2013 Year in Review: Dr. Dave McRuer, Veterinary Director

It’s time to look back on 2013! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2013 from the staff, students, and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.

Picking one significant moment from the last year is a difficult task. I am privileged to work with AMAZING colleagues, I get to meet students from around the world and learn from their experiences, and the continuous diversity of patients and injuries makes each day an exciting challenge. However when I look back on 2013, I think the new bear enclosure has been our most significant accomplishment. For several years, we have known that a larger cub-rearing facility was needed at the Center. The Black Bear population across the Commonwealth continues to grow and bear habitat is constantly being eroded by human development. At the Center, we have seen an increasing number of cub admissions over recent years, and while we have great facilities for rehabilitating injured bears for relatively short stays (<90 days), those bear pens are not adequate for rearing healthy young animals for longer periods of time.

While we had been circulating our plans and talking to other bear rehabilitators for several years, it wasn’t until 2012 that the ball actually started rolling. At our annual gala, an anonymous donor tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a check and said, “Dave, please put this towards the new bear enclosure and use it as leverage to raise the remanding funds”. With a check for $100K in my hand I quickly gave that piece of paper to Randy so that I would no longer be responsible for its protection ☺. From there, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stepped up to the plate to fund half the anticipated cost of the enclosure. While the WCV owns and operates the facility, it is strategic in DGIF’s 10-year black bear management plan and we will be working closely with our partners at VDGIF on bear-related issues. By far, the most overwhelming for me was the generosity from the general public and how they came together to help raise the rest of the money to make this dream a reality. It never ceases to amaze me how people from around the world can rally around a cause to see it through to fruition. This truly has become a community project – one that will benefit bears and the next generation of wildlife professionals for years to come.

The plans for this enclosures are a mixture of our own ideas heavily influenced by experiences from the Appalachian Bear Rescue, Woodlands Wildlife Refuge (thank you Tracy Leaver), and the wonderful giving folks from Black Bear Solar Institute (Lisa, Bob, Mary-Joyce ... you are incredible). Amanda and I were able to visit these organizations several years ago and gather the best of everyone’s ideas to incorporate into our plans. Ed and I spent a lot of time going over the blueprints to make sure the design was both functional and practical and we then consulted with Kjellstrom & Lee Construction to finalize designs and prepare estimates for the enclosure. It is always a challenging, yet rewarding, experience to work with a construction company to build a facility for animals. While certain designs may make sense from a construction standpoint, the biologic needs of the patients need to be factored into the plans and there is always a little bit of give-and-take before the final plans are settled upon. K&L employees have always been top-notch and it’s a pleasure to work with them on a daily basis.

Throughout the year, part of my daily routine was to check-in with the construction crew to tweak plans and consult as we moved along. The first building to be completed was the Large Mammal Isolation building. This structure was designed to house the cubs throughout the summer and allow them access to fresh air and views of the forest, something that isn't possible in our original bear pens. Once the cubs were housed in their “summer palace”, the construction crew started work on the larger bear enclosure. The changes over the past four months have been incredible to watch. When we started, Ed and I walked the hillside to gauge the topography and decide the best layout and positioning for the enclosure. Throughout the summer and fall, Amanda and I would go on our daily walk to check the construction progress and photo-document all the changes for the world to see on our website. There were definitely challenges along the way: inclement weather, dealing with the repercussions of a prison breakout (we worked closely with the Department of Corrections and used inmate labor ... No break-outs on our watch), and slow-downs due to materials availability. Nonetheless, the project is almost complete and everyone is excited about moving the bears into their new home, even if it is for only a few weeks before release.

I absolutely love showing our new facility to others. I frequently go on alleged “three- hour tours” to show colleagues the new complex and I’m really proud of what our team has accomplished. The new enclosures will be used for years and years to come and will be instrumental in black bear rehabilitation in Virginia. While this project has been a labor of love for all of the WCV staff, I think it exemplifies our team’s ability to rise to a challenge and excel. I will look back upon this accomplishment fondly and look forward to seeing the cubs in their new enclosure, preparing for their second chance at living free in the wild.

--Dr. Dave

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!


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