It’s January 1994. The Wisconsin Badgers have notched a 21-16 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl, the song “Hero” by Mariah Carey is topping the Billboard pop charts and a gallon of gas will cost you $1.11.
And in a modest, one-bedroom rental house in downtown Waukesha, a fledgling wildlife rehabilitation center is opening its doors to the public for the first time.
Twenty-five years later, the Wildlife In Need Center is bigger — and it’s moved — but its mission has stayed the same: to rehabilitate wildlife and educate the community about wildlife.
In 1994, its first year of operation, the center, founded by Nancy Frank, admitted 837 wild patients while operating out of that small house in Waukesha.
The WINC now has a much larger facility in the town of Ottawa — one specifically designed for wildlife rehab — and helps about 3,300 animals a year. It has a small staff bolstered by about 200 volunteers.
Lisa Rowe, now the director of operations, joined the center as a volunteer late in that first year, and said things were a lot different.
“Friday afternoons is when I volunteered, and I used to call before I came in to find out what patients we had and what foods I needed to go buy at the grocery store so that we could feed the patients,” Rowe said.
Since then, Rowe said, the nonprofit organization is on firmer financial footing.
“It’s not inexpensive to do this, to take care of animals, but we’re much more financially secure than we were back in those early, early days, so that’s a great relief,” she said.
A purple what?
Most of the wild animals the center treats are native to Wisconsin. But not all.
One of the patients currently in-house is a brightly colored bird with long legs and long toes usually found in wetlands of the extreme southeastern U.S.
It’s called a purple gallinule and it’s the first time the WINC has cared for one, said Kim Banach, president of the WINC board of directors.
“We admitted it on Oct. 12, which is when they were having all of those storms down south, and we think this animal, in its period of migration, got blown off course,” Banach said.
The juvenile bird was found on Burleigh Road near JC Penney in Wauwatosa by a delivery person who took it to Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha. HAWS, which doesn’t do wildlife rehab, contacted WINC, and a volunteer picked it up and took it back to the center.
Rowe said the center doesn’t know whether it’s male or female because it doesn’t yet have its adult coloring, and birds’ sex organs are internal.
The bird has an injured wing, and Rowe said she’s not sure whether it will heal to the point where the bird can be released back into the wild.
“We’re not sure how well it’s going to be able to fly, so that will be the telling feature,” she said.
If it can’t be released, Rowe said the center could transfer it to a rehabilitator in a part of the country that’s more appropriate.
“So that’s a possibility for this bird,” Rowe said. “Or if it is not releasable back to the wild, we may look into placing it with educational facilities, so places like zoos or nature centers that have the proper permits.”
A turtle heals — slooowwly
One of the wild residents at the center just got its lease renewed, in a matter of speaking.
A Blanding’s turtle, which was recently delisted from being an endangered species in Wisconsin, will spend its second winter at the WINC.
Rowe, who called the Blanding’s her favorite turtle the center gets to rehabilitate, said the turtle is recovering from a severe shell fracture, and she recently applied for an extension to keep the reptile in rehab for a few more months.
“That shell is living bone underneath, but turtles do everything slow,” Rowe said. “They have very slow metabolisms, and so it takes a really long time for that to heal.”
But come spring, Rowe said the turtle will be released back into the wild.
“He should be healed well enough by then,” Rowe said. “They are such an uncommon species of turtle, each individual is important to the breeding population, so we’re really excited that he’s going to get back out into the wild.”
Rowe said she likes Blanding’s turtles because of their tall, domed shells that are dark with speckles, sunny yellow chins and throats, and wide mouths that appear to smile.
She said Blanding’s, which were delisted from a Wisconsin threatened species to a species of special concern in 2014, face constant challenges to their survival: habitat loss or habitat pollution, roads breaking up their territories and causing their deaths when crossing, taking a long time to sexually mature (they’re 17-20 years old before they breed), and laying small numbers of eggs, so they cannot quickly replace population numbers lost.
Along with nursing wild animals back to health, the center puts an equal emphasis on education, with staff members and wild educational ambassadors holding programs on-site or going out into the community.
Banach said the center puts on 150 to 160 programs a year, many of them at schools.
“Some of these students have never seen a great horned owl up close, or they haven’t really seen a snake or something like that. It really brings the animal to them so they can see first-hand what they look like, learn their natural history, and just best ways to interact,” Banach said.
Reflecting on 25 years, Rowe said they have helped an amazing number of animals since the center opened — nearly 58,000 as of late November — but they have also interacted with an amazing number of people, because it’s rare for an animal to come to the center without a person involved.
“People find these animals in their backyard, they find them where they work, they find them when they’re driving down the road, so we help people as much as we do animals,” Rowe said.
That’s not to mention all those who call the center to ask wildlife-related questions, such as how to get a raccoon out of an attic or what to do about the baby bunnies they found in their backyard.
To mark the anniversary, Banach said there will be more of a yearlong celebration than a single event, highlighting the milestone at meet-and-greets, banquets and other events throughout 2019.
One such meet-and-greet is set for Feb. 9 at WINC. A larger, daylong event is scheduled for July 20.
Wildlife In Need Center
Mission: To provide rehabilitation to Wisconsin wildlife with the intent to release wildlife back to its native habitat, conduct research designed to further the positive impact of rehabilitation, and provide quality community education programs and services.
Founded: January 1994
Location: W349 S1480 Waterville Road, town of Ottawa
How to help: Cash donations are accepted. There is also wish list information at www.helpingwildlife.org/get-involved/winc-wishlist.
Upcoming event: Whooo loves Wildlife Meet and Greet, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, at WINC. Educational ambassadors will be on display, guests can take photos and ask handlers questions. The suggested donation is $2 per person.
Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/communities/lake-country/news/2018/12/21/wildlife-need-center-25-still-helping-wildlife-teaching-people/2218252002/