Rhode Island’s many animal shelters do a fantastic job of rescuing dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets and other household pets and placing them in loving homes. But there are other local organizations that care for and preserve very different types of animals – ones that you’re not likely to find in your typical shelter.
You might be surprised to know that there are established sanctuaries, conservation lands and rehabilitation facilities for species that are wild, exotic or rare heritage livestock breeds in Rhode Island. If you want to get up close and personal with hawks, llamas, parrots, sheep, tortoises, goats, possums and other animals you probably don’t encounter every day, these are the spots you should flock to.
The increasingly warm weather calls us to venture out and enjoy the fresh air and stunning natural beauty of the Ocean State. If you are out hiking in the woods or walking near the ocean and happen to find an injured wild animal, however, it is important to know that you should not try to bring it to a local domestic animal shelter. Instead, you should call the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island (WRARI), a nonprofit which oversees and operates the Wildlife Clinic of RI – the only wildlife medical/rehabilitation facility in the state. Since 1993, the clinic has served as the first step in a process where injured or orphaned wild animals are brought, evaluated, rehabilitated and later placed in various sanctuaries and conservatories in the area, depending on the species and type of injury. The Wildlife Clinic is made up of a group of both volunteer and staff veterinarians and rehabilitators who annually take in 3,2003,500 birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. That number is increasing each year.
“We are not an animal removal service, and we will not trap and relocate animals, as that is illegal in Rhode Island,” says Director of Operations Arianna L. Mouradjian, Esq. “We do, however, try to alleviate human/wildlife conflict through public education, and will work with people needing assistance with wildlife issues. Each animal is provided the care it needs for the purpose of eventual release back to the wild,” Arianna explains.
WRARI hosts numerous educational and fundraising events at various locations throughout the year, including a spring “Baby Shower,” a Pet Expo at the Convention Center, Environmental Awareness Day at Narragansett Beach, Raptor Weekend at the Audubon Center in Bristol, a winter buffet dinner and silent auction, and more. Wildlife Rehabilitators of RI. 240 Shermantown Road, Saunderstown. 401-294-6363, riwildliferehab.org
Born to Be Wild (BTBW) is the only licensed rehabilitation center specializing in birds of prey, also known as raptors. The non-profit center was founded in 1998 and incorporated in 2000. Its four acres in the town of Bradford house about 65 raptors and two dozen other species of birds and mammals every year, providing food and medical care for them with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild.
“Most birds of prey at the sanctuary have been hit by cars; others fly into manmade obstacles like wires, buildings and windows,” says Vivian Maxson, President of BTBW. “As the number of injured raptors increases every year, a challenge for all nature shelters along the East Coast is providing enough food to feed them. They require a whole animal diet – mainly mice and rats, and we’ve always had a donation of laboratory mice, however a major laboratory is closing here in New England, which has affected many raptor centers. If another source is not found, the cost of purchasing the mice is going to lower the number of patients we are able to take in.”
BTBW gives private guided tours of the sanctuary by appointment only for the price of a donation to the birds’ care, and also offers off-site educational programs for audiences of all sizes. Born to Be Wild. Westerly. 401-377-8489, hawkri.org
If you stop to think about birds that you commonly see in New England, parrots probably aren’t the first species that comes to mind – which is why it may be surprising to learn that there is a local organization that houses more than 450 of these intelligent, beautiful, brightly-colored tropical fowl.
Often, individuals choose to adopt parrots as pets without realizing that even pet shop parrots are still wild animals. The larger a parrot is, the longer its average lifespan – some live to be as old as many humans! A pet parrot should be viewed as a lifetime commitment, but owners do not always take this into consideration before adopting them, and later decide they no longer wish to take care of them – which is why Marc Johnson decided to found Foster Parrots and the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary.
Foster Parrots was established in 2007 with 15 acres in Hope Valley dedicated to “retired” and wild parrots, as well as a few other exotic pets without homes. Right now, the sanctuary is also home to a Patagonian cavy, two rabbits, a large female iguana, eleven aquatic turtles and eight large African spurred tortoises. “As America’s third most popular
pet, parrots are the flagship or representative species for wildlife whose suffering in captivity cannot continue to be ignored,” says Foster Parrots Executive Director Karen Windsor. “Foster Parrots’ humane education message is broad and inclusive, asking us to re-examine our trans-species relationships and our responsibilities toward the animals with which we share our homes and our planet.”
Foster Parrots offers guided educational tours on an appointment basis, and there are adoption opportunities for those committed and qualified. Foster Parrots also offers “virtual adoption,” where you can sponsor a parrot at the sanctuary financially, providing care without all of the work. Volunteers are welcome as well. Foster Parrots. 781-878-3733, fosterparrots.com
Swiss Village Farm (SVF) in Newport is a special breed of organization even among non-traditional animal conservation groups, fostering a unique mission and purpose. Although Swiss Village Farm’s animals are not technically “wild,” they also aren’t the types of animals typically found in someone’s home.
With the motto, “A Bridge to the Future for Heritage Breeds,” SVF’s non-profit operating foundation is dedicated to preserving lineages of endangered heritage livestock species through the cryopreservation of germplasm. Fourteen buildings house SVF’s offices, laboratories, infirmary, a conference room, and workshops, where on-site staff works with veterinarians from the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine to collect genetic materials, which are then used to breed the next generation of these rare animals and preserve biodiversity. The organization works with various breeders. Some animals are “on loan,” while others are purchased outright. The ultimate goal is to return the animals back to breeding populations.
Visitors are allowed to tour SVF just one day each year. This year’s date will be Saturday, June 13 from 9am-3pm. This free public event offers a rare peek into the labs and facilities, the chance to meet veterinarians and scientists, as well as live cryogenics and sheep shearing demonstrations. If you can’t make it to Visitors Day, taking a scenic drive near Fort Adams Park will usually afford some great animal watching as llamas, sheep, goats, ponies, and cows graze on Newport’s green, hilly pastures. SVF is also currently holding a lecture series to raise awareness about local farming systems, sustainable agriculture, and conservation. Swiss Village Farm, Harrison Avenue, Newport. 401-848-7229, svffoundation.org
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