The 1963 episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in which Opie Taylor raises baby birds after accidentally killing their mother with his slingshot may be the series’ most memorable.
In reality, nursing injured and orphaned wild animals and releasing them back into their habitat is not so easy, say volunteers at the Triangle Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic or TWRC.
Since the clinic closed its doors at 1417 Seaton Road in Durham last month, local wildlife rehabilitation may become harder.
TWRC is seeking community help in finding a new building after outgrowing its former location.
For President Pamela Bayne, who has spent two decades working with wildlife, the situation is dire.
She said the building the nonprofit rented for the past three years was aging and had “major plumbing issues,” including just one working sink.
After serving more than 2,000 animals last year, the building no longer met the clinic’s needs.
“With wildlife and volunteers bumping into each other, it wasn’t working,” Bayne said. “The building just couldn’t suit us any longer.”
While people may have good intentions when “rescuing” injured wildlife, those good intentions can cause “horrible problems,” she said.
“It’s illegal to deal with birds without a state and federal permit,” Bayne said. “There are over 400 species of songbirds just in North Carolina alone, and rehabilitating is not just simply feeding.”
For instance, many wild animals must be around others of their kind, and housing them alone in rooms or cages can add to their stress.
Some raptors, like eagles, need cages sometimes over 100 feet long, to build muscles after an injury. All birds also need the correct diet to have the body and feathers mature properly.
“You have to know each species,” Bayne said. “At TWRC we work with every bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile.”Not keeping up
Bayne said donations and volunteers have not kept pace with the number of animals coming in.
The agency ran a deficit in 2011, according to its most recent federal tax report, taking in $77,993 in revenue, but spending $86,521.
But the report showed the clinic still had savings, about $87,795 in assets, and Bayne said money was not the main reason for closing.
If the building could have kept pace, grants and donations would have been enough to keep the clinic open this year, Bayne said. But costs, such as patient medicines, continue rising and not everyone who drops an animal off donates.
“We have had individuals who are very generous to us; that’s why we managed to stay in business,” she said. “But there’s no question we need financial and volunteer support and want to get the word out.”More harm than good
Like Opie and his slingshot, human actions, like moving into native habitats, automobiles and poison in yards, cause most wildlife injuries.
When people take them in and attempt to “care” for them, they often do more harm than good.
“People might try to raise and release creatures on their own, and it won’t survive because it has not healed correctly,” said Bayne. “Stuff on the Internet isn’t always good information.”
There are also circumstances in which a licensed caretaker’s expertise helps. For example, people sometimes force open a bird’s mouth to feed it and in the process break beaks or jaws. In addition, many young birds must be fed as often as every 30 minutes for 14 hours a day.
While serving the Triangle public seven days a week, TWRC would also take animals from as far as Ocracoke and would provide internships to pre-veterinarian students from N.C. State University where Bayne also works with the “turtle team.”
Bayne, whose position was unpaid according to the 2011 tax report, said a free or low-cost central location in the Triangle with enough land for outside flight cages would be ideal. Along with the building, grants would need to be found to keep providing services.
Ann Rogers has volunteered at TWRC since its start four years ago. She said although there is a place for injured birds of prey in Charlotte, another in Eastern North Carolina and a handful of area licensed home rehabilitators, without TWRC there is a void.
“It is the only wildlife clinic in the central part of the state open to the public every day of the year,” she said.
Emily Weinstein has also volunteered at TWRC and said rehabilitation is important to not only patients but also anyone in a wildlife emergency.
“In the spring it staggers the mind, the hospital they run seven days a week with literally hundreds of baby song birds chirping for their meals, squirrels, turtles, large birds of prey,” Weinstein said.
The TWRC staff decided to shut the doors during winter when the clinic was not as busy and places could be found for the remaining animals. But they worry about wildlife in the coming months.
“They arrive having fallen from a nest, having been wrestled from a cat’s mouth, bumped by a car,” said Weinstein. “This area will be hurting badly if TWRC isn’t back up and running by spring. I hate to think of it.”