers from Signature Tree Service propped a baby owl in a wicker basket back into a tree off Autumn Oaks Lane south of Immokalee Road.

Another owl was returned to a tree in Berkshire Lakes and, two days later, was gone along with its parents.

In late January, two three-week-old great horned owls fell from a nest in a pine tree in a front yard in Pelican Marsh within days of each other, volunteer animal rescuer Tim Thompson said.

After a weekend stay at the Conservancy to be sure the owls were healthy, Signature Tree Service volunteers used a pillowcase to hoist the babies up to a wicker basket in a pine tree about 60 feet off the ground.

The adult owls were quick to resume care of their offspring, Thompson said.

“We just have a real nice little family there,” Thompson said. “It’s great.”

Rescuers hope they have the same success with the first fawn of the year, which arrived at the Conservancy a week ago.

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, more commonly known as CROW, on Sanibel Island cared for the baby deer for about 10 days before sending it to the Conservancy.

The Conservancy and CROW often exchange animals, CROW clinic Director PJ Deitschel said. CROW, for example, is better equipped to handle otters, while the Conservancy has the room for larger animals, such as deer, she said.

Deitschel said the male fawn was found thin and dehydrated — indications that it probably was orphaned — in the woods at the Caloosahatchee Regional Park in Alva, a rural town in northeast Lee County.

The Conservancy released seven baby deer back into the wild last year, Fitzgerald Vaught said.

“Unfortunately, we’re probably going to be getting more and more of them,” she said.

A wildlife rehabilitator in Christmas, Fla., east of Orlando, no longer is accepting baby deer, and the Conservancy probably will be tapped to pick up the slack, she said.

The deer stays in a medium-sized dog kennel kept inside a tiny room with a big wooden door and a carpet of towels .

A hand-written sign posted on a wall says: “Quiet please! Keep doors closed and voices down.”

Fitzgerald Vaught kneels in front of the kennel with a baby bottle in her hand.

The fawn wobbles to his feet, putting one hoof in a bowl of water as he sticks his head out of the front of the cage and eagerly starts to slurp.

“It’s doesn’t get any cuter than this,” Fitzgerald Vaught said.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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