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On Our Way to Healing Wildlife in South Florida

By S. Mathur

Wildlife rehabilitators at the South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC) rescue and heal a steady stream of animals and birds - turtles, owls, herons, seagulls, and opossums among others - treating around 12,000 animals each year. The risks to these creatures stem not from the wild, which is their home, but from the human-built environment, says Executive Director Sherry L. Schlueter.

"The majority of wildlife we treat are injured or sickened not by dangers in the wild, but because of circumstances associated with urban living. Wildlife trying to survive in neighborhoods, parks, on beaches, and along our canals and other waterways are most exposed to human-related hazards such as dangerous debris, fishing hooks and monofilament line, vehicles, poisons, large glass windows, free-roaming pets, and people perpetrating intentional harm. By rescuing and saving some of these innocent wild creatures, SFWC strives to undo some of the harm caused and to help to restore better balance to our ecosystem and to their lives."

The SFWC is the largest wildlife trauma hospital and rehabilitation facility anywhere, says Schlueter, with about sixty professional staff, including three fulltime, licensed veterinarians: "SFWC is open 365 days per year to assist wildlife in need, and is also a teaching hospital. The public is welcome every day to bring in injured, orphaned, and ailing wildlife for care at no charge." If they can do so safely, people are welcome to bring in injured animals.

SFWC will also send out rescue teams, Schlueter says: "If the wild creature poses a risk to the finder or is too difficult for an untrained person to rescue, the finder may call SFWC at 954-524-4302, ext. 10, any day (8am-6pm) for advice or to seek on-scene assistance. SFWC operates two wildlife rescue ambulances which facilitate field rescues, and a third ambulance transports fully rehabilitated wildlife back to nature. Our ambulances cover the tri-county region (Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach) every day of the year."

SFWC has a series of educational programs including workshops about how and when to rescue wildlife, safe handling, basic rehabilitation and more. Other programs also attempt to educate the public about the importance of wildlife.

"Wild animals are a critically important part of any natural ecosystem. But, especially in our wonderful sub-tropical climate, without many of the species living among us, South Florida would be a much less interesting, beautiful, and habitable place for humans. An astounding array of wild creatures share their color, beauty and song with us, enriching our lives. Directly saving wild animals' lives and educating the public about how to reduce dangers that threaten both human and animal safety, will help to keep everyone safer and our delicate environment in better balance, benefiting us all."

The local community is highly supportive of the SFWC, which does not receive any public finding and runs on private donations. People also demonstrate support, says Schlueter, "by contacting our center for advice, rescue help, and by showing remarkable concern for injured, orphaned and imperiled wildlife. About two-thirds of the wildlife received at the Center is brought in directly by kind community members."

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