It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks. Where have I heard that sentiment before? Is someone out there plagiarizing me? I’ll give him the dickens if I find out who it is. Peace River Wildlife Center was witness to some incredible acts of kindness this week — and also some unbelievable acts of selfishness, if not downright cruelty.
We had a person who turned over a native turtle that they had kept for four years. They found it in the wild as a hatchling and decided to make a pet out of it. Of course, four years later they changed their minds — too much trouble, it got too big, it’s not cuddly anymore. We hear the same story daily from people who think they will be the exception to the rule that wild animals don’t make good pets. Except that they never are anything but the rule.
This poor reptile has no recollection of life in the wild and no idea how to live successfully among his own kind now. He is sentenced to a lonely life in captivity without companionship because of the hubris of some inconsiderate person.
At least we should be able to find a home for this poor animal. When people do this to raccoons — which happens way too often — the animals almost always have to be euthanized because there is no safe place for them to live.
While that kind of thoughtlessness is discouraging, another incident was infuriating. A pier full of people enjoying the bright Florida sunshine witnessed a fisherman beat a great blue heron with his rod. The bird suffered a compound fracture of her shoulder and had to be euthanized but surely would have died from the trauma anyway. PRWC was just able to end her suffering a little sooner.
A video taken by one of the bystanders showed the man driving off with a flip of his hand and tilt of his head as though proud of his accomplishments. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has opened an investigation into the crime, and we hope anyone who witnessed it will assist in the inquiry. (Please call PRWC if you have any information.)
Just when I start to think that all people are innately evil, some special person walks through the door and recharges the hope in my heart. This week, Jason Koons was the angel who rescued my soul. He is a heavy equipment operator employed on a project off Bermont Road east of Punta Gorda. He was working at the edge of a huge muddy pit when he noticed something writhing about near the surface of the sludge.
Not even sure what it was, Jason drove over to the last of the firm soil. He then perched on the edge of his dozer and stretched out as far as he could, knowing that if he slipped, he would be in muck up to his neck or worse.
He was finally able to grab the mud-encrusted blob and hoist in onto dry land. Using all of his drinking water for the day, he rinsed off what turned out to be a 3-week-old river otter. Jason immediately called PRWC and thankfully did everything we asked of him. He rinsed the baby, dried it off, bundled it up, and ran it to us as quickly as possible — all without touching it, since this species is a potential rabies vector.
That last part is vital. Most mammals in Florida are considered rabies vector species, meaning they can get rabies, and subsequently pass that incurable disease on to anyone who touches it. If someone handles an RVS without the proper protective gear, we have to euthanize that animal and have it tested to make sure it was not contagious, even though it appears healthy and we haven’t had any reported incidences of rabies in this area lately.
It is not necessary to have been bitten to be exposed to rabies. The virus can be found in bodily secretions of the infected animal. All it takes is a small cut or scratch in the skin of the person handling the animal for the infectious material to enter the bloodstream and start to replicate. Once symptoms have started, it is virtually impossible to successfully treat rabies.
That being said, rabies is not an excuse to go out and kill every wild mammal in the state. Simply take some common-sense precautions to protect yourself and the animals. We recently had to euthanize a perfectly healthy bat because some curious people found it and passed it around. The bat had probably been cold-stunned when a fast-moving cold front passed through and he was basking in the sun on the side of a tree. He was minding his own business, and we wish those people had done the same.
But back to Jason’s amazing story. After walking off the job and driving all the way to Ponce de Leon Park, he delivered the baby otter to us along with a very generous $60 to help with her care. He returned to work as we began the process of cleaning up the little girl and stabilizing her condition.
Jason no sooner got back when he noticed another baby, this one a boy, that had survived the encounter with the equipment. He also scooped that one up, turned right around and brought it to us. This time he turned his pockets inside out, giving us every cent he had on him, even though he had just spent a fortune in gas just driving back and forth to rescue the little otters.
We may have gotten bigger contributions over the years, but none has ever been as heartfelt as this young man’s donation. His willingness to do whatever was needed for the animals is a testament that there are still good people out there and I’m happy to say I met one of the best that day.
The two baby otters were covered in muck and had ingested a fair amount of it. Their eyes and ears weren’t open yet, but those had to be swabbed gently. There was also mud in their mouths that had to be flushed out.
Over the next few days, the babies were treated for the shock of their trauma and eventually stabilized. Since PRWC doesn’t have the proper facilities to care for this species, our friends at CROW (Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) in Sanibel have taken them to raise until they are ready for release.
Although it was difficult to transfer these special little guys, it was a far, far better thing to do since we know they will get the proper care they need to eventually be released into the wild. And I get to have a far, far better rest now that I don’t have to feed these adorable little squeaky toys every three hours.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.