This is a time of year when many species of wildlife have babies, and it is also a time when people often encounter orphaned, sick or injured wildlife.
“Really, this is our busy season because baby season is when people tend to prune trees and they come across birds,” said Mary Marr, a songbird keeper at Camp Wildernest. “Sometimes, birds that are just learning to fly, people think they’re hurt or injured, but actually their parents are around and they’re just learning how to bird.”
Camp Wildernest is one of the wildlife rescue centers in Chattanooga that helps animals in need heal and get them back into the wild. Efforts are focused on songbirds, turtles, flying squirrels and chipmunks.
At Opie Acres, founder Jerry Harvey specializes in possum rehabilitation. He currently cares for 128 of the nocturnal animals, who are visually impaired and prone to being hit by cars.
He also has nine raccoons, 13 skunks of various sizes, two groundhogs and a weasel. Harvey will also take in other animals, such as bobcats and deer, until they can be transported somewhere where they can take better care.
Wildlife rehabilitators in the Chattanooga area help care for animals in need
The only animals he can’t take per Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are coyotes, which are considered “nuisance animals”; bats, which tend to spread rabies; and armadillos, which are an invasive species.
Camp Wildernest is an offshoot of Happinest, a rehabilitation center on Signal Mountain run by Alix Parks that focuses on birds of prey†
“A restorer will always be better able to focus on one or two things, rather than everything,” Marr said. “That just gets a little difficult in regards to volunteer training and just general care.”
While spring and summer are the busiest seasons at Camp Wildernest, cat-trapped birds are often brought to the center year-round.
“All the volunteers here love cats,” Marr said. “It’s just safer for the cat and the birds if cats are kept indoors.”
Aside from cats, another common danger to birds is getting caught in sticky traps that humans have set up to trap mice and insects.
Glue traps are an inhumane way to kill animals, which slowly die as they struggle to break free, she said.
When a bird sees an insect in a net, the bird tries to eat it and also gets stuck. Birds will seriously injure themselves if they try to break free, and those rescued by rehabilitators will need to be bathed several times to remove the glue. Every time a bird is touched by a human, it causes more trauma, she said.
Instead of sticky traps, Marr suggests: two-door live animal cage traps, such as Havahart’s, available from Tractor Supply Co., Home Depot, and Amazon.
Animal Rehabilitation Programs in the Chattanooga Area
Animals: songbirds, turtles, flying squirrels, chipmunks.
Contact person: 423-593-3932, campwildernest.com
Animals: All wildlife.
Contact person: 423-697-1322
Happinest Wildlife Rehabilitation & Rescue
Animals: Birds of prey.
Contact person: 423-847-5757, luckiestwildlife.com
Marshall Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation & Conservancy
Animals: Squirrels, rabbits
Contact person: 540-392-5428
Animals: Opossums, groundhogs, beaver, weasels, raccoons, skunks.
Contact person: 423-255-6460
She also recommends companies such as: Mug Joe that provide all-natural outdoor pest control. Even applying peppermint oil around a home’s baseboards can help deter pests, she said.
“I know a lot of people have a problem and they want a solution right away,” Marr said. “Sometimes there are things you can do that are still successful and may take a little more than just going to Lowe’s to figure out exactly what to do, but they can always call us if they have a question about something like that. . “
Wildlife safety is one of many reasons to avoid litter, as litter can attract animals like opossums onto the road, Harvey said.
In this region, opossums have two birthing seasons a year – once in late February and early March, and again in late June and early July.
When humans come into contact with a baby possum, raccoon, or other small mammal, the first thing humans should remember is to avoid getting hurt.
“Baby possums are pretty much harmless for the most part,” Harvey said. “A baby raccoon can surprisingly give a pretty good bite.”
Most baby animals that people find are easy to pick up with a cloth and put in a box. If the animal is defensive, gardening gloves may be needed for protection, or a broom may be used to sweep the animal into a cat bed or box, he said.
Once locked up, it can be transported to wildlife shelters, which sometimes have volunteers who can provide transportation.
The most important thing to know is to never feed the animal.
“Wild animals’ diets are so specific to their species that if you give them the wrong thing once, they can actually kill them,” Harvey said.
People who find a turtle on the road can help it across if it’s safe to do so, Marr said.
People who come across a baby bird in their yard should leave him alone to see if his mother, who is best equipped to care for him, returns – as long as there is a fence to keep out other animals that could harm him.
Or a laundry basket with a towel or blanket over it can be placed over the bird to keep it safe. The mother often shows up. If she doesn’t, Kamp Wildernest can take over from there.
While 128 may seem like a lot of opossums, there are times when Harvey has taken care of a lot more. Last year, about 800 opossums were rehabilitated in Opie Acres.
“We’ve had to limit our intake this year because we have so few volunteers,” Harvey said.
Camp Wildernest also needs volunteers and both rehabilitation centers offer training to volunteers. For more information, contact the various centers, which are all non-profit organizations that run on donations from volunteers.
Contact Emily Crisman at: [email protected] or 423-757-6508.