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Zak Mertz, Director of the Cape Cod branch of the New England Wildlife Rescue Center, holds an injured swan in a cranberry bog in Carver, Massachusetts as Amy Trudeau, who called in the rescue stands by watching. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic both centers in Weymouth and Barnstable are no longer allowing people to drop off sick or injured animals so they must go to it. The New England Wildlife Rescue Center and Cape Cod Wildlife Center have converted their education vans into rescue vans and are equipped with the necessary nets, masks, gloves, and carriers needed for dieses protection and the rescues efforts.

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Aila Chase, age 11 from Duxbury, holds a baby rabbit in her front yard where there is a shallow nest tucked under a bed of Irises next to the house. “The night before there were 4 rabbits, we heard some loud squealing and today there are only two left,” says Chase. They called the local rabbit expert recommended by the Wildlife Center to provide directions on the best course of action. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 more people are quarantining in their homes, walking in their communities and paying more attention to nature. This has led to an increase in calls for animal care and wildlife inquiries. “Most of the calls are general wildlife questions and if it’s not an emergency the care can be provided by the person at home,” says Zak Mertz, Director of the Cape Cod branch of the New England Wildlife Rescue Center. Normally with busy work schedules to maintain, people didn’t have time to care for the animals they find but now with more flexibility they can rescue and learn about local wildlife with their families at home.

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Harry Mertz, Veterinary Technician and student, sits on the couch with Slinky, the Blue Tongue Skink, in the dorm space above the New England Wildlife Center. Since the start of the pandemic in early March, he has been living at the facility with a repeating schedule of 9 days followed by 7 days off. This was put in place to reduce exposure to the virus so the extremely limited staff can still care for the injured or orphaned wildlife throughout the pandemic. In between his studies and work, Mertz explains that while living at the facility he is on call 24-7, “if there is a knock on the door, call or if a young animal needs feeding or any emergencies happen, I’m here to help manage that.” He continues, “And the only reason why I have the ability to live here is because my classes were moved online,” says Mertz, which is yet another effect of COVID-19.

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Robyn Rohm, certified Vet-Tech and licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator, checks the heart rate of an injured swan at the Cape Cod branch of the New England Wildlife Rescue Center. The swan had to be euthanized because of the severity of its injuries.

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Aila Chase, age 11 from Duxbury, and her mother Annabel Chase build a fence around a rabbit nest that is tucked under a bed of Irises next to the house. “The night before there were 4 rabbits, we heard some loud squealing and today there are only two left,” says Chase. They called the local rabbit expert recommended by the Wildlife Center to provide directions on the best course of action. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 more people are quarantining in their homes, walking in their communities and paying more attention to nature. This has led to an increase in calls for animal care and wildlife inquiries. “Most of the calls are general education wildlife questions and if it’s not an emergency the care can be provided by the person at home,” says Zak Mertz, Director of the Cape Cod branch of the New England Wildlife Rescue Center. “I wish I new more about the rabbits, we are both learning a lot,” says Annabel.

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POST
The Other COVID Nurses

The Coronavirus pandemic has put the world on pause. As we close our doors, keep ourselves apart from friends and family and stay in-place for an open ended amount of time people are looking to the outdoors and rediscovering local wildlife. As a result of so much time at home, walking around the neighborhood, gardening or visiting natural landscapes, animal rescue facilities are seeing a drastic increase in calls for animal care and inquiries. At the same time the wildlife facilities shut their doors to the public in March of 2020 and let go a large majority of staff and volunteers. 


The New England Wildlife Center (NEWC) and the Cape Wildlife Center (CWC) went from operating with over 200 students, volunteers and vet staff to just 6 on-site animal care professionals between the two facilities. The facilities have cared for sum 225 different species. To meet the demand some of the veterinarians are living at the centers in order to care for the 150-or-so animals inside the building at any given time 24-7 and limit exposure to the spreading disease. 


“The night before there were 4 rabbits, we heard some loud squealing and today there are only two left,” says Aila Chase, age 11 from Duxbury Massachusetts. Ali and her mother Annabel Chase, found a shallow nest of baby rabbits tucked under a bed of Irises next to the house in their front yard. They called the local rabbit expert recommended by the New England Wildlife Center to provide directions on the best course of action. Together they monitored the baby bunnies, placed them back into the nest and constructed a make-shift fence to protect them from predators, including potential cat and dog attacks. “I wish I knew more about the rabbits. Now we have an opportunity to learn and we are both learning a lot,” says Annabel.


On averaging since the spring of 2020 over 45 calls each day would flood the phones of the CWC compared to the normal 25 calls per day on average. Zak Mertz, CWC Executive Director, had all incoming calls to the center linked to his personal cell phone. Mertz has heard people wonder if there are more birds since Covid, where they are simply hearing the bird songs without distraction, maybe the first time. 


In-home licensed rehabilitators are seeing a huge surge from absorbing the overflow of animals flooding out from the wildlife facilities. Throughout Massachusetts there are 186 wildlife people licensed by the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 


Sue Cowan, an experienced wildlife rehabillitator for 21-years, has both state and federal permits. Because of the overwhelming amount of birds needing care, Cowan made the decision to only take in migratory species since they are harder to place. 


Susanna Tuffy, Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator from Duxbury Massachusetts, can hold around 60 animals a year out of her home and has the capability to care for a wide range of animals including reptiles and most small mammals. This year she had around 100 animals move through her home. “The licensed rehabilitators are already filling up, we need more of them,” Tuffy says while feeding a baby squirrel. The squirrel was brought to her by the Plymouth Animal Control when he was about 4 weeks old. 


Tina Worton from Pembroke and JT McNeil, from Quincy both volunteer their time to rescue wild animals. Worton and McNeil at one point had 30 squirrels, 7 cottontails and 3 opossums between the two of them. “We have seen a huge increase where it’s almost overwhelming to accept more. The wildlife facilities are full and we are getting the overflow. Everyone is full. It’s been really hard,” says Worton. 


With all of the challenges in-home rehabilitates and wildlife facilities have faced under the cloud of the pandemic, there is also a silver lining of individuals reconnecting with their local wildlife. One year ago people were too busy to spend time caring for or even noticing mots of their natural surroundings, but now, with a little space and quiet “we” can turn inward to examine our relationship with nature by looking outward and listening to bird songs.

Lauren Lambert
May 18, 2021

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