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Wildlife Center Provides Care For Baby Animals

As the rainy season rolls in, many baby squirrels and birds get washed out of their nests. The Texas Wildlife Center is caring for hundreds of these animals, and they want people to know how they can help if they come across one.

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Photo credit: Houston SPCA

baby possumsPhoto credit: Houston SPCA

 

It’s 11:30 a.m. at the Wildlife Center of Texas. That means it’s time to feed the baby squirrels.

Volunteer Nancy Macnaughton is holding a squirrel about the size of her hand. She fills a tiny syringe with milk and gently squirts it into the squirrel’s mouth.

About a dozen volunteers team up to feed the squirrels three times a day, and these are just some of the more than 300 animals they care for. There are also ducks, owls, raccoons, rabbits and possums to name a few.

The Wildlife Center is part of Houston’s SPCA. Inside, it’s surprisingly serene with most critters tucked away in their cages. Director Sharon Schmalz says as springtime approaches, lots of people find baby animals on the ground, washed out of their nests.

“Usually what we’ll advise people is to use like a blanket or a big beach towel and kind of drop it over them,” Schmalz says. “Once you cover their head they’re going to kind of sit still, and they can scoop them into a dog kennel, cat kennel, or even just a box works great.”

Your first instinct may be to give the animal food or water, but Schmalz says that’s not a good idea. She says people may have good intentions, but without the proper guidance they can do more harm than good.

“We don’t want people to keep it for three or four days and feed it maybe a wrong diet,” she says. “Just leave it alone, leave it quiet overnight and bring it to us the next morning.”

Many people living in urban areas don’t get that hands-on experience, so they can be nervous about approaching wildlife. But according to Anni Ranck, it’s all about proper handling. Ranck works in wildlife care at the center. She takes lots of calls from people who have found an animal and are unsure of what to do. 

“You’d be surprised how easy it is for us to talk somebody through how to get an animal to us over the phone,” Ranck says.

Sharon Schmalz adds that not all animals need to be brought in. If it’s not injured, she says to wait a couple hours to see if the parents return. If you’re not sure what to do, you can always call the Wildlife Center.

Schmalz thinks of the center as a hospital, a place for animals to rest and recover. But ultimately, she wants to get them back into the wild.

“We try to re-nest them, and we actually have a couple locations right now where we gave people laundry baskets and we put some twigs in there and put the babies in there and hang them back up in the tree,” Schmalz says. “90 percent of the time, mom will come back and feed them. That instinct to want to care for their young is very strong.”

owlPhoto credit: Houston SPCA

Schmalz says rescuing an animal can be a transformative experience. Thirty years ago, she found a baby bird in her backyard after a storm and began caring for it. Eventually, she left her computer science job to work in wildlife rehabilitation. She says when people bring in baby animals this time of year, it takes her back to that moment.

“We get over 9,000 animals a year here,” Schmalz says. “I never want to feel like I’m getting hardened to it when people come in, because to them that’s the only animal they’ve ever found, and they’re excited and they want to care for it.”

The Wildlife Center currently has 600 volunteers, and they’re recruiting even more to help them through this busy season.

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Tomeka Weatherspoon

Producer

Tomeka Weatherspoon is an Emmy-award winning producer. She produces segments, the weekly television program Arts InSight, the short film showcase The Territory and a forthcoming digital series on innovation. Originally from the Midwest, Tomeka studied convergence journalism from the world’s first journalism school at the University of Missouri. She has...

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