After two months of my 12-week rehabilitation externship had come and gone, I felt like I had mastered most tasks. Then I blinked, and spring was entering the Wildlife Center. Suddenly there were baby bunnies, opossums, and squirrels in our ICU and we were skipping lunches to make sure all feedings were kept on schedule.
In a flash, the ICU had become a world of the unknown – there was so much to learn and learn quickly to be able to properly raise the babies for their release. Taking care of the animals in that room consumed most of the day. Every baby animal admitted was examined and weighed. These recordings helped to determine their proper nutrient and husbandry requirements, as did other factors, such as if the baby animal had its eyes open or closed, or if the baby was fully feathered or furred. Incubators and aquariums line the walls of the ICU room, each draped with individual feeding logs for each young patient. Feeding logs are color-coded according to the number of times per day that baby will need to eat. The charts range from the color pink, which indicates that the animal is a SID [once-a-day] feeding, all the way up to purple charts for “FID”, or five-times-a-day feedings. Feedings begin at 8 a.m. and will end as late as 6:30 p.m., if there are five-times-a-day feeders. These specific feeding periods must be kept on time, or all feedings unintentionally fall behind schedule.
The mornings and evenings are the busiest times in ICU. This is partly because all baby bunnies are twice-a-day feeders, no matter the circumstances. All bunnies are tube-fed and stimulated, then their enclosures are cleaned, and their greens are replenished and misted before we move onto the other scheduled feedings. Numerous bunnies inhabit the ICU incubators and aquariums, so an extra pair of hands is always helpful to ensure all animals are fed in a timely fashion. Opossum babies are also cared for similarly to bunnies, but are much easier to tube-feed. As the baby opossums grow, mush bowls (formula mixed with baby rice cereal over soaked dry dog chow), and eventually juvenile opossum meals are offered. Squirrels are syringe-fed and are also offered mush bowls as well as a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables once they reach a certain weight requirement.
The babies’ week-to-week weight gain makes the weaning process that much more rewarding. Witnessing your dedication paying off – in grams of weight gained – is a satisfaction that is unimaginable. What’s even more satisfying is watching “the wild” start to come out in these animals as they grow. Not too long ago, I was tube-feeding opossums no bigger than the palm of my hand. Now they are no longer tube-fed and are baring their teeth when we put their meals in their enclosures. The day of their release will be a memory worth keeping – and it will be a job well done for the amazing rehabilitation team that I am in no hurry to leave.
Class of 2014