by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
They can arrive at the rehabilitation center curled in boxes, sometimes borne by children awestruck by what they’ve discovered in the yard.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center welcomes nearly all wildlife — a snapping turtle with cracked shell, a swan with injured wing — and in 2013 alone, some 9,000 animals were treated at the wildlife center, located in Roseville.
“We’ll give a mouse as much attention as we will a trumpeter swan, if that’s what it takes,” Center Executive Director Philip Jenni said.
The center, while preserving wildlife, is perhaps also preserving a basic part of humanity.
“I don’t know (if) there’s too many people who think there’s not enough compassion in the world,” he said. “And really saving a squirrel is as much about that as anything else.”
Founded at the University of Minnesota in 1979 as a student club in the Veterinary College, the wildlife center now has a year-round staff and an $800,000 annual budget. In summertime, the busy season, scores of college interns and volunteers swell its ranks.
Wildlife comes to the center from throughout Minnesota. Some of the larger animals treated are trumpeter swans, but center staff one morning arrived to find an injured deer, struck near St. Cloud, awaiting treatment in the backseat of a car.
Half of the wildlife treated at the center eventually are released.
“We are actually quite proud of that,” Jenni said of survival rates.
In one memorable release, a bobcat, found injured along a roadside in Hubbard County, was sent racing back into its home range. The couple who had rescued the bobcat, present at the release, burst into tears.
Many of the animals brought to the center have been injured in collisions with windows, cars or other urban objects. Nearly all of the turtles, for instance, have been run over by cars.
Pets can inflict grievous injury to wildlife, too. When asked what people can do to help wildlife, Jenni recommended keeping cats indoors.
“Cats are brutal hunters,” he said.
Based on his personal observations, Jenni believes the populations of some species in urban areas are increasing. These are the so-called “camp followers,” or species that find niches among human activity.
“A raccoon would rather live in South Minneapolis than in any woods in the country, I bet,” Jenni said.
Not all of the camp followers are equally welcomed. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, coyotes, as resourceful predators and scavengers, have established populations in the metro, and the population is increasing. Last July, an Eagan resident reported to police that a pet dog, a 15-pound miniature schnauzer, had been killed by a coyote.
Red fox numbers in the metro seem to be increasing, as well, said Connie LaFond, a state licensed rehabilitator in Maple Plain specializing in fox. The wildlife center works with LaFond, who has large outdoor pens, in treating animals.
Within the metro, there are about 30 state licensed wildlife rehabilitators, some specializing in “healthy orphans” and others songbirds, while some with more expanded clienteles help with rehabbing wildlife.
“It needs to be done. And somebody has to do it,” said Vici Nass, a wildlife rehabilitator in East Bethel.
The bigheartedness of rehabilitators can be seen not only in their willingness to spend time, but often their own money in rehabilitating wildlife, she said.
Back at the wildlife center, on a late December morning, Dr. Agnes Hutchinson, one of the center’s “relief” vets, was nimbly treating a bird with an eye infection. She spoke of some of the swans at the center – one having been injured in a “crash landing” in a driveway – of being almost ready for release.
The center has treated about 180 different species of animals.
In one room, in several tubs, snapping turtles and painted turtles, with a variety of cracks and fissures in their shells, awaited their release day.
A number of bats recently have been brought to the center, dislodged from Christmas decorations stored in the attics, Jenni said.
In one room songbirds and woodpeckers flitted about in an aviary. In another room, a wild turkey seemed on the mend.
“Just about anything that walks or crawls flies or swims in the state of Minnesota, we’ve probably had at one time or another,” Jenni said.
The center’s funding comes from individual donors — about 12,000 during the past three years, Jenni said.
“I like that broad base. I think it makes us more accountable to our donors,” he said.
Tim Budig is at [email protected].