Zip-tied Turtle Shells and Squirrels with Casts?! We Got the Scoop from the Wildlife Rescue Center in St. Louis

Yep, rescuing wildlife is as adorable as it sounds.

You had us a microwaving a hand towel to help warm a lost baby squirrel. When we first heard about a place that rescues baby squirrels we said, and we quote, “OMG BABY SQUIRRELS? DO THEY WEAR CASTS? IS IT ADORABLE? IT’S TOTALLY ADORABLE, RIGHT?” Our aww-ing and exclaiming actually went on for much longer, but, well, you get the idea.

We instantly took to the Internet and googled St. Louis’ Wildlife Rescue Center, where we found the endearing previously mentioned tidbit about what you should do if you find a lost baby squirrel. It’s so cute it makes us want to flip a table. (They also have great resources for what to do if you find other wild animals.)

But the Wildlife Rescue Center is more than just a resource for making our hearts squee, they are a valuable community organization that focuses on rehabilitating injured, sick and orphaned native wildlife and releasing healthy animals into their natural habitat. Originally started in a residential home in 1979, it has grown into a leader in the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Unleashed spoke with executive director, Kim Rutledge to find out more about the organization and also, obviously, baby squirrels in casts. 

What sort of animals are brought to you?

Our most commonly admitted animals, 800-1200 every year, are orphaned cottontail rabbits, followed by orphaned eastern gray squirrels and opossums, each around 450 to 500 annually. We've seen a wide variety of species over the years, everything from salamanders to badgers.

We'd love to hear more about your work rehabilitating squirrels. How many squirrels do you have at a time? How long does the process normally take, what are the steps, etc. Do they get released into the wild? Do any end up as pets?

We may have close to 100 squirrels in care at the peak of our busy season. The length of time in care is dependent on the stage and condition they're in when admitted. Very young squirrels may be with us for up to 12 weeks. If admitted as infants, they are hand fed until about eight to ten weeks of age. During that time they are moving through gradually larger caging and given a nest box that they'll keep all the way through, and after, release back to the wild. The final stage of caging is the largest and allows the squirrels to build their muscles and practice climbing and jumping. When they're young, the squirrels tolerate handling for feeding and even get excited when they realize they're about to be  fed. As they grow, they get more wild and less "friendly." 

Our caregivers are specially trained to provide care without reinforcing a human-animal bond with wildlife patients. By the time the squirrels are ready for release, they're appropriately avoiding people and ready to go out into the world without worry that they may run up to any humans they see.

Very few wild animals are appropriate for permanent captivity as education ambassadors, surrogate parents, or for captive breeding programs (e.g. endangered or threatened species). The Wildlife Rescue Center doesn't condone keeping wildlife as pets. Wild animals aren't happy in captivity. They're cute when they're small, but when they reach maturity their wild instincts kick in. They get frustrated, destructive, and often aggressive. Our advice: Rescue a dog or a cat or a domestic rabbit! They're awesome and need homes!

Do you really fix turtles shells with zip ties?

We do! We use all kinds of materials to put injured animals back together again. Popsicle sticks, wire hangers, even tiny splints made out of paper clips. Squirrel casts and goose boots are not really commercially available so we have to get creative. We call it "MacGyvering." 

What are you most proud of? 

The Wildlife Rescue Center is a leader in the field of wildlife rehabilitation. We help thousands of wild animals every year, but we also help other people help wild animals. Over the past 16 years there have been countless amazing stories. Most of the great ones are about Good Samaritans doing something amazing to help a wild animal. Like a heavy equipment operator who parked his bulldozer behind an opossum stuck on the side of the highway to protect her until our rescue volunteer arrived, or a man who pulled a young female coyote out of the grill of a car, amazingly relatively unharmed, after she'd been stuck while the car was driving for over 20 miles, or the woman at a local transmission repair business that corralled a sick fox into their shop bathroom so we could come and get it. All of those people are amazing and all of those animals were released. The one that sticks with me the most was just a phone call from a woman requesting medical advice and antibiotic dosages for turtles, information that under almost any other circumstance we would not be able to give out. This woman, however, was calling on behalf of her husband, a physician with Doctors Without Borders. He was in another country facing unknown challenges with limited resources and someone brought them a turtle that had been hit by a car. Someone picked up the injured turtle and brought it to the doctors, and those doctors were going to do whatever they could to help it, because it was the right thing to do.

Credit: Facebook/Wildlife Rescue Center

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