2016 Year in Review: Pam Rossetter, Outreach Volunteer

It’s time to look back on 2016! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2016 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. 

After watching Ed build this wonderful place in the early 1980s, I committed to volunteering nearly three years ago. I’m not a person who can handle the treatment aspects of volunteer work here (tube-feeding, for example), but the outreach mission of WCV suits me perfectly. Last year I got to start handling the education animals -- starting with Wilson (adorable Eastern Box turtle), then onto the snakes (yes - yikes). Our education snakes were previously pets and can’t be released because they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild. Snake-handling starts with Malcolm (calm cornsnake), then onto Albus and Severus (huge ratsnakes). I’m comfortable with them now, but that took hours of hanging out with them wrapped around my arms and trying to wrangle them when they explore. They are so beautiful and strange to us.

This year I started to get to know the birds, first Pignoli (who sadly died this summer). Piggy was an easy and tolerant Eastern Screech-owl to begin “raptoring” with. Grayson the Broad-winged Hawk is next and has so much more heft and presence. Everyone talks about their different personalities, but it’s really amazing to see it and to have one of them on your arm. You have to “be the tree” and be calm or they get agitated. The experience of having one of these birds on your arm and being so close to them continues to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Other outreach volunteers call days with the raptors “bird therapy”. None of us can seem to get enough.

Of course, the reason to have these education animals is to use their stories to teach people about nature, the environment, what wild animals are and need, and how we can help protect them. We tell the story about the apple core (apple cores thrown out your car window seems harmless, but a mouse will eat the core and a raptor may come to try to eat the mouse, flying right in front of a moving car), not releasing balloons (critters eat them and that’s never good), and the unintended consequence lead ammunition can have on carrion eaters and scavengers (lead poisoning). There are great success stories as well, like the rebound of raptors after DDT was banned in the 1970s. I always have some people in tour groups comment that they didn’t know about the impact of at least one of these stories.

The most amazing part of the Wildlife Center, though, is the love and passion of the people who work here every day. For example, one day this summer after an open house, as I was closing the door to the hospital after the last tour of the day, I witnessed a most beautiful scene that still plays in my memory. Dr. Ernesto was silently standing by a treatment table waiting, while two volunteers laid an injured black vulture on the table to be examined. I was struck by the quietness and respect and beauty of the three of these humans for this vulture while they prepared to treat an animal that others might shun. For me, it was a transformational experience. What I admire the most about the people here is this respect that they all have for each animal they encounter. I always count myself lucky to be associated with WCV and its kind and intelligent people.

--Pam R.

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