LWR had several intakes around the same time the snapper came in, but his was such an unusual case I focused exclusively on it for the last update. Now we’ll play catch-up and add a few new intakes.
The overwintering flying squirrels are in pre-release caging now and I see very little of them. See below for a typical view these days.
Meanwhile, just this week LWR received another flyer, one of this spring’s babies, who’s just an adorable little girl. As I’ve mentioned before, flyers are among my favorite mammals to rehab.
This adult red shouldered hawk (RS) came in with a mild concussion and was released the next day. I did run him to the vet just to be sure, as the finder indicated a wing injury that I couldn’t locate. Vet Jim Hobby and I agreed that the RS had no wing issues when he got loose in the exam room and flew with no problems, so he was sent packing the next morning.
A second RS wasn’t as lucky, however. This very small male had a break right at the joint that had begun healing in the wild. He can’t fully extend his wing and will never fly more than 10-12 feet at low altitude again, making him nonreleasable. He also had bumblefoot developing when he came in. Honestly, to begin with, I thought these might be the least of his concerns, as the family that found him had fed him barbecue chicken before I picked him up. He reeked of sauce and had grease all over his beak, and I panicked. I couldn’t reach Steve Hicks or Kathryn Dudeck, both of whom you’ve read about previously, so I called Cathy Horvath of Long Island, New York’s Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation (WINORR), part of my extended network of fellow rehabbers. Cathy and her husband Bobby, who are dedicated urban wildlife rehabbers, and I met through the NYU/NYT hawk cam chat last year, and we’ve stayed in touch. Cathy eased my panic, graciously allowed me to vent, and suggested treatments to ensure the barbecue sauce did no lasting damage to the hawk’s digestive tract.
Folks, a gentle reminder here: raptors do NOT eat cooked or processed meats. This means no fried bacon, no BBQ chicken, no potted meat, no salt-cured ham, no hot dogs, no deli slices, no bologna, etc., etc. Got the general idea?
This guy’s bumblefoot, on top of the foot rather than the normal location on the bottom, didn’t respond to topical treatment alone, so he’s now on oral antibiotics in addition to topical treatment. He’s a typical mouthy RS and cusses me out each time I take him out for treatment and meds.
And this morning, this beaver kit came in. One of the neat aspects of wildlife rehab is that every year brings some critter you’ve ever worked with before, and this little guy is my first beaver. Long story short, the person who brought him to me rescued him from an unsavory neighbor who claimed to’ve found him walking across a pasture and had him in a tank full of water. The rescuer didn’t believe his tale and realized that he would drown if not removed from the water—beaver kits, like ducklings, must develop the stamina to remain in water for long periods; they can drown or become hypothermic (body temp drops too low). So the rescuer commandeered the beaver and located a rehabber who would take beavers.
Yes, they’re considered nuisances by some people and they’re classified as rodents, but beavers do serve an important role as what’s referred to as a keystone species. Their dams help to create wetlands where other species can thrive. Because Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife
states their beneficial role much better than I could, I’m quoting that site here: Beavers reliably and economically maintain wetlands that sponge up floodwaters, alleviate droughts and floods (because their dams keep water on the land longer), lesson erosion, raise the water table and act as the "earth's kidneys" to purify water. The latter occurs because several feet of silt collect upstream of older beaver dams, and toxics, such as pesticides, are broken down by microbes in the wetlands that beavers create. Thus, water downstream of dams is cleaner and requires less treatment for human use.
I encourage you to visit their site through the link above; it’s really interesting reading!
Because beavers are very social creatures and I have an “only”, I’ll be looking for pals or to transfer to someone who has pals; failing that, I’ll get him weaned and seek an educational facility for him, as without companionship of his own kind, he may not be releasable. Also, he’s a long-termer, as in the wild young beavers stay with their parents for up to two years. Stay tuned for updates as we progress with this cutie.
I also received the first baby bird of the season this evening, a hatchling of unidentified species. He was found in a parking lot and was about as big as a nickel. The finder did everything right—he looked for a nest and put the hatchling where it could be seen to give the parents a chance to retrieve their baby, then he called for help, then he got the bird to me, all within an approximately hour-long span. This should have been plenty of time had the bird had a chance, and I had hopes he’d pull through, but such a young bird who’d been without food for an undetermined period today really didn’t have much of a chance. He lasted about 10 minutes after I got home with him, poor baby. If they’re found soon enough, unnested hatchlings can be saved, but because their food requirements are so high the first few days after hatching (tiny birds like this wee one was usually require feeding every 5-10 minutes for 12-14 hours a day), too long without food is a death sentence for them.
Keep this in mind if you find unnested hatchlings—the sooner you get them to a rehabber, the better their chances. In fact, this is a good rule of thumb for any wild orphan or injured adult wildlife—the sooner it receives help, the better its chances of survival.
