By Emma Castleberry
When Savannah Trantham and Kimberly Brewster met in 2010, the two quickly realized they shared a common passion for wildlife. Trantham, a wildlife rehabilitator and assistant animal curator at the WNC Nature Center, teamed up with Brewster, a public relations executive and former director of the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, to create Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Appalachian Wild is a nonprofit that coordinates the needs of wildlife rehabilitation in Western North Carolina by providing care for injured and orphaned wildlife, support for the wildlife rehabilitation network and conservation education to the community. “In 2014, the organization was officially formed and work began to build support towards the opening of a wildlife urgent care facility,” says Trantham. This past July, Appalachian Wild had a soft opening for the Appalachian Wild Urgent Care facility, which is expected to serve more than 2,000 orphaned and injured animals in the coming year. “People who find wild animals and want to help them are often at a loss as to what to do,” says Brewster. “Appalachian Wild is a valuable resource in helping get injured and orphaned wildlife the help they need and also in helping the volunteer-licensed wildlife rehabilitators who have needed a facility of this nature for decades.”
Currently, much of the care for orphaned and injured wildlife is provided by home-based rehabilitators. These volunteers often pay for all of the food, supplies, medicine and even veterinary bills to provide care for the animals in their charge. Many animals require frequent feedings, intensive care and constant attention. “These home-based rehabilitators quickly reach their capacity and become overwhelmed,” says Brewster. “Having a place to bring their patients to get some respite from the demands of caring for these creatures is imperative as fewer and fewer are willing to take on the rigors of this job.” In addition to providing respite and aid for home-based rehabilitators, the facility will also provide a training ground for those interested in the animal sciences.
A family from Candler donated a modular home to house the new triage center, which sits on land leased by Appalachian Wild. The facility houses separate rooms for birds, mammals and herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) as well as an animal food preparation area, storage spaces and office space. There is also a well-equipped triage and exam room made possible by grants from the Glass Foundation and Community Foundation of Henderson County.
The timing for the triage center’s soft opening was intentional because the flow of injured and orphaned animals is often slower in the fall and winter months. This slow period will allow the organization to fine-tune its processes within the triage center. “The busiest season comes in the spring when wildlife become most active and begin reproducing,” says Trantham. “Throughout the busy season, the facility will receive large numbers of orphaned small mammals such as rabbits, opossums, squirrels and songbirds.” Animals come to Appalachian Wild for a number of different reasons. Injuries can be sustained when a wild animal encounters cars, netting, fencing, domestic pets or lawn equipment. “The urgent care facility will also see a number of animals that are displaced because of habitat destruction and those that are taken from their habitat with the intent to rescue,” says Brewster. One common example of this well-intentioned rescuing is moving a nest of baby rabbits, which sometimes appears abandoned to the untrained observer. The Appalachian Wild website provides detailed information about what to do if you find a wild animal.
In the spring, regular hours for the triage center will be set based on the volunteer capacity and the flow of patients needing attention and care. The ultimate goal is to have the facility open seven days a week and to run a “911” wildlife hotline for 24 hours each day. Appalachian Wild is currently raising funds to expand care from triage to full-service rehabilitation by hiring a full-time operations director. As the triage center grows into a full-service facility, it will also be available to researchers, rehabilitators, veterinarians and others working with wild animals. In addition to the funds for expansion, the organization is seeking at least 10 acres of land in or on the border of Buncombe County where the full-service facility will be built.
To learn more about Appalachian Wild or make a donation, visit AppalachianWild.org.