Inside the Wildlife Clinic: Evening the odds

— Over the past week, 63 animals were admitted to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic but several of them arrived too late to be saved.

In most cases people mean well but may not know the proper course of action to take when they find an injured or orphaned wild animal. A quick call to the clinic will increase that animal’s chances for survival.

Please keep in mind wild animals feel pain when they are injured, they will slowly weaken and die without proper nutrition. They suffer the negative effects of stress when they are handled and kept in a captive situation.

The Conservancy wildlife clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., 365 days a year. Our clinic wildlife team is licensed and trained to provide professional care to sick, injured and orphaned wildlife. If more people knew this, we might have been able to save more lives this week.

This week, 20 of the admissions came on a single, very long day. Some of the bird admissions for the week include 10 Northern mockingbirds, two great-crested flycatchers, two killdeer, a barred owl, an Eastern screech owl, a least tern and a yellow-billed cuckoo. Various reptile and mammals admitted include three gopher tortoises, three Florida red-bellied turtles, a Florida box turtle, two grey squirrels, two eastern cottontails and two nine-banded armadillos.

For example, a woman found a least tern in a parking lot in Golden Gate. The tern was a fledgling so it had probably just taken its first flight. Thinking that the clinic was not open on Saturdays, she kept the bird until Monday. Meaning well, she offered the baby bird seed and water, but that diet was inadequate --- the fledgling tern needed a diet of small fish and aquatic invertebrates. By the time the bird arrived at the clinic two days later, it was extremely weak and dehydrated and died during the night.

Least terns are our smallest tern, only seen in this area during the summer when they are nesting. Least terns are an endangered species; their populations are declining due to loss of nesting habitat on beaches and colony disturbance by people and/or dogs walking through their nesting areas.

Terns tend to nest in sandy areas that have pebbles or shells with short vegetation. Due to competition with humans for beach use, many least terns in our area are now nesting on buildings in busy shopping center or mall parking lots, since they have flat roofs covered in pebbles and stones.

This death was avoidable. If the baby was admitted to the clinic immediately, we could have helped it by making a quick phone call to the business where the nest was located --- and returned the bird to the colony on the rooftop. All the businesses we have dealt with over the years have been extremely helpful and aware of the necessity to help this endangered species.

Like the case of the least tern, several other rescuers kept animals for an extended period of time before bringing them to the clinic. An opossum, found as a baby, was kept by the “rescuer” for nine weeks. By the time it was brought to the clinic, the opossum was fairly habituated to people and overweight, yet it has several nutritional issues from being fed an unbalanced diet. What could have been a straightforward case of rearing an orphan and returning it to the wild is no longer so easily resolved.

In another instance, a woman found a baby bird being harassed by a blue jay. Her kids wanted to care for the baby, so the woman let two day pass before calling the clinic. The family did not know the baby needed a specific diet and required 26-30 feedings a day to stay healthy. When the woman finally called, we immediately sent a volunteer to transport the bird to the clinic. When admitted, the bird was weak and unresponsive and was also anemic since it was loaded with external parasites. The bird died later that afternoon.

In a completely different situation, a woman found a baby northern mockingbird. She called the clinic and was advised by the staff, she placed the baby back in its nest. Excited about her efforts to re-nest the young bird, the rescuer told her neighbor about the incident. The neighbor, worried about the baby, went to the nest, took the baby and tried to feed it throughout the night.

Once the rescuer found out, she retrieved the mockingbird back from her neighbor. Not surprisingly, after so much disturbance and handling, the second attempt to re-nest the bird did not go well. The baby mockingbird is now receiving care at the clinic rather than being raised by its parents.

The majority of the injuries the reptiles endured this week were fatal. Thankfully, caring citizens stopped to rescue these severely injured animals so they did not suffer drawn out deaths.

One of the gopher tortoises and a Florida red-bellied turtle, both hit by cars, had their shells badly fractured and suffered extensive internal damage. Both were still alive and responsive upon admission even though their spinal cords were fractured and their body cavities were ruptured. Imagine that when they were rescued, both were still alive, able to feel pain, yet unable to walk to safety -- all the while having their internal organs exposed to the elements. Obviously the only course of action was to humanely euthanize these creatures.

Spread the Word

Our operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. We do not take off weekends and holidays. As with all living creatures, the wildlife patients need to be fed and cared for every day.

Call 262-CARE immediately when you find an injured, sick or orphaned animal. To learn more about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Wildlife Clinic, visit

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

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