If you have read the Animal Helpers series, now you are familiar with the work that it takes to help wild animals. Whether they are animals destined to live in captivity for their whole lives or they are wild animals being released back into their natural habitat each animal receives special care.
Today, we are featuring an interview with Ashley Dec
ker the Day Manager at the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Stroudsburg, PA. Meet Ashley and the animals of the center at the Barnes & Noble in Easton, PA on Saturday May 31st for a Bookfair and to learn even more about the center!
Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center takes in over 1,000 animals every year, including, fawns, owls, hawks, squirrels, rabbits, songbirds, raccoons and bears. Which animals do you see the most of and what is your busiest time of year?
Spring is most definitely our busiest time of year! I would say we get almost ¾ of our animals from the year just in spring. Picking the species that we see the most of is a little bit tricky. The fact that we get most of our mammals of the year all at one time makes it seem like we see so many of them, but we also get a lot of songbirds coming into the center, just spread out through the year. We complete an End of the Year report and fill out how many of each species we have had. Last year we had approximately 40 raccoons, 50 opossums, 100 gray squirrels, 75 cottontail rabbits, 55 ducks, and 100 songbirds. The numbers change around every year.
What kind of bears come into the center? Are they babies or adults? How do you care for them?
The Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is the only center in Pennsylvania that is licensed to accept and rehabilitate black bears. Due to the fact PA Game Commission makes black bears one of their top priorities; they will personally handle all black bear calls and decide how to proceed. Adult black bears stay under their jurisdiction, but if they discover a baby black bear that needs to be cared for they will either try to foster it with another wild mother bear (always the first decision!) or they will bring it straight to our facility. We have a newly built bear pen that is slightly separated from the rest of our facilities to keep human contact to a minimum and we have housed up to eight cubs at once. Most cubs come in when they weigh an average of 10 pounds. At that point they still need to receive feedings of bear cub formula multiple times a day (cross your fingers that they will drink out of a bowl to lessen human interaction). From there, we add fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even fish through a small opening on the side of the pen. Black bears do not eat as much meat as a lot of people might think. Almost all of their diet actually consists of vegetation. Since we will typically only have bear cubs from May to August due to strict regulations, we try to fatten them up as much as possible and our bears get to enjoy the rare treat of baked goods donated from a local market. We only had two bear cubs last year and they weighed the most out of all of the cubs we have rehabilitated. A whopping 90 pounds! PA Game Commission will arrive at the end of August to safely dart the cubs so that they may be weighed and tagged, and then they take them to private lands so that they can be released together.
Can you talk a bit about your outreach programs? Which animals accompany you during the programs? Why do you have those animals in your care? What do people ask about the animals during those visits?
We try to make our Education Programs one of our top priorities (never more than animal care though!). Any education ambassador that we have at the facility is still
in our care due to permanent health restrictions that would keep them from successfully living in the wild. Our ambassadors only include Pennsylvania species, like a Great Horned Owl, a skunk, and even an albino crow. We are required to obtain and maintain licenses just to keep each of these education animals and all of them have annual exams at the vet. During our programs we will talk about each animal and incorporate natural behaviors and adaptations. We try to make them as educational as possible, while also keeping it fun! Nothing is worse than having a child grow bored even though there is a live Barn Owl in front of him. This year I will also be starting a new program called Wild Times and Tales. It is a story time that I create just for the group that requests it. In advance, they will choose one of the children’s story books that I have in my collection and then I build an hour long program around their choice. Since the books that I have match our education animals I will actually be bringing that animal with me. During the hour we will read the story, talk about the animals’ history and natural behaviors, play games, and make crafts. This is a work in progress, but I am very excited to start this program! Questions that people ask are typically a clarification of something we talked about during the program, more information on natural history, or even questions about how they could co-exist with the animals in their own backyard.
At what age can people volunteer in your center? What are some volunteer responsibilities?
The minimum age for a volunteer is 18. Anyone younger is either doing work with a Boy Scout group or working on an Eagle Scout project. Volunteers can work on answering phones, cleaning cages, animal care, capture and transport, animal fostering, or even labor projects around the property. Volunteers are always needed!
It’s springtime and the busiest time for most animals. What should we watch out for to help determine if a wild animal really needs our assistance?
First, if you find an animal you should always call your local wildlife center and let them know about the situation. A lot of times it may seem like something is wrong, but in reality there isn’t. Remember that we can never provide better care than a mother! If you notice any of the following signs then the animal needs care right away:
if the dead parent is nearby, the animal is crying out in distress, the animal is visibly wounded or bleeding, or even if your dog or cat brings it to you. Other signs could vary for different species and this is where calling your local wildlife rehabilitator comes in. Knowing natural behaviors helps us determine if the animal is truly orphaned or just waiting for mom to return. Even though you haven’t seen the mom around, doesn’t mean that she won’t come back. She will actually leave her young alone throughout the day to draw away predators and only return around dusk and dawn. As wildlife rehabilitators, we are always happy to help provide accurate information.