2013 Year in Review: Randy Huwa, Executive Vice President

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.

My special 2013 year-in-review memory began this summer and is … ongoing.

In early August, I was reviewing the Wildlife Center’s July financial statements. I was anxious to see where we were on expenses – particularly “animal feed”, our line item for food that we buy for patients and resident education animals.

Our budget for July was $1,134.

Our ACTUAL for July was … $8,095.26.

“ZOUNDS”, I exclaimed. [Ok, I didn’t exclaim “zounds”. I’m sure I said something else. But this is a family program.]

How did we POSSIBLY spend more than $8,000 in a single month on food for our patients? Particularly when our budget for the ENTIRE year was $13,610.

The answer? Black Bear cubs. HUNGRY Black Bear cubs. More than a dozen Black Bear cubs.

Seems that we had been buying a lot of food for the bears. First bear formula. Then bear chow. And then fruits and vegetables.

By July, we were feeding the cubs solid food three times a day. Four buckets of food at a meal. Fruits vegetables greens chow insects nuts. Ka-CHING!

We needed help. We put out the call to our friends and supporters. We asked for surplus food from gardens. We asked for the not-quite-right basket of apples or bushel of peaches. We asked staff and volunteers to contact local grocers and farmers markets and roadside fruit-stands and orchards and pet-food stores and … anyone who might be able to help.

Bears are omnivores – they’ll eat most anything. So we cast a wide net, hoping for help.

And the help came pouring in.

We got help from scores of people and places – maybe hundreds. We’re grateful for each and every one who helped out. We put special “bear food” baskets near the front entrance to the Center. Many times those baskets were filled to the brim – and overflowing.

Folks came by all day long and dropped off bear food. Some came by once with a small bag from their garden. Others made weekly trips. And we appreciated each and every donation.

In particular, I remember three special “partners” in our Feed the Bear project.

Whole Foods Market. I’ve been picking up surplus produce from the Whole Foods Market in Charlottesville since April 2008. Jason Lamm and Ryan Cantore and their colleagues in the produce section have been setting aside fruits and vegetables for many months; they are unfailingly helpful and interested.

With the bear campaign, Whole Foods stepped it up. Tara Hodges in the Receiving Department became my “go-to-pal”. Would it be possible for me to get fish from Whole Foods? Tara set me up with Chad Ervin … and now, once a week, I go “dumpster diving” to pick up fish scraps. [Ok, it’s not quite as bad as full-body diving but … hey, the bears (and occasionally Buddy the Bald Eagle) really relish the fish.]

How about the cut-up fruit that is reaching the end of its shelf-life? Tara made the connection.

And other things that the Center could use – like trash bags and paper towels and cleaning supplies? Tara set me up.

When we wondered if we could set up a display table during the Toyota Cars online voting day … Tara made it happen.

When we needed large paper bags to pack up items after the Center’s gala – Tara gave us a stack.

Eggs. Mr. Pete in Madison County volunteered the services of his hens in providing eggs for our growing bears. Once a week, Mr. Pete and I had a 7:30 a.m. appointment. It was a good chance to catch up on the latest news from Mr. Pete’s farm and Madison County, wildlife sightings, and a progress report on his peacocks. I also got to watch his German Shepherd Nick transform from a playful and somewhat clumsy pup into a more confident but still loving young adult.

And our rehabilitation staff has become quite adept at dealing with the eggs. The eggs are hardboiled – just in case there’s any risk of bacteria and, as rehabber Amber has noted, “It’s a storage-type issue … someone drops three cartons of eggs out of the fridge, I’d rather them be hard-boiled than raw. What a mess.”

How to hard-boil an egg for a bear? Amber again: “We’ve gotten it down to a science now. We fill a dish tub with enough water to completely cover a whole dozen eggs. If they aren’t completely covered they will explode. We then put them in the microwave for 18 minutes.”

The eggs – shell and all – have been fed to the bears – and also to opossums and to Jaz [our resident crow].

Team Bunny. For a couple of years students in Jackie Howell’s yoga classes have been official members of Team Bunny [Jackie Howell is my beloved, long-suffering, and supportive wife]. Members of Team Bunny have painstaking collected clover, dandelions, and other garden weeds and greens to help support young rabbits – they just don’t do as well with the “store-bought” lettuce.

In 2013, as rabbit season drew to a close, we switched the focus of Team Bunny to the bears – since we feed the bears lots of leafy greens. These volunteers helped gather clover and greens and kale and mustard and collards.

*        *        *

The bears did make a big dent in our food budget. Through November, we’ve spent more than $26,000 for animal food – about twice our annual budget. But the assistance of so many caring individuals and institutions has allowed us to provide abundant food to our collection of bears. The bears are fat and sassy … and will be well fortified for their release into the wild next month.


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

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