We have several permanent animal ambassadors at the Wildlife Medical Clinic. These individuals provide special opportunities for our volunteers and the community to connect with these animals and spread a message of conservation. Most began their time with us as patients in the Wildlife Medical Clinic, and due to the extent of their injuries they could no longer survive in the wild. We spend time each day monitoring all aspects of their health, building trusting relationships, and enriching their lives.
We have the privilege to work with great faculty veterinarians who mentor our student volunteers. WMC volunteers are trained by veterinarians how to do daily examinations of each Animal Ambassador, keeping their specific needs in mind. The veterinarians themselves also regularly perform thorough examinations of each animal. For example, an important part of bird health is the length of their beak and talons. In the wild, the hard work of catching prey and seeking shelter helps birds wear down their continuously growing beak and talons. When overgrown, the bird can have a difficult time eating and even injure themselves. Our Animal Ambassadors have their beaks and talons trimmed as needed, often every other month.
Nutrition is another significant part of keeping our Animal Ambassadors happy and healthy. Volunteers take extra care to ensure these animals are eating appropriate amounts and types of food. Each Animal Ambassador’s daily nutritional requirement is meticulously calculated. Their food is presented as rewards for interacting safely with volunteers or hidden around their habitat to keep them mentally challenged. Each day the amount of food they eat is recorded; if an Ambassador isn’t feeling well and skips a meal, we will know about it. Depending on their medical condition, our animal ambassadors may also receive medications and supplements in their food. This is a stress-free way to ensure they receive the vitamins and care they need.
To keep the animals comfortable, we have a small team of trained volunteers that approach each interaction with the animals similarly. Building trust with the Animal Ambassadors is crucial to keeping them relaxed and comfortable. When we take the ambassadors out to public events, they trust that we are in control of their surroundings. As a result, they can feel safe even when surrounded by new sights and sounds. Our raptor ambassadors are the most involved in their training programs. In part, we teach them to stand on a gloved arm for walks, allow us to touch their wings (for physical exams), and enter a travel carrier.
What some of our volunteers consider the most fun part of working with these amazing animals is enriching their lives. Enrichment can be as simple as introducing a new object or as complicated as a puzzle in which to find food. In addition to new objects, new smells and sounds can also be exciting to animals. Our raptor ambassadors might get new textured branches to stand on or hanging wooden blocks to sharpen their beaks on. River, our bald eagle, enjoys playing in a kiddie pool of water when the weather is appropriate.
The Animal Ambassadors that call the clinic home have unique needs that our volunteers strive to meet. Countless hours go into making sure our ambassadors are healthy and comfortable in their environments. From hiding treats to training sessions with our volunteers, we are interacting with them every day to continue building trust.