Picky eaters

At Peace River Wildlife Center, our primary goal is to treat and release injured native Florida wildlife.  Our secondary purpose is education.  Individuals that are otherwise healthy but wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves in the wild are used as education animals—if they have the disposition for it. 

The animals must be comfortable with living a life in captivity and in proximity to people.  Some fit right in, seeming to sense that they have hit the jackpot of gold at the end of the of the rainbow.  Occasionally, a recovering animal will seem destined for the other end of the rainbow bridge, and we are able to ease his suffering.

Many of those permanent residents are on display in our exhibits.  Some are placed in other facilities around the state and country if we don’t have room or the appropriate accommodations for them.  Our visitors enjoy seeing these birds up close and learning more about them from our knowledgeable tour guides.

Sometimes, our guests have suggestions that help make our facility more interesting, interactive, or accessible.  Years ago, we only fed the raptors after hours, assuming that people wouldn’t want to see dead rats being torn apart by hawks and eagles.  We were wrong.  It turns out that many people are fascinated by this aspect of nature.

We recently had someone suggest that a “guest feeding station” would be fun and exciting.  I’m not sure which birds they wanted us to feed the guests to, but we are looking into the possibilities.  Or maybe they wanted the guests to feed the birds?  If only it were that simple!  Many of our residents have very specific dietary needs and an even more ridiculous array of challenges we must meet to get them to eat.

The vultures, who commonly eat roadkill in the wild, could give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money—they are some of our most demanding eaters.  We must skin their rats, then remove the intestines, legs, and heads.  We then have to cut the rat meat into the exact bite-sized morsels of the gourmands’ choosing, sprinkle with a dash of vitamins, and serve on a double-sided dish so each has his own portion.

The folks at Publix always look at me funny when I tell them the cartful of groceries I am purchasing is for opossums.  Dry cat food, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, grapes, and yogurt are some of the staples.  Add to that whatever fresh fruits and vegetables are in season.  It all goes into a food processor together and comes out as “possum stew.” 

No, we don’t eat the opossums;  we feed them.  But if we don’t blend everything together, they won’t get a well-balanced diet.  The first one to the bowl will pick out all the grapes.  The next one will lick the yogurt off, and so on until the last guy gets stuck with the broccoli.  Just like toddlers, they don’t want to eat their veggies.  But their health depends on it—a balanced diet prevents metabolic bone disease.

The pelicans are a handful at feeding time also.  They will only eat specially purchased thread herring of a certain size.  Heaven forfend if the supplier is unable to get that particular fish one week—the birds will stage a hunger strike.  And the fish must be thrown to their hungry maws head first, so the scales and fins don’t get caught in the birds’ throats as they go down.  Whatever you do, do not let the pelicans surround you at feeding time.  The ones behind you will shred the backs of your legs with their serrated beaks.

Our volunteers take their lives in their hands when it comes time to feed our residents.  There are occasional visitors we fantasize about throwing in with certain residents, but for the most part, we like and respect them too much to permit such a fiasco.  (I’ll leave it up to you, gentle reader, to figure out if I am referring to the visitors or the birds.)

For obvious reasons, we have tabled the “guest feeding stations” for now.  Much research to follow.  In the meantime, we do have something in which our guests, volunteers, and the community at large can participate. 

Join Us on Tuesday, October 30th for a Halloween Sunset Cruise to Benefit the Animals of PRWC. Tickets are $50 per person (including appetizers and non-alcoholic drinks; cash bar available).  Departure will be at 6pm from Fishermen’s Village on the Charlotte Lady.  While costumes are not required, they are highly recommended. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, call 941-637-3830 or go to our web site at www.PRWildlife.org.  Tickets are limited, so order yours early.  Get your Luna on and party with some real animals.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM