In case you missed Fashion Week in Paris, do not despair. It’s time for Couture Week at Peace River Wildlife Center. This week we will be hosting a “Who Wore It Better?” campaign. As seen on Facebook (the harbinger of fashion sense worldwide, as well as the People of Walmart) we will compare a few fabulous creatures wearing the same apparel and leave it up to you to decide who wore it better.
A few weeks ago, someone donated a pair of pillowcases in a pretty pastel coral colour with a ruffled edge. I mentioned that it looked like a skirt and everything went downhill from there. Maybe we are all getting a little punch-drunk from the 20 admissions per day. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from taking care of all the baby mammals in home care. But every now and then you just have to take a step back and laugh at yourself (or your fellow coworker, as the case may be.)
I took one of the pillowcases home and turned it into a skirt, leaving the other behind as a cage liner as intended by the donor. As luck would have it, I happened to have a blouse that matched it quite well, both in colour and style. I was feeling pretty plucky, and so decided to challenge the patients at PRWC to see if they could wear said garment with the same panache that I did.
First up is a gallant gopher tortoise. She throws the shrug over her shoulders and poses like a prima donna. She was admitted after having been hit by a car and has a fracture on her carapace (upper shell.) She is recovering nicely from her physical wounds (but may need some serious counselling if her friends and family see these pictures.) Luckily, this tortoise will be released soon, but not all are so fortunate. If you see a tortoise crossing a busy roadway, stop only if you can do so safely. Help the tortoise to the side of the road it was headed toward and place it as far from the shoulder of the road as possible.
Don’t hate the beautiful opossum
Our next model is a young Virginia opossum. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” she emotes. Many people fear opossums, but these mild-mannered creatures are extremely beneficial to the environment. They eat disease-carrying ticks and venomous snakes without getting injured. Due to their low body temperature, they do not carry many of the viral diseases that most mammals can get. Being naturally docile creatures, their primary mode of defense is to roll over and play dead, looking and smelling the part. So, while she may look lovely in her couture, I’m fairly confident that I smell better at least.
Our final contender is a pair of eastern cottontails working their adorable magic. They snuggle into the pleats like they belong there, making them their own. These two neonates were found in the middle of a fenced dog yard, in a shallow divot with a few blades of grass, a couple tufts of hair, and no mother.
Cottontails snuggle into the pleats
While that may sound like an inappropriate place for a rabbit nest, it is a common scenario. Mother rabbit does little to construct her nest and places it where she can observe potential predators coming at her new family from a distance. She only visits her nest twice a day to feed her young, to lessen the chances of predators following her to her babies. Unless they look dehydrated or injured (or not well-dressed), leave the bunnies alone.
We’ve all seen Hillary in her vacuum cleaner bag and The Donald facing off against an ear of corn and a troll doll. Now you get to decide who you think makes the best fashion statement at PRWC. Because with everything that is wrong with this country and the world today, fashion faux pas are definitely the biggest issues to focus on.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
Dr Robin sports her pillowcase pleats
Southwest Florida, you are welcome. I now have complete control over the weather and you can thank me for the ending the drought. In the past, all I had to do was plan a trip to the beach and it would guarantee rainy, chilly weather. Apparently, I now have additional bows in my precipitation quiver. Recently, any mention of the words “release” or “yardwork” are also met with a Noah-worthy deluge.
Peace River Wildlife Center is particularly busy at this time of year. We routinely admit 10 to 20 patients every day during spring and summer—with baby bird and mammal seasons in full swing, we are inundated with displaced, orphaned, and kidnapped babies of every species. We also see injured breeding adults, as they make the same ill-informed choices we did during our wistful youths, so intent on that one driving urge that they forget to watch for vehicles or dodge the chainsaw. With the drought now ebbing, many animals are moving from one location to another to find the ideal water source at just the right level, again indifferent to traffic and obstacles.
It is imperative that PRWC release any rehabbed animal as soon as it is ready to go, so that we can free up the minimal cage space we have for incoming patients. But lately, it seems as if all I have to do is utter the “R” word, and the storm clouds roll in. Releasing the babies we have tenderly cared for over the past few weeks to months is difficult enough under the best of circumstances, but kicking them out into a tropical storm is terrifying for them and for us.
Osprey healing from a fall from the nest on a blustery day
So, on a recent decent day, I found myself putting over 220 miles on my car, booting out all the releases I could. I went from Punta Gorda Isles to Charlotte Harbour to Murdock to Nocatee to Arcadia to Naples, releasing red-shouldered hawks, osprey, gopher tortoises, and song birds. The Grateful Dead have had shorter tours than that. FYI, that is roughly the same distance between Punta Gorda and Key West or Freeport, Bahamas—lovely destinations for a weekend getaway (traveling as the crows flies; your mileage may vary depending on how adamant you are about staying on paved roads, or roads at all for that matter.)
