Wildlife center cares for orphaned animals

OKEECHOBEE — Spring is a busy time at Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
“Spring has hit and we’re getting babies,” said center staffer Vickie Theris. The center’s hospital is filled with orphaned baby animals including opossums, rabbits, raccoons, an otter, a fawn and even a baby vulture.

The goal of the non-profit center is to raise the young animals to the point that they can be released back into the wild.

Vickie Theris, of Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, holds a baby otter called Wiggles. Since Wiggles is an orphan, the staff will have to teach the otter to swim in a plastic wading pool. Photo taken by Katrina Elsken.

The babies are fed a diet tailored to their nutritional needs. Human contact is limited to what is necessary to raise the animals to the point they can care for themselves in the wild.

Some animals need more help than others. For example, baby otters must be taught to swim; otherwise, they could drown in deep water, explained Brittany White, a member of the center staff.

A tiny orphaned faun finds a safe spot inside a pet carrier in the building that serves as a hospital and a nursery at Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The center’s goal is to take care of the animals until they can be returned to the wild. Photo taken by Katrina Elsken.

Most of the orphans are brought to the shelter by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) officials, but some are brought in by members of the public.

Unfortunately, some well-meaning persons sometimes accidentally do more harm than good. Just because a baby deer is alone does not mean it is an orphan, warned Ms. Theris.

The mother deer may be nearby or watching the baby from a distance.

Removing a baby animal from its natural environment may be signing its death warrant, she said. The animal’s best chance for survival is with its mother.

A baby opossum is among the animals in the Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center nursery. Photo taken by Katrina Elsken.

According to FWC, you should never touch or pick up baby animals or remove them from their natural environment. Unless you know for a fact that the mother is dead, the best course is to leave a baby animal where you find it.

Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, 14895 N.W. 30th Terrace, is a non-profit organization. In addition to caring for wounded and orphaned native Florida animals, the center is also home to about 300 permanent residents. Some rescues — such as a three-legged deer — were too badly injured to survive in the wild again. Other animals, both native and exotic, were raised in captivity and either confiscated from unsafe or unhealthy conditions by FWC or relinquished to the center by their former owners. The shelter is home to foxes, kangaroos, lemurs and a camel.

The center is a non-profit and depends on donations. Donations may be made via the website arnoldswildlife.org or at smile.amazon.com. The center also welcomes donations of towels (old ones are perfectly fine), newspapers, paper towels, bleach, hoses, heat lamps, knives, canned fruits, feed, gift cards to Walmart, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, Lowe’s, or any of the local feed stores.

Roscoe the raccoon is ready to go. The young raccoon will start with a “soft release” in an outdoor area where some food will be provided for him until he learns to forage on his own. Photo taken by Katrina Elsken.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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