BORN WILD

Volunteers at the Wildlife Center of Virginia Work Tirelessly to Care for Feathered and Furry Friends.

Photos by Shelly Hokanson

Patient #14-0012 was found outside of New Market, Virginia with life-threatening injuries that had limited his mobility. He was treated for dehydration and wounds to his outer extremities. After two months of extensive rehabilitation, #14-0012 was healthy and strong enough to return home.

“It’s rare that I get to participate in the full cycle of a patient’s care… from rescue through release,” said media arts and design professor Shelly Hokanson. “To know that I helped this one feels very good.”

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries contacted Hokanson about the red-tailed hawk when members of the community found the bird in distress and unable to fly. The veterinary team at the center treated injuries to his wings and worked to improve his “flight quality and conditioning.” After the red-tailed hawk’s rehabilitation, Hokanson had the opportunity to release him back into the wild herself. “The bird was very feisty and once the crate door was opened, it briefly observed its surroundings before taking flight,” stated the center’s patient archive page.

As a rescue-transport volunteer, Hokanson responds to an average of two to three calls per week during the summer and one call a month during the winter. She explained that the center receives wildlife rescue transport requests for many reasons, most commonly as a result of “car collisions and cat attacks.”

Volunteers also help birds that have fallen out of their nests and snakes that have gotten caught in landscape netting. In some cases, young wild animals who have experienced human contact too often will imprint on people and become dependent on them for food. “This is not safe for humans or for the animals,” Hokanson said. Therefore, these animals require intervention from the center. During her three years as a volunteer, Hokanson has personally rescued and/or transported a variety of wildlife, including rabbits, squirrels, songbirds, eastern box turtles, long tailed ducks, mallard ducks, yearling coyotes, skunks and eastern screech owls. But birds of prey, particularly owls, are her favorite. “I grew up thinking that owls were wise and mysterious and beautiful creatures and that hasn’t changed,” said Hokanson.

Hokanson has accrued several opportunities to work with owls at the Center. Pignoli, an eastern screech owl, came to the center after being struck by a train. The owl was the first animal Hokanson sponsored through Caring for Critters, the symbolic wildlife adoption program. As an environmental education docent, she also works with wildlife through the Education Ambassadors program. Rescued animals who receive a clean bill of health and are deemed non-releasable become Education Ambassadors and travel around to teach the community about wildlife protection. Quinn, a great horned owl, became an ambassador after being caught in a barbed wire fence. Quinn’s right eye had to be removed, and his wings were unable to grow back properly. As a result, he became a “noisy flyer,” and could not be released to fend for himself because owls must quietly hunt for their prey.

“His missing eye never fails to inspire people of all ages to ask what happened to him, and that’s where I get to share his story and help others to understand the role of wildlife in the overall health of the environment.” While Education Ambassadors like Pignoli and Quinn receive names in order to better connect with the community, other rescued animals are simply identified by numbers. The red-tailed hawk’s identification #14-0012 stands for 2014, the year he was rescued, and 12, the order in which he was rescued. “We want to keep [the animals] as wild as possible,” explained Chapin Hardy, the center’s outreach coordinator. Hardy said that the mission of the center is to teach the world to care about and to care for wildlife and the environment. Volunteer opportunities include wildlife care, carpentry, environmental education docent positions and treatment team members. The Center also relies on professional veterinarian and veterinary technician volunteers. “Everybody I’ve worked with [at the Wildlife Center] truly supports the WCV mission and has a passion for wildlife and the environment,” Hokanson said. “My time at WCV is always the best part of my day.”