WILMINGTON — Nature can be cruel, and often times when a young or injured animal is left on its own, there’s no chance for survival. But here in Wilmington, one organization is working to rehabilitate and release North Carolina wildlife back into the wild.
Outside a home off Northbrook drive, a small green sign on a mailbox points to the home of Jennifer and Dave Leonard, where Coastal Carolina Wildlife Rehab Center resides. Jennifer Leonard has devoted her life to animals, and it’s a full time job.
“Since I was a little girl I’ve loved animals,” she said. That love developed into a career as a vet tech. But when Jennifer began bringing domestic animals home from work, she decided to expand into the wildlife arena. “My husband hated it, and he said, ‘do wildlife rehab, they come and they go.'”
Deciding it was a fair compromise, that’s exactly what she did. Twenty years ago Coastal Carolina Wildlife Rehab Center was created out of the Leonard’s compassion for animals. According to Leonard, last year alone they worked with over 820 animals, and that’s just the small mammals.
The CCWRC is a non profit organization, running solely on donations and the Leonard’s own resources to operate.
“We don’t receive any compensation from the state,” she said, “donations are everything.”
According to Leonard, last year alone the rehab center cost about $13,000 to operate.
“Luckily we received around $7,000 in donations, so that was good,” Leonard said. “But I don’t do it for the State. I do it for the animals, and for the kids.”
They are the only multi-permitted center in the Cape Fear area, caring for birds, mammals and reptiles. According to Leonard, people often aren’t sure what to do when they come across out of place wildlife, and she urges people to give them a call. Working closely with North Carolina Wildlife, the Leonards are able to rehabilitate sick or injured animals, and release them back into the wild.
Jennifer and Dave are currently the only full-time staff at the center, with two volunteers they can lean on when they need to. Recently, they held a volunteer roundup to get some extra help, and having 30 people sign up their hopes were high. Unfortunately, not one of those people showed up to the event.
“People say they want to help, but when we tell them whats involved — you have to clean up animal poop, you have to deal with this and you have to deal with that — nobody wants to do it,” Leonard said. “They just want to play with the animals, and we’re not a zoo.”
Educating for future conservation
Currently, the Rehab Center is caring for two baby river otters, “Junior” and “Delilah,” who were rescued from underneath a dock in Ocean Isle Beach. According to Leonard, they must be fed, and helped go to the bathroom at least every two hours. Once they’re old enough, she’ll have to teach them to swim and hunt on their own. She notes that in the wild, the mother takes care of these tasks for them, but for Leonard, “It’s a full time job, I do all my work from home.”
Unfortunately, the otters cannot be placed back into the wild.
“When they’re in the wild, they’re a curious creature anyways, but when they’re hand raised they know people aren’t bad, so instead of just playing with the fisherman they’ll follow them home,” she said. “And that’s a bad, bad, bad mix.”
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the CCWRC will be taking in an influx of whitetail deer fawns.
“Last year we had over 30,” Leonard said.
In the Leonards’ back yard, there is an assortment of pens set up for the young deer, where they will be raised until they can be sent back into the wild.
“About the the time I have them (the otters) weaned, I’ll be nursing whitetail fawn,” Leonard said.
Throughout the Leonards’ home there are tanks full of exotic animals, ranging from a hedgehog, finches, and even a large African Bullfrog. Many of these animals were purchased as pets for children, but upon reaching maturity are too much for children to handle.
In addition to most forms of North Carolina wildlife, the CCWRC also operates as an exotic-pet rescue and education program for children.
“We do programs where we have kids come in, and we teach them about the animals,” she said. “We want to teach them why it’s important to save the animals today, so they will be there for them tomorrow.”
If you would like to volunteer or donate, visit the Coastal Carolina Wildlife Rehab Center Facebook page. The Center is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
If you come across a sick, injured or misplaced animal, contact the center at (910) 612-9127 or email@example.com.