Chattanooga Wildlife Rehabilitators care for the animals

By Emily Cressman, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chattanooga, Tenn (AP) – Now is a time of year when many species of wildlife give birth to babies, and it is also a time when humans often encounter orphaned, sick or injured wildlife.

“Really, this is our busy season, because kids season is when people tend to get out there to trim the trees, and they come across the birds,” said Mary Marr, who is in charge of songbird care at Camp Wildernest. “Sometimes, birds that are just learning to fly, people think they are injured or injured, but in reality, their parents are close and they are just in the process of learning how to fly.”

Camp Wildernest is among the wildlife rehabilitation centers in Chattanooga that help animals in need recover and return to the wild. His efforts focus on songbirds, turtles, flying squirrels, and chipmunks.

At Opie Acres, founder Jerry Harvey specializes in opossum rehabilitation. He currently takes care of 128 nocturnal creatures, which have poor eyesight and are prone to being hit by cars.

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He also has nine raccoons, 13 skunks of varying sizes, groundhogs and weasels. Harvey will also take other animals, such as bobcats and deer, so they can be moved to a place where they can be better looked after.

The only animals he can’t take according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are wolves, which are considered “disturbing animals”; bats, which tend to spread rabies; And armour, which is an invasive species.

Kate Kinnear of Marshall Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center focuses on squirrels and rabbits.

Camp Wildernest is a division of Happinest, a Signal Mountain rehabilitation center operated by Alix Parks focused on birds of prey.

“A wildlife rehabilitation worker will always be better able to focus only on one or two things, rather than everything,” Marr said. “This is getting kind of difficult in terms of volunteer training and general care only.”

While spring and summer are the busiest seasons at Wildernest Camp, hunted birds are often brought to the center year-round.

“All of the volunteers here love cats,” said Marr. “It’s much safer for cats and birds when cats are kept indoors.”

Aside from cats, another common danger to birds is getting stuck in sticky traps that people are prepared to catch with mice and insects.

She said sticky traps are an inhumane way to kill animals that are slowly dying as they struggle to break free.

When a bird sees an insect in a sticky trap, the bird tries to eat it and also gets stuck. The birds will hurt themselves very badly when they try to break free, and those that have been released by rehab must be washed several times to remove the glue. She said that every time a bird touches a human, it causes more trauma.

Instead of sticky traps, Marr suggests two-door live animal cage traps, such as those from Havahart, which are available at Tractor Supply Co., Ltd. and Home Depot and Amazon.

She also recommends companies like Mosquito Joe that provide natural outdoor pest control. Even just putting peppermint oil around the baseboards of the house can be helpful in deterring pests, she said.

“I know a lot of people have a problem and want a solution right away,” Marr said. “Sometimes there are things you can do that will still be successful and it may take more than just going to Lowe’s in order to figure out exactly what to do, but they can always call us if they have a question about something like that.”

Harvey said wildlife safety is one of the many reasons to avoid littering, as litter can attract animals like opossums to the road.

In this region, opossums have two calving seasons a year – once in late February and early March, and again in late June and early July.

If people have been in contact with an opossum, a raccoon, or any other small mammal, the first thing a human should remember is to avoid exposure.

“Baby opossums are pretty harmless for the most part,” Harvey said. “It’s surprising that a little raccoon can actually deliver a very good bite.”

People find it easy to carry it with a cloth and put it in a box. If the animal is defensive, he said, gardening gloves may be necessary for protection, or a broom can be used to sweep the animal into a cat carrier or box.

Once confined, they can be taken to wildlife rehabilitation centers, which sometimes have volunteers who can provide transportation.

The most important thing to know is to never feed the animal.

“The diet of wild animals is so specific to their species that giving them the wrong thing once can actually kill them,” Harvey said.

Marr said that people who find a turtle on the way can help it on the other side if it can be done safely.

People who come across a baby bird in their yard should leave it alone to see if its mother, who is best prepared to take care of it, returns – as long as there is a fence to keep out other animals that might harm it.

Or a laundry basket with a towel or blanket can be placed over the bird to keep it safe. The mother often appears. If you don’t, Camp Wildernest can take over from there.

While 128 may seem like a lot of opossums, there are times when Harvey cared about much more than that. Last year, about 800 opossums were rehabilitated at Opie Acres.

“We’ve had to limit our intake this year because we’ve shortened our volunteers,” Harvey said.

Wildernest camp also needs volunteers, and both rehabilitation centers provide training for volunteers. To find out more, contact the various centers, which are all non-profit organizations that operate with donations from volunteers.

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