WASHINGTON BOROUGH, Pa (WHTM) — Raven Ridge Wildlife Center has four new permanent residents; injured animals who did not heal properly, and cannot be released back into the wild. So they now begin new lives, as animal ambassadors.
“There’s a lot to determine whether an animal is going to make a good ambassador, or not.” says Tracie Young, head of the center. “Temperament is definitely number one, how the animal interacts with the volunteers, the handler, being out in the public.”
Wildlife rescue facilities are heavily regulated, on both the state and federal levels. According to Tracie, they fill out forms for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Fish and Boat Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits. Doing education programs is part of the package; Tracie says they have to have a minimum of twelve programs a year and file reports. Running a rehab is expensive; the money raised by the educational programs helps keep the lights on and the animals fed. But it also means that they are able to keep some animals alive who would otherwise have to be euthanized.
Such was certainly the case with Gigi the groundhog. “A friend of mine who’s a veterinarian actually found Gigi in her backyard,” says Tracie. “We don’t know if she got hit by a car, if maybe as a baby something traumatic happened to her, but she is not able to run, like a normal groundhog. She is not able to sit on her haunches like most groundhogs do to eat, but she has a fantastic temperament, and you know that groundhogs aren’t always everybody’s favorite, but when she goes out a lot of people have a new appreciation for groundhogs, and she’s great.”
For Dottie the opossum the problems were developmental. According to Tracie, she had “What we call failure to thrive. She seemed to kind of lag behind everybody else, she didn’t really want to be with the other opossums.” When the time came, Dottie opted to stay with the rescue. “We tried to release Dottie three different times, three different places, and she wouldn’t go anywhere. She would follow us back to the vehicle, and she wanted to get back into her crate.”
Willow the Saw-Whet Owl barely escaped being roadkill, when she was found in the double yellow line on Willow Street in Lancaster. “We took the owl to our veterinarian, and the wing is totally destroyed,” says Tracie. “All the bone is fractured, so she will never be able to fly again. But she’s a really good temperament, she is feisty, so she is going to make a good ambassador.”
Animal rehabbers network a lot, trying to find fellow rehabbers who can take an injured animal that needs a permanent home. That’s how Pharaoh the great horned owl ended up at Raven Ridge. “I was contacted by a rehabilitator up near State College,” says Tracie, “and this owl was cosmetically beautiful, but the right-wing, when the bird was hit, it didn’t heal properly.”
Pharaoh had to get used to living with humans. “I’ve been working with him the last couple of months, trying to gain that trust, that temperament,” says Tracie.” Pharaoh has already been part of two programs this year, but he’s also doing double duty, acting as a foster parent to a couple of baby great horned owls. “Great horned owls, especially the babies, will imprint, and you do not want to imprint a great horned owl, and we don’t want them to think they’re human,” says Tracie. “So with them being in the same cage as Pharaoh, they recognize what they are, he teaches them how to eat, how to make the noises, how to groom, and they feel safe.”
The newbies are joining some seasoned veterans, like Tapioca the skunk, Taylor the redtail hawk, the box turtle quintet (Donatello, Emitt, Harriet, Michelangelo, and Ozzie) and the grand old man himself, Barron von Vulture, who we should note is a black vulture and not the more common turkey vulture.
While it can be rewarding, taking care of the permanent residents adds to the workload for Tracie and her small team of volunteers. Arranging educational programs can take a lot of time and effort. But Tracie feels it’s really a means to a more important end.
“It’s our job to also educate the public about these animals. How they play an important part in our environment. Certain animals people are afraid of, there’s no reason to be afraid. And the impact that it makes for the public to see these animals up close is just amazing. A lot of people have come up to me and said ‘I had no idea, I had no idea how cute they were, how beautiful they are’, and when you teach, you make a difference.”