Ally Reagle has always loved animals, especially wildlife. She grew up roughly 20 minutes away from Medford, New Jersey-based Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, but didn’t know it existed until her mother showed her a Facebook post from the nonprofit refuge seeking volunteer interns for the summer.
“I've always wanted to do something related to animals, but I thought that the scope ended with farm animals, zoo animals, or dogs and cats,” she says. Reagle got an internship and began training to volunteer at Cedar Run. Since it takes some time and experience before volunteers can work directly with wildlife, she says that many begin by learning how to make food for the animals, then possibly answering phone calls. “This way we can ensure volunteers have a true understanding of normal and abnormal animal behaviors before answering questions from the general public,” she says. Callers may have questions about baby birds, injured rabbits, or fawns that appear to be abandoned, among others. More long-term volunteers learn advanced skills like raptor handling and tube feeding, she says. They may also help coordinate transportation of injured animals to Cedar Run. Volunteers also assist in the education center, helping visitors learn more about native New Jersey animal species.
Now that Reagle has a few years of experience under her belt, she has more direct contact with animals at the refuge, although her days are decidedly not filled with cuddling them. Cedar Run and other wildlife rehabilitation centers typically limit contact with animals as much as possible to avoid causing undue stress or associating humans with food or comfort. The goal is to prepare the animals to be released back into the wild, if possible.
Becoming a full-fledged wildlife rehabilitator requires an apprenticeship, certification, and permits that vary by state and federal requirements. Her work in the animal hospital is governed by Cedar Run’s permit. She says many volunteers underestimate how much “dirty work” is involved. “Obviously, it’s rewarding,” she says. But volunteers spend a lot of time, “wiping some butts and cleaning some poop.” Still, there’s no greater feeling than watching one of Cedar Run’s residents be released back into the forests and fields where they belong.
For the Loons
After Sharon Young moved to the shore of Maine’s Little Sebago Lake in 1997, she “became instantly in love with the magnificent sounds of the loons.” She read every book she could find about the waterfowl and enjoyed watching them on the lake.
Several years later, she found a loon chick that seemed to have an injured leg. She contacted the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), a Portland, Maine-based nonprofit ecological research group, which was banding and monitoring loons on the lake. The chick healed, but the BRI ended their monitoring and banding program on the lake the next year. Young began logging nests and numbers of chicks, as well as how many survived until the fall migration period.
Loons had once been nearly gone from the lake, she says, but have rebounded in the region. However, in 2017, she realized a more formal approach to monitoring their reproductive success was needed. She applied for a grant and, the following year, launched the Little Sebago Lake Loon Monitoring and Conservation Program. The program hired a loon biologist consultant she met when she contacted BRI, to train “loon rangers” who help monitor the birds, nests, and chicks.
The conservation program is not licensed to do rehabilitation but works with local wildlife rehabilitation centers in the case of injured birds. Male loons can sometimes be aggressive toward nests or chicks, so the team closely watches nests to help protect them. The 18 “rangers” who volunteer with the program—most of whom have both formal classroom and field training—also run an active Facebook page and participate in projects like building floating nest rafts, installing a “loon cam” to live stream a loon nest, and placing “loon sanctuary” signs to educate people so they do not disrupt loon nesting areas.
Young addressed the impact of the loon conservation efforts in a piece she wrote: “That volunteerism led to so much more than any of us expected; learning about loons, learning about the lake ecology, learning how to handle both deceased and distressed loons, educating our lake friends and neighbors, and building a strong community of people who share our love of loons and dedication to preserving the population on our Little Sebago Lake.”
For those interested in volunteering to help rehabilitate and support wildlife, Reagle recommends reaching out to your local wildlife rehabilitation center or following them on social media to find out more.
Check out other ways to volunteer with wildlife and animals at createthegood.org.