Uh-oh. I think 2021 just said, “Hold my beer, 2020!” Last year was an unprovoked challenge for the whole country and the entire world, and Peace River Wildlife Center was an unwitting passenger on that wild ride. While it was a crazy year, PRWC did have some successes along with the pitfalls.
We admitted 2,530 patients in 2020, down slightly from the 2,811 we saw in 2019. That is never a bad thing — fewer injured animals. But we certainly had enough to keep us busy, especially when we were short-handed a great deal of the time. Staff turnover and homebound volunteers made even the relatively simple task of daily operations a perpetual dilemma.
Since we couldn’t find a suitable location that was large enough for the rehab and residents in a centrally located spot, it was determined that we would have to split the two entities. We finally got into our new (temporary) hospital in March, just in time to lock it down in April. The hospital, at 223 Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in Punta Gorda, remained open the entire time, treating injured and orphaned wildlife. The exhibits at the original location, 3400 Ponce de Leon Pkwy, were closed for a few months due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Splitting the organization into two separate facilities was a remarkable challenge, one that everyone rose to with aplomb. The entire staff, employees and volunteers alike, pitched in to make the move happen and it was a wildly successful endeavor. And we couldn’t be more grateful to the city of Punta Gorda and the nearby businesses for welcoming us into the neighborhood.
Since PRWC receives no state or federal money, donations from visitors are our main source of income. And even though no one was coming to visit them, the resident animals still needed to be fed and the patients needed to be treated. How rude, right?
Another big change was in staffing. PRWC lost many of our longtime employees to bigger and better things. Wedding plans, new job opportunities, and college course loads changed the face of our staff, but the heart remains the same. We were lucky to find some new people, not to replace Cara, Amy and Rick; but to pay tribute to the improvements they helped make in bringing us from our humble beginnings to the vibrant present, and continue the challenge of growing PRWC into what it will be in our exciting future.
Now it’s a new year and we are moving on. The educational exhibits are once again open to the public seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gift shop is stocked with enticing new merchandise, but we ask everyone to remain patient since we can only allow a few guests at a time to shop in the small confines of our boutique.
Even though we are an outdoor activity, we request that guests wear masks since it is difficult to be socially distant from one another while viewing our resident animals and listening to our tour guides. We want to protect our staff, the public and the animals. (Not necessarily in that order — you all know where my priorities lie.)
2021 will be an thrilling year for PRWC. We are making strides toward building our new education facility on Henry Street. While we wait for that, we have some new education animals and birds at the Ponce de Leon Park location, so be sure to visit.
One of our new residents is a burrowing owl with an interesting origin story. He was found in the drive-thru lane at Arby’s on Jones Loop Road, just off I-75. Given the development in that area, it’s unlikely that he came from there. We believe he probably got struck by a vehicle traveling on the highway and may have gotten stuck in the grill. We’ve seen that happen numerous times. When the car or truck stopped for curly fries, the bird fell out.
Luckily, one of the workers there noticed the tiny broken bird and rushed him to us at PRWC. One of the bones in the bird’s wing was fractured and he had sustained a traumatic brain injury. His near-comatose condition kept him sedate and probably saved his life while he was rushing down the highway like a hood ornament, since it prevented him from struggling and causing further damage.
He recovered from the head trauma within days and had surgery to place an intermedullary pin in his fractured humerus. The bone has healed well over the next few weeks, but despite physical therapy, the bird is unable to sustain flight. He can fly low, short distances, but circles to the right. And not knowing where his home territory is, we are unable to release him.
Since this species is rapidly vanishing, we tried to do everything in our power to get him back out there into the breeding population. Alas, nature’s loss is our gain. He will make an excellent education bird at PRWC’s public facility where we endeavor to teach people how to live in harmony with the abundance of nature around us. Specifically, how to keep other wildlife from ending up injured and in captivity or worse.
Here’s to 2021 and making lemonade out of the unmitigated “citrus” heading our way.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. Injured, abandoned or orphaned native wild animals are accepted at the center’s care facility (223 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Punta Gorda) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Their home for permanent resident animals at 3400 Ponce de Leon Pkwy, Punta Gorda, is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. 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.