Looking to the Future

41 years ago, the Wildlife Medical Clinic began operation at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. While the program started small, in the following years the WMC would grow to treat over 2,000 patients every year! As the clinic grew, so too did the need for space and resources to house and treat our patients. In the summer of 2018, the Wildlife Medical Clinic was lucky enough to move from our space in the basement of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital to an adjacent building with space adapted specifically to our needs. This move has provided some much-needed space and allowed our program to continue its expansion, taking in more patients and training more students than ever before!

In the spirit of expansion, the Wildlife Medical Clinic is happy to announce our newest project: a new Ambassador Residence! Previously, our ambassador animals had been housed in smaller flight cages near the Basic Science Building on the Vet Med campus. This space met their needs during the warm months but required indoor housing during cold or adverse weather events. Just as the medical portion of the Clinic has expanded, so too has our ambassador team! In addition to our 5 birds of prey, we currently have an opossum and three reptiles which help round out our animal ambassador team. With new animals being added and more opportunities for public outreach, we needed to create a space that would facilitate all of the needs for all of our ambassador team.

 

This brings us to the construction of our new residence. This new space will be located right outside the Wildlife Medical Clinic’s new location on Hazelwood Drive, across the street from the University of Illinois Small Animal Clinic. This space will be used as year-round housing for all the animals in our ambassador animals. This new space provides shelter in all weather conditions, larger housing allocations for each ambassador, and we will have an amphitheater-like space which can help to further expand our public outreach program.

After years of work planning and revising plans of this project, the ground was finally broken on July 25, 2019! We anticipate the project to be complete this fall. This effort would not be possible without the support of the generous donors to the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

Our Clinic honors a three-fold mission to provide veterinary care to native wildlife, educational opportunities for our student volunteers, and to support conservation efforts through public outreach. Without the support of our community, we would not be the clinic we are today.

By Mary Kate Feldner, Class of 2021

The Lady in Red: Meet Ruby!

[Ruby the Red-tailed Hawk poses outside]By Mary Kate Feldner, University of Illinois veterinary student

We are proud to officially announce the addition of Ruby, a red-tailed hawk, to the resident ambassador team at the Wildlife Medical Clinic!

After months of training, Ruby joins Odin, our 23-year-old red-tailed hawk, to become the second red-tailed hawk in our ambassador program.

To learn more about Ruby, we sat down with the three dedicated student volunteers who have been working tirelessly with our new hawk on the temperament testing and training required of ambassador animals. Allison Wright and Jess Bertulis, both third-year veterinary students, and Sam Barratt, a second-year student, answered questions about the newest resident ambassador.

How did Ruby find her way to the Wildlife Medical Clinic?

Ruby was found in central Illinois approaching humans for food. A good Samaritan noted that her behavior was unusual for a wild hawk—and not particularly safe for Ruby or any humans that she approached. With that in mind, they brought her to Illinois Raptor Center (IRC), a wildlife rehabilitation facility located in Decatur, Ill. The IRC evaluated Ruby and determined that she was unfit for release into the wild due to her demeanor, but noted that she could serve well as an ambassador animal. We often collaborate with the IRC on cases, and they approached us about her care. While our goal at the Wildlife Medical Clinic is to return wild animals back to their original habitat, we agreed that Ruby’s behavior would not help her be successful in the wild and instead she would find her forever home with us!

What interested the resident ambassador program in taking on Ruby as a member of the team?

We’ve been looking to add another bird to our program for the past several months, but the process of finding an appropriate animal is often lengthy. Wild animals, even if previously habituated, are all still individuals, and not every animal will fit with an existing program. When our directors first met Ruby, they knew her intelligent, inquisitive nature would complement our program’s objectives well, while also making her unique from our existing birds.

What kind of training and preparation goes into adding another animal to the resident ambassador program?

All of our ambassador animals are trained to complete commands through means of positive reinforcement. This method rewards them for listening to us while still giving them space and respect on days when they are uncomfortable or disinterested. Integrating a new animal requires a step-by-step process of teaching them to understand verbal cues and hand commands.

On the office side of things, the Wildlife Medical Clinic has to file paperwork with several government agencies to gain approval for possession of a wild animal. All native bird species are protected under the Migratory Bird Act, so you need special permission to house one.

What has been the most rewarding part of working with Ruby?

Ruby amazes me every day. She’s a remarkably intelligent bird, and it’s extremely rewarding to watch her learn new things almost daily. I think all three of us are so proud of how far she’s come: from slightly nervous with her new surroundings at the beginning, all the way to performing chained commands like they’re nothing. Most animals don’t pick up things as quickly as she does.

On the other hand, what has been the most difficult part of preparing Ruby to join the resident ambassador team?

We’ve actually overcome most of our training speedbumps relatively quickly. I think the most difficult part of this journey, at least for me, has been preparing myself for knowing that I’ll be unable to work with her as consistently once I begin my fourth-year clinical rotations. However, I know she’s going to be a great ambassador for the program for many, many years to come!

What kind of future training will Ruby undergo as part of the resident ambassador program?

Now that she knows all of the basic commands, we’ll continue to shape her behaviors and build upon them. We’ve always adjusted our training over the years to accommodate changes to the program, and she’ll also need to learn how to perform her existing behaviors in our new ambassador residence once construction is completed.

Follow us on Facebook for updates on the construction of our new ambassador residence. You can also  learn more about our ambassador animal program or schedule an educational event with our ambassadors.

Resident Spotlight: Onslo!

Meet Onlso, our resident northern blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia)! Blue tongued-skinks have a long, flat body with short limbs and are native to Australia. Their unique blue tongue is an adaptation to avoid predation. When threatened, a blue-tongued skink will flash its bright blue tongue, deterring predators because the color is associated with poisonous animals. Blue-tongued skinks, however, are not poisonous. They are found in forests and are omnivores, eating fruits, vegetables and insects.

Onslo enjoys a nice salad of fruits, veggies and insects!

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