Rehabbers don’t work in a vacuum; we don’t play Lone Ranger. Without our vets and a network of other rehabbers, we can’t be really effective at what we do. I’m more grateful than words can express for my wonderful vets at Smalley’s Animal Hospital and for the dedicated rehabbers in my network.
Why am I leading with this? Late last week LWR received a HBC (hit by car) common snapping turtle. I have very little experience with reptiles; normally the turtles I see have been HBC and are damaged beyond repair—jaws missing, heads crushed, shells shattered, etc. I must confess, somewhat shamefacedly, I don’t know my reptile species well—I wasn’t even sure what species of turtle this was! However, he looked to my admittedly inexperienced eye as if he had a chance. I immediately put in calls to two fellow rehabbers who work with reptiles, Steve Hicks of Bubba & Friends
and Kathryn Dudeck of the Chattahoochee Nature Center
. Within short order, we had confirmed his species as common snapping turtle.
(As a side note here, and because you know I have to get in at least one good rant, there’s just no excuse for running over a turtle, okay? None. It’s not like they dart out in front of you; you can see them in plenty of time to slow down and avoid them. People who get their jollies running over turtles have a special place reserved for them in hell.)
Of course, the snapper came in after hours for my vet clinic, so I did what I could to make him comfortable for the night and sent Steve and Kathryn photos of the damage to his shell and head. They agreed that we should give treatment a shot if my vets were willing, so the next morning I loaded up the 20 pound snapper and headed for Smalley’s. Vet Richie Hatcher examined him and said that the least we could do was try, as the alternative was immediate euthanasia. Since reptiles aren’t exactly a common patient for most vets, he needed time to check with some of his fellow vets who had more experience with them, so we planned on surgery after lunch.
In the meantime, Kathryn referred me to Terry Norton of The Georgia Sea Turtle Center
. Terry works pretty exclusively on turtles, tortoises and terrapins, so I put him and Richie in contact with each other. By the time I returned to Smalley’s after lunch, Richie and Terry had pretty much planned out the needed course of action.
Even at that, we still haven’t exhausted the list of people who made the attempt to save this turtle’s life possible: Every person at Smalley’s contributed in one form or another. In particular, vets Peggy Hobby and Michelle Hubbard saw regular patients while Richie performed surgery; vet techs Autumn Parker and Betty Smith assisted in prep and surgery; vet Jim Hobby, who wasn’t even scheduled to work that day, was on hand for quite some time to assist Richie as needed.
After nearly four hours of surgery to repair the snapper’s damaged face, Richie was done…and it appeared that we had lost the snapper right at the end. Dejected clinic staff began filing out, as their work day had ended. Richie, Autumn and I debated calling it, but Richie decided to give the turtle one more hour. At the end of that hour, as we reluctantly agreed it was over, the turtle blinked! We went into high gear to begin again all the life support measures we had just ended.
So, some six hours after the surgery began, we had a turtle who appeared to have a fighting chance. We, of course, named him Lazarus. I took him home and kept a heat lamp on him all night, checking every hour until the wee hours of the morning to make sure he was still with us. I sent pictures of his post-surgery face to Steve and Kathryn, who both said Richie had done an outstanding job. We were all guardedly optimistic and began talking about plans for the turtle’s future, although Kathryn warned me that it could take up to 72 hours before we could be fairly certain he was going to make it.
I wish I could report a happy ending to this tale, but Lazarus succumbed to shock, stress, his injuries—maybe all of these—yesterday, almost 24 hours after his surgery ended.
So why the long tale about a turtle who didn’t make it? First, to emphasize that rehabbers don’t go it alone; we have networks of people we can call on for help when needed. Second, to give you a better idea of what a rehabber’s world is like. We and our vets expend massive amounts of time and energy on injured animals that we’re fully aware have only a 50%, sometimes less, chance of survival. It’s not all warm and fuzzy. We lose animals, lots of them. A general rule of thumb is that only 50% of the animals entering a rehab facility will be released. Most of the remainder will die within 12-24 hours of intake or will require euthanasia. Some will die after we struggle for days or weeks to keep them alive. Those are the ones that haunt us, because we always second-guess our decision to attempt treatment, our course of treatment—and sometimes our very ability to rehab effectively at all. The emotional toll, the time commitment, and the sheer expense lead to a very high burnout rate among rehabbers.
Ultimately, though, it all boils down to this: In Nature’s eyes, the moment a human can touch a wild animal, that animal is dead. If we can successfully treat and release it, we’ve given it back its life. For that animal, the entire world is changed because a network of dedicated people cared enough to try.
This is my thank you to all those people who help me make a difference, who help me “give Nature’s children a second chance.”