This was my first week as a wildlife rehabilitation intern at wild baby rescue! There was no orientation or previous training, we just jumped right in! As my supervisor says, the best way to learn how to do something is to do it.
Within the first half hour of arriving, I was hand feeding baby squirrels. There were approximately 15, ranging in age from 3 to 6 weeks. Many did not even have their eyes open yet. They were fed a specially blended formula made for squirrels through an oral syringe with a hard plastic nipple at the end. After being fed, they were “pottied”- we rubbed moistened q-tips over their genitals until they urinated and/or defecated. After, they were cleaned up and placed in an incubator while their main incubator was cleaned.
In addition to squirrels, I tube fed a baby female opossum. Opossums are tube fed because they do not have a suckling reflex, unlike most of the other babies at the center. A long orogastric feeding tube is threaded down her esophagus, then warmed formula is fed through the tube. At the end, the tube is removed and, like the squirrels, she is pottied and has her incubator cleaned.
After the squirrels and opossum are fed, we moved on to the fawns. There are currently 12 young fawns at the center! They also get a formula specifically made for fawns, which is mixed with warm water and pumpkin to keep their stools normal. Each fawn is fed an 8 ounce bottle of formula, cleaned, looked over for ticks and injuries, and pottied in a similar fashion to the smaller animals.
The smaller, younger animals are kept indoors in incubators, while the older animals are in outdoor pre-release enclosures and the fawns are in a barn. The barn stalls and enclosures are spot cleaned when the fawns are fed (which is three times a day), and completely cleaned every other day.
On my second day (June 3), I helped prepare an outdoor enclosure for a pair of orphaned foxes. The inside had to be weeded and cleaned; enrichment items were added as well as a shelter, small pond, and hay in and around the shelter. Tarps were attached to the roof and two sides to provide protection from the rain and sun, as well as to block their view of the center to farther distance them from regular human interaction to prepare them for release. A second enclosure was also prepared for a younger pair of foxes who will be transferred outdoors when they are old enough.
June 4th was relatively uneventful, aside from getting in a new baby skunk and releasing three rehabilitated eastern cottontails.
Aside from feeding babies, pottying infants and cleaning enclosures, there were some more mundane things that had to be done; one of which was laundry. In every incubator and indoor enclosure, the floor is lined with cloth diapers, towels, fleece blankets and knitted nests to keep the animals warm, dry and safe. This means that every time one of the dozen or more incubators is cleaned, at least 6 things need to be washed. During each my 6 hour shifts, at least 4 loads of laundry is done.
Preparing food and formula is another one of the less extraordinary occurrences at the center. The formula comes in powdered form and must be blended with hot water (and in the case of fawns, pureed pumpkin) before it can be used. It is prepared in large batches, stored in labeled containers in a refrigerator, then poured into smaller containers to be used as needed. The older animals need to have food bowls prepared twice daily. For the squirrels, their food bowls contain sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, and any produce has been donated- this week it included apples, pears, strawberries, watermelon, cucumbers, and carrots. The foxes at the center eat a mixture of chopped chicken gizzards, dog kibble, watermelon, and strawberries. As foxes are omnivores, we attempt to teach them to eat anything that presents itself. So, this week we added live sunfish to their pond to try to teach them how to fish! If this will work or not only time will tell.