While some headway was made, I spent most of an entire day on the road. My next book will be a compendium of road etiquette. Use your turn signal, be polite and conscientious on the road, do not use your flashers in the rain, learn how to navigate a traffic circle and a four-way stop. I’m actually thinking of changing professions. I want to be a traffic officer so I can shoot people who don’t obey traffic laws (at least the ones I think are important.) That’s a thing, right? Can I at least shoot out their tires? This is why I don’t drive any more than absolutely necessary. I was road-raging long before road rage was cool.
Of course, by the time I got back to PRWC we had admitted 18 more patients to replace the 23 I had released. And so it goes. Not to mention, I had spent all of the good weather doing work-related chores. When I finally got home and tried to mow my back yard, I got two whole passes done before it started raining on me again. I’m going to need better weather or taller pets—my dachshunds are getting lost in the tall weeds of their dog yard. Now that I have mastered rain-making, maybe I will work on stopping the grass growing at precisely 2.5 inches using the power of positive thought. And maybe get that pet goat.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof-woof! This is more than just a fun little song released in the summer of 2000 by the Baha Men. (See, I do know a few songs that were released after the 70’s.) This is now the battle cry at Peace River Wildlife Center. We implore all families with canine companion members to be more responsible with their fur children.
PRWC has had a rash of gopher tortoises admitted for dog bite wounds. Unfortunately, there is no miracle cream to cure this rash. The gopher tortoise is a threatened species, but we’re not threatening to send the Federales out to arrest your dogs. We just want everyone to understand the species a little better and maybe that will help us all respect these ancient beings.
Fossil evidence points to the existence of turtle-like creatures during the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth (208-144 Million years ago.) By the Tertiary Period (66-2 million years ago) there were numerous species of turtles and tortoises, many similar to those we see today. The gopher tortoise is one of those survivors, probably because of his penchant for digging deep burrows for protection from predators and environmental dangers like fire.
The gopher tortoise’s burrow is not only his home, but a refuge for numerous other species. For this reason, the gopher tortoise is considered a Keystone Species. He is needed within the habitat for the health and survival of as many as 300-400 other species, from mice to snakes to insects to frogs, which also live in the active tortoise burrow. Many other species take advantage of the burrow by stationing themselves at or near the opening to eat the resident prey as they travel to and fro. Some birds have been known to take shelter from the cold or heat by checking into a burrow for a brief period of time.
Active burrows can be 3-52 feet long and go to a depth of 6-22 feet, depending on the water table. Abandoned gopher tortoise burrows can be taken over by foxes, skunks, armadillos, and even burrowing owls. The best way to distinguish a tortoise’s burrow from one that houses only another species is by the shape of the opening. The hole to a tortoise’s burrow is flat on the bottom and arched at the top—a half moon shape. There will also be an “apron” of loose sand in front of the hole. A round hole is a clue that another animal has created or taken over that den.
For this reason not only is the gopher tortoise afforded state and federal protection, but his burrow is also covered under the same laws. It is illegal to handle, harass, or possess a gopher tortoise. It is likewise illegal to destroy or disrupt a burrow. If you see one attempting to cross a busy roadway, it is acceptable to assist only if you can do so safely. Remember, your own safety comes first! Always place the traveling tortoise well away from the side of the road in the direction he was headed.
If you see a tortoise you think has been injured, call PRWC or you nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility for advice. Most of the time, an injured tortoise that is able to get back to his burrow will heal much faster than one admitted to a wildlife hospital. Covering a crack in his shell can increase the risk of locking in infectious materials. Antibiotics can kill the normal gut flora and alter his digestion. The stress alone of being in such an alien environment can be fatal. Hatchling tortoises are precocial, able to take care of themselves immediately after birth. There is no such thing as an orphaned tortoise. If, after talking to a rehabber, you have been advised to bring the gopher tortoise in, it is legal for you to do so. Place him in a box or bin, covered loosely, and transport as quickly as possible.
Some of the dog attack victims PRWC has admitted recently have had life threatening damage done. A few of them had legs partially or completely chewed off. These tortoises will need to have permanent placement found for them, as they can no longer burrow effectively. PRWC has one such gopher tortoise resident already, Legolas, for which we had to get a special permit since he is such an endangered species.
Most dogs probably don’t see gopher tortoises as prey, but rather as a toy. They don’t mean to cause life threatening injuries to a highly endangered species. Heck, my dogs couldn’t overthrow a subversive ant hill. They don’t have much more in the way of higher thought processes than when dinner time is (and don’t get me started on the whole daylight savings time change business—throws them for a loop every time!) So maybe we should step up to the plate as the slightly more evolved species (theoretically at least) and help our canine friends. Monitor your dogs when they are outside. You will not only be doing a service to wildlife, but you may well extend the life of your canine companion.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM
Gopher tortoise hatchlings
Gopher tortoises attacked by dogs