October 4th is World Animal Day and I volunteered to participate in the World Animal Day Blog Hop sponsored by Terri Giullano Long and David M. Brown. In honor of this day and this event, I decided to write a post about animals in need.
Every day, animals both wild and domestic are injured or abused. If you follow the news, you likely heard at least one story about an animal being hurt, lost, killed, found injured… you name it. Just this week, the Tampa Bay area had a news story about a woman trying to ride a manatee near a Gulf beach – with a picture to prove it. Many people on the news report made fun of the woman (she was not thin) and just as many asked why anyone even cared since she wasn’t trying to stab or shoot the manatee. Few remarked on the fact that manatees are protected and that there are consequences for harming them. And, yes, trying to ride one, especially during the already stressful mating season, is against the law. Thankfully, that poor manatee was able to swim away with nothing more than a little stress and, I’m sure, a lifelong fear of chubby brunettes in bikinis. Other animals are far less fortunate.
In the fall, winter, and early spring, I volunteer for a local non-profit called Wildlife Inc.. They rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife in the Manatee and Sarasota County areas of Florida. Gail and Ed Straight started the operation over 25 years ago in their house in Bradenton Beach. It started as a hobby, but somehow they turned their life’s passion into something this area could not survive without. As part of their permitted operations, any animals they cannot release back into the wild may be utilized for education purposes. In the cooler months, Wildlife Inc. sets up education booths at area arts and craft shows where we bring five of the permanent residents. As a volunteer, I have to know each animal’s story, as well as specific details about the species. The species details come easy to me since I am an environmental scientist by education and experience. But each animal’s story tears at my heart.
This picture depicts our usual booth setup for a ‘show’. You can tell by informational banner and the photos in the frames that Wildlife Inc rescues and rehabs all varieties of Florida wildlife except for Florida Panthers (they are highly protected and must go to special facilities) and alligators/crocodiles (because of their size – babies we can handle). We only bring our ‘show’ birds to these events for a few reasons, most important of which is that they take up very little room and are easy to transport. I am in the middle of this picture and Ed Straight is next to me and another volunteer is on the other side. Never mind us, though. The stars of the show are behind us. Starting from the right, there is E.T., a Barred Owl (the ones that go Hoo Hoo HuHooooooo, also known as Hoot Owls) who flew into a barbed wire fence 12 years ago and lost half of his left wing. He can’t fly, which is why he was never released. Lucky for him, he met his girlfriend Girdy at Wildlife Inc. 😉 Next in the photo just behind my right shoulder is Athena, the Great Horned Owl. She is only five years old and is blind in her left eye – when she was just little owlet, not even ready to fledge, her parents brought back a rat that turned out to be poisoned. The other owlet and both of her parents died, but Athena survived. Barely visible behind the other volunteer’s left shoulder is Jacaranda, the Red Tailed Hawk. Jacaranda is 18 years old this year, far older than any of her wild cousins. She was hit by a car and after her broken wing healed, her shoulder damage prevented her from ever flying well enough to survive in the wild. She can only fly a very, very short distance, but let me tell you, she can run like the wind. She escaped her jesses one day as Ed and I were setting up at a show. Before we could blink, she ran 50 feet away. It was too funny and I really wish I had a camera ready. There is another little bird that you might not be able to see sitting in front of Ed’s right arm just above the picture frame. That is Hollywood, an Eastern Screech Owl, and yes, he is full grown. Hollywood was also hit by a car and has a similar injury to Jacaranda’s. He also has some lingering head trauma that prevents him from flying straight.
Every weekend, I work with those birds and help raise awareness for animals in need. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.