2015 Year in Review: Tina Updike, Animal Care Volunteer

It’s time to look back on 2015! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2015 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Whenever Amanda sends out her message asking for “memories” from the year, I struggle to pinpoint what is my favorite … there are so many! Being an animal care volunteer at the Wildlife Center is such a privilege and every day brings different challenges. One never knows what new patient will be coming in the front door on any given day! After treatments, the rehabilitation staff is responsible for feeding, housing, and taking care of patients until release. I have so much respect for the knowledge the staff has regarding the natural history of each species to determine what to do. It is hard work caring for injured, orphaned, or baby wildlife, but the staff approaches each situation with care and determination.

I have learned that one of the biggest challenges is taking care of fawns until they are old enough to be successfully released back into the wild. Fawns come into our care in early summer because they are injured, orphaned, or “fawn-napped” by humans who think the fawns are abandoned by their mothers. These frightened babies require frequent bottle-feeding until they are weaned. Then the staff must go into the woods, cut branches from appropriate trees to hang from the fence in the deer yard, so the deer learn how to feed in the wild. This year, we had 22 fawns who healed and thrived in our care and were ready for release in early autumn. They were divided into two herds for release at two different sites.

It is always an exciting morning when a fawn “round-up” is scheduled. This involves just about everyone at the WCV—staff, externs, and volunteers. Everyone has an assignment: some people serve as a “human wall” to corral the fawns into their shelter, and some people are fawn catchers who work in two-person teams to carry the fawn from the deer yard down the hill to the vet staff. The vet staff remove the ear tags and clear the fawns for release. Then the deer are placed into the horse trailer for transport to the release site.

This year, I was assigned as the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper opens the deer yard door when a fawn catcher team is ready to carry the young deer down the hill. Each team paused at the door while I placed an open-ended sock over the fawn’s muzzle to cover the eyes to calm the deer. The whole process is done as quietly as possible to minimize anxiety in the animal. It was so amazing to see each deer’s face up close as I placed the cover over the eyes to keep it calm. I whispered a wish to each fawn for a healthy, safe life back in the wild. Quickly, I closed the door behind the team to wait for the next fawn. Everyone works together to accomplish this challenging task as safely as possible because fawns can leap and run very fast to avoid being captured. After the last one is caught and out the door, it is so satisfying to see the empty yard knowing our job is done and they will be free and wild again!

That is what is so extraordinary about volunteering at the WCV – the many new adventures and learning opportunities caring for the patients. Our ultimate goal is an empty cage, flight pen, aquarium, or yard, which means there has been a successful release!


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