Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, located at 228 West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in the region. They aim to raise awareness about the many factors that threaten native wildlife through fundraising efforts, volunteers, educational programs, and much more.
Dating back to 1997, and initially named the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, Virginia Frati had been on a mission for several years to open the first full-time wildlife facility on Long Island. They finally opened their doors to the public in the year 2000 with a fully operational wildlife hospital.
Noelle Dunlop, Director of Development, spoke about the day-to-day operations of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, how the community can get involved, and what the organization is all about.
Can you tell us about the Wildlife Rescue Center’s mission?
ND: Our mission at the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center is to preserve and protect our region’s native wildlife by providing rehabilitation services to injured and orphaned wildlife and education to raise public awareness of the factors that threaten its abundance and diversity.
Would you discuss the day-to-day operations and the care you provide for the animals?
ND: Our center is open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for phone calls and animal admissions but the work behind the scenes extends well beyond those hours. During the spring, summer, and early fall, when we have young orphaned mammals and birds in our care, our staff works staggered 10-hour shifts so that the orphans can get enough feedings throughout the day. When we have very young mammal orphans such as pinky mice, squirrels, and opossums, staff members will bring the little ones home for middle-of-the-night feeding and care. On a daily basis our front desk staff fields calls from the public and arranges transport for wildlife in distress by communicating with both the finder and our transport volunteers. Sometimes volunteers are not available to pick up and bring an animal to us, so we always encourage the finder to transport a non-rabies vector animal to us directly whenever it is safe to do so. Animals that are brought to the center get a full exam, and a treatment plan is written up based on the findings. Animals that need specialized diagnostics or procedures are brought to partnering veterinarians for care.
On a daily basis, our hospital staff does two “rounds,” one in the morning and one in the afternoon, during which they feed and medicate each patient and thoroughly clean their cage or enclosure. Each patient is closely monitored and weighed during rounds with observations noted on their charts by our staff. Water birds that are being housed inside are each given a time in the tub for physical therapy and exercise.
What would you like people to know about the work the Center does?
ND: As more and more people come out East and more wild spaces are developed, our Center plays an increasingly vital role in mitigating the negative effects of human-caused conflicts on our local wildlife. This is achieved in two ways.
The first way is through education and raising awareness of things we do that harm our wild neighbors. From glue traps and rat poison being left outside, to garden netting, soccer nets and uncovered swimming pools, we humans unwittingly create hazards for wildlife on a daily basis. We try to make the public aware of these hazards when they call our hotline for advice and through our education outreach programs with our animal ambassadors as well as our newsletter mailings, website, and social media presence.
The second way is by rescuing, treating, and hopefully releasing back into the wild the animals that are injured and orphaned in most cases due to human-caused situations. One of the most common reasons we get injured animals is vehicle collisions, followed closely by dog and cat attacks. We are sometimes asked why we don’t “let nature take its course” and our answer is that cars, soccer nets, fishing tackle, and free roaming pets are not “nature,” and it is our responsibility to try to right the balance that is being thrown off by our species.
What are some of the crucial components that allow you to care for injured wildlife?
ND: The first is having the proper federal and state permits and licenses to care for injured wildlife. The second is having properly trained staff and volunteers to care for the patients on a daily basis. Some of these staff also have a special license to handle rabies vector species. The third is the facilities and equipment necessary to house and treat our patients until they are released back to the wild. Although we always need more space and equipment upgrades, we are thankful for the space we have at Munn’s Pond County Park and the partnership with Suffolk County leadership that allows us to be here. And lastly, but most importantly, the support of the community through much needed donations allows us to operate and keep our doors open.
What does rescuing an animal entail?
ND: The first and most important step is communication with the finder, which is the responsibility of our front desk staff. They field thousands of calls each year and use their knowledge of our local wildlife to counsel the public on when and how intervention with a wild animal should be done. If the finder cannot contain and transport the animal to us safely, then our front desk staff put a call out to our rescue-transport volunteers to coordinate the rescue. These volunteers have been trained on the correct way to safely capture, contain, and transport injured wildlife.
Do you have any standout rescues or stories that you’d like to share that you or someone else with the Center took part in?
ND: A story that comes to mind is one of the few instances where an animal came to us due to a situation that wasn’t caused by humans. Early on this year, we got a call about an egret that was struggling with something large attached to its beak. We sent out one of our rescue volunteers who returned to the center with the egret properly contained in a tote but also completely covered in mud! Apparently capturing the egret in the marshy wetlands entailed a few falls first, but our volunteer persisted nevertheless. Our examination revealed that the egret was bested by his intended meal when a very large clam clamped down on the end of his beak and refused to let go! The clam was successfully extracted by our staff and the egret, after a short stay to make sure he could still eat with his slightly chipped beak, was released back to the wild.
Can you talk about some of the fundraising efforts you do throughout the year?
ND: Our fundraising efforts fall into two categories: events and campaigns. Our annual events are our Mother’s Day plant sale in May during which we will be selling both hanging baskets and popular annuals, but also native plant species, our Get Wild summer gala which is our biggest fundraiser of the year, our ever popular Wild Wednesday yard sale extravaganza, and our grocery raffle drawing which will happen December 16th. We have three fundraising campaigns a year, our holiday appeal, our spring appeal, and our giving Tuesday campaign which we just successfully completed. This year we are also introducing a tiered corporate sponsorship program for 2024 and are looking for businesses who are interested in partnering with us through this program.
What are the best ways the community can get involved?
ND: We are always looking for volunteers and donations. Volunteers can help in many ways. They can help out at events, help with building repairs and maintenance, care for patients in the hospital or do rescue-transport.
Donations are our lifeblood, and we can’t operate without them! If you are interested in volunteering or donating, the first step is visiting our website or calling the Center for more information. If you have a business and want to be a 2024 sponsor, please contact us at [email protected].
How many rescues does the Center do, approximately, in a year?
ND: This year we have admitted 2,390 animals so far. At least half of these animals were rescued by our rescue-transport volunteers.
What animals account for a majority of the rescues?
ND: The most common animals that we admit at the center are the cottontail rabbit followed by the northern raccoon, mallard duck, Virginia opossum, and eastern gray squirrel.
Are there certain stigmas you try to educate individuals about when it comes to wildlife? Can you talk about the education and awareness you promote in general?
ND: There are many stigmas and misconceptions that people hold about wildlife species but some of the most common ones we encounter are that certain species will hurt our pets/children or damage our property. For example, we get alarmed calls about a fox that has been spotted and we have to reassure the caller that the fox is looking for mice and other small rodents to eat and will not attack children or pets if left alone. Virginia opossums get a notoriously bad rap with the public who don’t like their pointy faces and naked tails, but these gentle marsupials are extremely beneficial to have around as they clean up the environment with both their nocturnal scavenging and disease resistance. Bats and snakes are other types of animals that people often fear and we need to educate them about the many benefits these animals bring to us by simply existing near us. “Raccoons out in the daytime are always sick” and “groundhogs are going to dig through my foundation” are two other misconceptions that we commonly hear.
Do you have any events coming up?
ND: We are currently doing our grocery raffle and the drawing is December 16th. We will also have some animal ambassadors at Marders nursery in Bridgehampton on December 16th as well as some Saturdays to be announced in February. On January 21st at 2:00 p.m. we will be doing a collaborative program about vultures at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, and we hope people will come meet our turkey vulture ambassador Vlad and learn about her species. In February, we will be co-hosting an online event with The Animal Communication Collective during which attendees are invited to spiritually connect with their pets. The date of this event will be announced soon so stay tuned!
For more information and to find out how to get involved, visit https://wildliferescuecenter.org.