By Allie Jorge and Ken Fermin
More than 100 people attended a nature walk event in Oyster Bay, NY on Saturday for the Volunteers for Wildlife organization, donating money and learning about several Long Island native species currently in the rehabilitation center’s care.
Visitors were able to stop at various stations to meet some of the organization’s educational animals, along the mile-long path at the Planting Fields Arboretum, including an Eastern Box turtle named Trixie whose shell is too soft for her to protect herself, an American Kestrel bird named Amelia who became imprinted on humans and never learned to fly, and a squirrel named Butterscotch who was born with a condition that misaligned both rows of her teeth. The stations were designed to teach visitors about the effects the worsening environment is having in the local ecosystem.
“We figured on a beautiful day like today, we could come and find out about the different species of birds and animals that live in our neighborhood,” Chuck Manning, who visited the event with his wife and children, said.
Volunteers for Wildlife, founded in 1982, is a rehabilitation facility that operates as the only wild animal hospital in Nassau County, rescuing and releasing wild animals who are injured, sick or orphaned. The group has worked to educate Long Island about the importance of ecological conservation.
“A wildlife rehabilitation hospital is very important here on Long Island because of the density of people that we have, unfortunately,” Lauren Schulz, the Wildlife Center’s supervisor who has been a member of the organization for over ten years, said. She is in charge of wildlife rehabilitation, as well as education outreach. “We’re finding that there are a lot of animals that are injured due to human-causes.”
At each of the seven stations, children were invited to play informative games that focus on identifying the animals, as well as preservation practices. Prizes included a sticker to place on the back of the pamphlet handed out at the entrance.
“The wildlife is a part of the community. It’s important to have a diverse ecosystem. It’s important for the kids to learn, too,” Peter Trombino, a visitor, said.
Volunteers for Wildlife has a staff of nine full-time employees and over 60 volunteers whose jobs range from tending to the animals, to rescue transport and to education and public outreach assistants in the offices.
“I have been here for five years after retiring from a corporate job in Manhattan,” Wendy Raye, one of the volunteers, said. “We are one of the few on the island that do this, It is important for humans to have animals in order to balance [everyday life].”
New volunteers can easily transition into substantial roles by getting hands-on experience with the animals, helping establish a connection to build on.
“I take care of the education animals, make sure they get fed a nutritious diet, that their cages are kept clean,” Nathan Fox, one of the newer volunteers responsible for education animals’ upkeep, said. “I’m one of many who sees [the animals] on a day-to-day basis.
The Volunteer for Wildlife educates the Island about rehabilitation awareness with 13 programs to look forward to this year, including a ‘Twilight Tour’ of the park, scout programs for fledgling environmentalists and weekly field trips. By treating sick and orphaned animals, the center will continue educating people about their surroundings.
“Wildlife rehabilitation, I feel, is very important due to how humans have affected the environment. It’s very important to educate the public on different things that they can do to make the lives of wild animals better, and allow us to coexist,” Schulz said.