A couple of weeks ago I attended the statewide Conference on Urban Wildlife at N.C. State, and there were well over a hundred of us in attendance. 

Are you surprised that there are so many people willing to give up a weekend and pay a registration fee just to learn about opossums, rabbits, squirrels and other wildlife? 

Don’t be: All over Orange County and across North Carolina there are hundreds of us who get up before dawn to try to raise orphaned and injured creatures to keep nature’s ecological balance in order.

Some attendees were absolute amateurs, duly taking notes, asking questions, making contacts in an effort to learn the latest techniques to save these little babies and release them into the wild again. Bright-eyed and energetic, they will become the future leaders of this rehabber movement. 

Then there are intermediate level urban rehabbers: Nora, who is a professional arborist; Rosemary, who runs a rooster rescue mission; and Diane, a professional preservationist and manager of a state historical site. These three young volunteers are interested in rescuing a variety of animals, ranging from turtles to birds, opossums to flying squirrels.

And there are the (dare I say it, and include myself) the Old Grey Beards who have been doing this for  years and decades and get sloppy. To be sure, a few rehabbers have kept practices of the past and refused to keep up with current findings. For example: “To save time, I weigh one or two of a nest, and assume they all weigh the same,)” Well, how then do you know if one is failing to gain weight? Keeping daily weights on every baby is critical to monitoring growth and health. Not keeping such records can cost health and even life with such fragile babies.

Of course veterinarians are not trained to treat urban wildlife – pets such as dogs and cats are their focus – but it was nice to see a number of them in attendance. Hence, hands-on work with those urban creatures is essential. And ask KT, or Mimi, a former vet tech, each with years of urban wildlife experience. They’ll tell you how the field has changed over the years, and how they are still learning.

One of these such area is pain and animals. Previously, many thought that animals didn’t feel much pain: they don’t whimper or cry much, or even squirm when clearly injured. So, the thinking went, they feel no pain. But wait: these are the weakest, and most vulnerable – to cry in pain would show your weakness, attracting predators. The result is that we rehabbers often underestimated the injured … and the animals suffered needlessly. 

This conference was so rewarding and there is always so much to learn, whether at the statewide conference or volunteering locally. Join us as we explore and save our urban wildlife!

Linda K. Ostrand, is the Executive Director for Our Wild Neighbors. Contact our Volunteer Coordinator@ peppersimon72@gmail.com or visit ourwildneighbors.org to learn more.