Four Lakes Wildlife Center's goal is to rehabilitate, release animals
MADISON — With spring here and summer on the horizon, people undoubtedly will find wildlife they believe is in need of care.
Such was the case recently when a family brought two baby squirrels that had fallen from a tree to the Four Lakes Wildlife Center.
Instead of waiting for the mother squirrel to pick up the babies and return them to one of her nests, the family took the babies inside and fed them puppy milk formula for three days, said Brooke Lewis, wildlife rehabilitation supervisor.
But the formula is not good for squirrels, she said.
"In that amount of time, they really went downhill and were bad condition when they came in," she said. "One passed away. The other is still fighting (for its life)."
Instead of just bringing the squirrels in to the wildlife center, the family sought guidance from a local pet store.
"They just got the wrong advice," Lewis said.
"We would have told them to give it a few hours, set up the babies so they're warm and protected, but leave them in a box for mom to come retrieve them," she added.
If the mother squirrel hadn't returned in that time, the family would have been directed to bring the babies into the center, "where we buy formulas specifically made for squirrels," Lewis said.
Last year, 3,058 animals were brought to the wildlife center, which is a program of the Dane County Humane Society. That was a 63 percent increase from 2011, Lewis said.
So far, in 2013, "we're right on track of where we were last year," she said.
To keep the number of animals at or below last year's, the center wants people to know what they should and shouldn't do to avoid unnecessary admission of baby animals.
In a lot of cases, it's best to leave the animal alone, Lewis said.
"We tend to get a lot of baby animals taken by people who think they need help," she said.
For example, Lewis said, "fledgling birds jump out of their nest and spend several days on the ground before they can fly. People assume they are hurt so scoop them up when they really didn't need to be rescued."
Also, mother bunnies only feed their babies twice a day, and when people are not around. Unfortunately, people might never see the mother, and they assume the bunnies need feeding.
Lewis directs that an animal should be taken to the wildlife center if it is injured, and if:
-- There is blood, or if a wing or leg is at an odd angle or looks broken.
-- The animal has parasites—flies or fleas—all over it.
The goal of the center is to rehabilitate and release animals as soon as possible, Lewis said.
"Wildlife are not meant to be kept in captivity," she said.
The center was launched in 2007 behind the love of the humane society volunteers who wanted to help injured wildlife, said Gayle Viney, public relations coordinator.
"It has grown into a program with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of animals helped every year," Viney said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources license the center, which serves south-central Wisconsin, including Rock County. It receives no federal or state funding and is supported completely by community donations and fundraisers.
The center staff includes three employees and about 140 volunteers, Lewis said.
On Wednesday, volunteers working in the center's kitchen spoke in hushed tones while preparing food and formula for the sick, injured and orphaned animals. This was to avoid agitating the animals.
"They'll (the volunteers will) be doing this all day until all of the animals are fed," said Jackie Edmunds, wildlife coordinator.
Volunteers also spend time helping staff administer medications and cleaning cages.
The center wasn't at capacity earlier this week, but it will be very soon, Edmunds predicted. She based her expectations on the fact that people are getting outside again, and they will be more likely to happen upon baby wildlife.
It's also a heavy birthing season for many animals, Lewis said.
"This is the beginning of our busiest time of year that will start to slow down again in October," she said.