Peace River Wildlife Center is a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Our primary mission is to treat and release injured an orphaned wildlife. Secondarily, we strive to educate people about native Florida wildlife. Animals that will be released are not legally permitted to be on display to the public, but there are those that come in too severely injured to ever be placed back into the wild. Missing a wing or an eye, these individuals would not be able to care for themselves and so are provided a permanent home, in educational habitats, where they are on display to visitors.
We see over 2,000 injured and orphaned birds, mammals, and reptiles each year. Our resident numbers vary somewhat as we transfer to and from other facilities, but average over 100. None of these residents is more unique and iconic than Luna the white eastern screech owl. We often describe Luna as leucistic, or in simpler terms that most people have heard previously, albino.
An albino has a lack of melanin, the pigment that appears as black/brown colour; although the cells that produce it, melanocytes, are still present. Some albino animals (snakes, fish, turtles, etc.) are pale yellow or orange because they have different pigments being produced other than black and brown.
Leucistic individuals lack the cells that make all pigment because they are all derived from a single source in embryonic development, and hence have no colour at all. This lack of pigment can occur throughout the body or may be localized, occurring in patches, also known as pied or piebald.
An albino’s eyes will appear pink or red due to the lack of pigment in the iris. The blood vessels behind the eye are usually masked by the coloured iris, but their reddish hue is seen behind the colourless iris in an albino. A leucistic animal will usually have normally coloured eyes because the pigment cells in the iris are derived from a different progenitor cell, directly within the eye.
In the case of screech owls, those eyes are bright yellow. Luna’s eyes are as unique as he is. While there is no bright yellow colour in his irises, his eyes appear dark. When seen in direct sunlight, his eyes are deep red due to the visibility of the blood vessels at the back of his eyes.
The prevalence of albinism has been estimated in some species at 1 in 20,000. The chances of complete leucism are estimated at more like 1 in 100,000. It is difficult to ascertain the number of wild animals with these conditions because the usually do not survive long.
Back in April of 2013 when the white screech owl nestling originally presented, PRWC rehabilitators tried to find his nest in order to return him to it. We went back out to the Charlotte Harbour Environmental Center (CHEC) where he was found on the ground behind the visitor’s center. There was no evidence of a screech owl’s nest anywhere in the vicinity. He may have fluttered out of the nest as fledglings often do when they are first stretching their growing wings. It is even possible that the parents and maybe even the siblings of this bird intentionally kicked him out of the nest to prevent him from drawing attention to the young family.
Being such a tiny bird of prey, the screech owl’s main advantage is its camouflage. Their bark-coloured feathers allow them to blend into the tree in which they are perching.
As he grew and started to perch on the edge of the nest, he was a beckoning white flag waving to nearby predators, “We surrender! Come eat us!” This little marshmallow would quickly become the component of some predator’s s’more if left on his own.
Since this little guy’s chances of long term survival in the wild were slim, he became an education ambassador at PRWC. Education ambassadors are permanent resident animals, those with injuries so severe they cannot be released back into the wild, that go to classrooms, festivals, and other venues to give people a hint at what happens at PRWC and to provide an up-close experience with some of the beautiful wildlife we have in southwest Florida.
Saturday, April 1 we will be celebrating Luna’s 4th birthday with a party in his honour at the Center. If you would like to bring a gift, he requests items for his “brothers and sisters” like raw eggs, shelled walnuts, and plastic containers. With baby squirrel season in full swing, PRWC is seeing an abundance of young squirrels and one of the first things they start to eat when weaning is walnuts. We use cooked and raw eggs in many different diets for our residents and patients, including shorebirds, songbirds, raccoons, and opossums. If you are lucky enough to be in the area, stop by to wish Luna a happy birthday. If you are not near-by and want to send a gift, check out the PRWC web site or our Amazon Smile wish list for direct links to much needed supplies.
Visit Peace River Wildlife Center on April 1st to wish Mother Nature’s April Fool’s present to us a happy birthday. Or check us out any day from 11am to 4pm, when our talented tour guides can show you around and introduce you to all of our residents. If you’re not careful, you may learn something new.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM
15th ANNUAL SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
BURROWING OWL FESTIVAL
Saturday, February 25, 2017 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
**LUNA Will attend from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.)
ROTARY PARK ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER
5505 Rose Garden Road
Cape Coral FL 33914 www.ccfriendsofwildlife.org
**Sponsored by Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife and Cape Coral Parks & Recreation**
We often talk about the number of animals we see at Peace River Wildlife Center. Let’s look at the number of people that impact and are impacted by PRWC. By rough estimate, we have approximately 90,000 visitors each year coming to the Center to tour our permanent residents’ habitats and learn more about native Florida wildlife. Other people that we see are a result of outreach programs at schools, civic organizations, and community events.
PRWC’s mission is to rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and ill native Florida wildlife and get the healthy individuals back out into the wild. Our secondary mission is to educate the people living in and visiting this area how to peacefully coexist with the abundance of wildlife with which we are fortunate enough to share this little corner of paradise.
While the rehab staff consists of a few highly trained, not-so-highly paid rehabbers and technicians, the rest of PRWC’s staff comprises volunteers from all walks of life. More than 100 people a year give their time, their hearts, and often their own money to help keep PRWC open, clean, and operating smoothly. Even our paid staff members can be considered volunteers if one realizes that they could be making significantly more money in the private sector than working for a small non-profit.
Wednesday, February 23, 2017 is the day we celebrate and thank our staff (both volunteers and employees) with a special dinner in their honour, immediately following our annual membership meeting. If you are a member of PRWC or are unsure of your status and would like to attend the annual member meeting, call PRWC to get details.
Originally scheduled for Trabue, the event had to be changed at the last minute when it was decided that the wonderfully unique restaurant would be closed and turned into yet another Italian eatery. Just what downtown Punta Gorda needs—another place to get a bowl of soggy noodles in a pool of ketchup. (In case you couldn’t tell, I am not a fan of Italian food.)
So, we celebrate our volunteers. We thank them for cleaning every cage and habitat every day. They scrub, scoop, and rake. They chop food, wash laundry, and sweep floors. They provide tours, man the gift shop, and answer phones. They rescue injured animals, pick up donated items, and go to outreach events.
They are hospital aides, tour guides, gift shop clerks, maintenance engineers, cleaners, board members, office staffers, rescuers, outreach reps, and home care techs. This amazing little army keeps PRWC running and has been responsible for some of the major changes and improvements over the years. Without them we could not function on a daily basis and could not provide the level of care that we do to our patients and resident animals.
Thanks to our staff of volunteers and employees, Trip Advisor has rated PRWC as the #1 Thing To Do in Punta Gorda. We get visitors from all over the county, state, country, and world. Many of them come to see our star attraction, Luna, the leucistic (albino) owl.
Speaking of Luna, PRWC is having our first annual bluegrass festival as a fundraiser coming up. LunaFest will be Saturday, March 4, starting at 1p.m. at the Punta Gorda History Park. Featuring three well-known area bluegrass bands, LunaFest tickets are only $10 each and due to the intimate nature of the location, a limited number will be sold. Food and drinks will be available onsite. You are encouraged to bring your own chairs. For tickets and more information go to www.peaceriverwildlifecenter.org or call 941-637-3830.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM