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The Wildlife Care Academy

A year ago the Wildlife Center of Virginia started what it calls the Wildlife Care Academy, to more widely share its expertise with wildlife enthusiasts and professionals.  And the program is expanding. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia near Waynesboro is a hospital for wildlife, but it doesn’t just fix what’s broken.

CLARK: We are truly the Mayo Clinic of wildlife medicine. People around the world truly know our name as a center of excellence, as a center that provides assistance and the top training that’s available.

The center has been providing care for the likes of bears, fawns, vultures, and even field mice for three and a half decades, but this August marked the first anniversary of something new at the center: the Wildlife Care Academy. It’s off to a good start – and expanding, said Ed Clark, the center’s president and founder.

CLARK: We were hoping that we’d reach a few hundred, several hundred people, yet in our very first year we had over 1,400 enrollments in our various online classes, and in-person classes, and those represented nearly 900 individuals, many of whom took multiple classes, and they came from 46 states and seven countries.

The academy website lists several class formats, with different levels designed for anyone from enthusiasts to licensed veterinarians.

KELSEY PLEASANTS: Hi everyone, my name is Kelsey. I am one of the rehabbers here at the Wildlife Center at Virginia so thank you for joining us tonight….

Those online classes are typically two hours long, cost $25-35, and include topics such as wildlife capture, restraint, handling and transport, and songbird and white-tailed deer fawn rehabilitation.

PLEASANTS: Whenever you admit a patient, you want to do a physical exam from head to toe….

I sat in on the online REHAB 304: Small Mammal Rehabilitation, taught by Waynesboro native Kelsey Pleasants.

PLEASANTS: Start at the same point, run through the same routine, end at the same point….

The course had about 15 participants, and 99 slides that Pleasants showed and talked about as a “basic introduction to hand-raising orphaned small mammals from birth to release.” 

PLEASANTS: Even if it comes in and it has an obvious wound on its right leg, just go ahead and start with wherever you normally start with your exam….

My favorite moment was a video of a baby squirrel being fed from a syringe:

[Audio of a squirrel being fed]

After the class I talked with another student, Crystal Hoke. She’s attending community college in Northern Virginia and hopes to become a licensed veterinary tech; she said she took the Wildlife Care Academy class to give herself a head start on her career path. She’s taken care of squirrels before, and was particularly interested in the information about cottontail rabbits and Virginia opossums.

HOKE: Seeing what was available with other animals makes me very interested and more intrigued to learn about other animals – wildlife, I should say.

Later this year the center plans to announce a knowledge certification program for people who have taken its courses. Eventually, they hope to expand that to include skills certification, too, and not just for people who train at the Wildlife Center. Again, Ed Clark:

CLARK: We’ll be identifying centers of excellence around the country, working with them, so that let’s say someone in California may well be able to do their practical training at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum [now known as the Lindsay Wildlife Experience] in Walnut Creek, California, which is an excellent facility, or the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where they can get hands-on training, and then when they are credentialed as a master raptor rehabilitator, it will really mean something. They will be able to prove they have the factual, informational background, the skill set and the experience to go out and do it independently.

The Wildlife Care Academy’s offerings are expanding, too, to include not just wildlife rehabilitation topics, but also non-profit management courses with titles such as “Your True Cost of Doing Business.” Here’s the academy’s coordinator Maggie McCartney:

MCCARTNEY: All of the knowledge is here…. Ed said in a staff meeting, “All of us are smarter than any of us,” and I think that really applies to bringing the whole staff on board with this, and having instructors from all different departments teach what they really know and what they love.

The range of classes will be offered during the center’s Call of the Wild Conference in mid-November in Waynesboro. It’s all part of the Wildlife Center’s mission, which Clark said sometimes surprises people.

CLARK: The mission of this organization is not healing injured wildlife. The mission of this organization is teaching the world to care about and to care for wildlife and the environment. It makes no difference if you heal an animal from some human-caused injury and it has no home to which to return.

With its Wildlife Care Academy, the center is equipping people who care with knowledge about how to care.

Christopher Clymer Kurtz was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 - 2019.