Long Island nonprofit preserves local wildlife through rehabilitation and education

LOCUST VALLEY, New York -- As soon as you walk into the Volunteers for Wildlife hospital and education center, mammals are being fed on your left while birds on your right are examined to see how much they have healed since being brought into the hospital.

No matter which season it is or the time of the day, the phone is ringing off the hook at Volunteers for Wildlife for another native Long Island animal to be rescued.

Volunteers for Wildlife, Inc. founded in 1982 was the first wildlife hospital on Long Island. Co-founders Sallie Rupert, Joyce DeGeorge, and Marilyn Forman first began caring for injured and orphaned wildlife out of Sallie's garage. The operations quickly expanded and they established a professional wildlife hospital and education center.

"The animals we take care of range from mammals to birds to reptiles," said supervisor, Lauren Schulz. "These animals need care every single day of the year including holidays and including a pandemic."

Since the coronavirus pandemic, the hospital has been busier than ever running on a skeleton staff carrying out contactless animal rescues for whomever they pick up from.

Now that Long Island is currently in Phase 4, they have brought most of their staff back to assist with the abundance of animals in the hospital. Since more people are at home, they have received more calls than any other year from people seeing animals in distress needing help.

"Working through the pandemic has been difficult and challenging but some of the most rewarding work I've ever done," said education coordinator, Cristen Sagevick. "More people than ever are bringing in more and more animals. More people are seeing orphaned and injured wildlife and despite it being a challenge, we are releasing more animals than we ever had back into the wild very successfully."

The ultimate goal is to have animals brought into the hospital to regain their strength and eventually be released back into their natural habitat as soon as possible.

Depending on the animal's specific situation, some animals have to stay at the center, but they then become ambassadors for their education program. The program curriculum was developed by professional educators, designed for specific age groups.

They provide participants with an engaging presentation with age-appropriate material specially designed for them. Currently, they are holding off any in-person sessions, but have created a few online seminars and videos to educate kids at home.

If you do end up finding, a wild animal in distress, volunteers for wildlife will help you every step of the way to ensure your safety as well as the animals. The first step is to take a photo of the animal in distress.

This will allow them to collect important information such as species, age, and the animal's condition. It is very important to remain with the animal once you have taken the photos. This will ensure the animal does not wander off or have any more harm come to it.

The second step is to call their wildlife hotline https://www.volunteersforwildlife.org/contact. Gathering details about the situation and providing instructions with the photos, you have taken.

For step three, if it is safe to do so, they will instruct on the proper procedure to contain the animal. However, if you are not instructed to contain the animal yourself, remain a few feet away from the animal until one of their experienced rescuers arrives.

You can follow up with the animal you saved since every patient admitted is documented and listed with a specific case number. More than 95 percent of the animals admitted into the hospital are victims of human-caused injuries.

"The biggest thing that I get out of this is I feel like we're giving back to animals that we've already taken so much away from as people," said Schulz. "We've impacted these animals' environments in so many different ways and so to be able to take an animal that's been affected directly through human actions; these are all ways for me to tangibly help these animals."

If you wish to join the nonprofit, Volunteers for Wildlife has volunteering applications where there is a variety of different skillsets and positions listed.

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