Virginia offers a range of hotels and restaurants that cater to summer travelers, but none quite like the one in Waynesboro where about 3,000 guests came to stay last year.
Squirrels and possums, raccoons and deer, birds and bears spent time at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, getting medical treatment and training for a return to the wild.
It’s a typical day at the center, which sits on a wooded lot near I-64. Animal control from Roanoke has arrived with a bear cub found wandering in a residential area, and a staffer must transfer the baby to a small holding cage.
“I’m gonna’ open up the crate door and then kind of catty corner it so it goes into the zinger, which is out special crate, and I’m going to have protective gloves just to help him get along in there. Want to pull that down and back it up a little bit? Oh, he’s already in!”
Later it will be tranquilized, given a full medical exam, treated and fed from what center president Ed Clark calls the busiest restaurant in Waynesboro.
“We may admit as many as 600 new patients in 30 days. This place is hoping from 7 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock in the evening, preparing sometimes hundreds of meals for the individual animals. And how extensive is the menu? Well we have to be prepared at any given time to feed any wild animal in the state of Virginia, and that could be something from as small as a hummingbird to as large as an adult black bear. So as you look at the shelf here that contains our food stuffs, you’ll see anything from alfalfa hay to cracked corn to bird seed to dog food to cat food. There’s trout chow in here that if we get a fish-eating bird we can make slurry of that to be able to feed these animals the type of nutritional composition they need to survive.”
Many of the raptors here – hawks, owls and eagles – have been hit by cars. One of four veterinarians can perform surgeries and repair broken wings if need be.
“They hunt along the side of the road. If you’re traveling in your car, eating an apple and you choose to throw the apple core onto the side of the road, thinking that some animal can eat it, please continue thinking what will happen if the animal coming to eat it starts off on the opposite side of the road. What you’ve in effect done is lured that animal into the highway. Obviously owls don’t eat apple cores, but they do eat mice and small mammals that do feed on things like apple cores, so they become the secondary victims of a thoughtless litterbug.”
Others have suffered debilitating disease – like Buddy, an eagle who contracted avian pox when he was bitten by a mosquito. As a result, he developed a deformed beak that would make it impossible for him to hunt in the wild. Ironically, the public knew about this bird, because the state had placed a camera on his nest in Norfolk.
“So there were tens of thousands of people around the world that had watched the eagle pair – his parents – watched them lay the egg, incubate the egg, watched him be hatched, so when it was determined that he was injured as a result of this infectious disease and he was brought here, he brought 75,000 friends with him, that immediately caused our telephone system to go into melt down and our e-mail was clogged for weeks until we finally negotiated with all of his friends online to please let us do our job, and we would post regular updates on his progress.”
The experience transformed the Wildlife Center’s way of dealing with the public. Aside from the occasional open house, people are not invited to visit, but 17 different cameras are now trained on residents, feeding three live streams of video thru the center’s website, and staff members are standing by to answer questions from people watching online.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia will present two programs with live animals at 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at Constitution Park in Waynesboro as part of that city’s annual Riverfest.