Houston organizes rehabbers in Wildlife Center of Texas

The women who have been treating Houston’s wildlife for decades got a new name: the Wildlife Center of Texas last week. It goes along with their new building (2007) and one of the biggest patient populations of any wildlife care center in the U.S. (8,500).

The current Wildlife Center of Texas represents what many urban rehabilitators are hoping to become: a professional outfit the public can turn to when they find orphaned or injured wildlife.  Executive director Sharon Schmalz started saving native animals in her backyard after a 1984 oil spill.

She and a team of other rehabbers, who, like rehabbers overall, are mostly women, built up the operations. They partnered with the Houston SPCA (which sends them wild patients) and Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine. They got some funding from oil companies like Shell and Citgo (still no public funding available, even though wildlife is a public asset). And in 2007 they moved into their new building.

They’re on track to take in 8,500 patients this year, up from 7,000 in a typical year, because the drought is putting extra stress on animals.

“We’re really in the middle of Houston, so people ask, how do you get so much wildlife?” Schmaltz says. “But we’re also in the middle of the migration path.”

Their typical customer is a bird–dove, mockingbird or blue jay–but they also see pelicans and herons, who visit the coast.

“We get things people find in their backyard,” says operations manager Margaret Pickell. That means the usual suspect mammals–possums, rabbits, racoons and squirrels. But they’ve also treated trickier patients, like otters, beavers and bobcats. And they even treated a hooked, endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found on a street (probably dumped there).

Squashed armadillos are a common sight in Texas, but someone called in seeing an injured one “in the road covered with ants and circling,” a center blog says. The SPCA picked up the animal, who had head trauma and road rash. After recovery, the wildlife center will release the animal away from roads and near water.

The center doesn’t have the licenses to display wildlife, so they aren’t open to the general public. A few lucky school kids get to see a presentation by non-releasable hawks and owls, either at the center or school.

Check out the Wildlife Center of Texas



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