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Wild Things
Saving orphaned and injured wildlife
by Cecelia A. Cancellaro
Article is from Matters Magazine


When Sonya Kaloyanides leaves her home on a quaint tree-lined street not far from the heart of Maplewood Village, she’s already been awake for hours, tending to the babies. She’s handled several early morning feedings, including formula-mixing and food chopping, and she’s even done a load of laundry or two. As she prepares her mind for the workday ahead (Kaloyanides is the Deputy General Counsel for Civil Litigation for the New York City Housing Authority), she reviews one final mental checklist to be sure the babies have everything they need for the day ahead. This routine might be familiar to many women… except that the babies Kaloyanides is leaving behind have fur, claws, and very sharp teeth.

Since 2005, Kaloyanides has been a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the state of New Jersey, and her suburban garage and backyard have been transformed into the fully-equipped South Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. On any given day, especially during the spring and summer, Kaloyanides is likely to be caring for more than 25 animals. When we visited, we met squirrels, raccoons, a groundhog, a couple of bats, and a bunny. Animals are brought to the center when they are injured, sick, or orphaned. They live there, under the care of Kaloyanides and her dedicated volunteers, until they are strong enough or old enough to be released into their natural habitats. The animals receive medical care, special diets, and careful daily assessments to track their progress. Some stay a few weeks, some a few months, depending on their needs.

Some of Kaloyanides’ charges come with heartbreaking stories – the female groundhog that someone tried to drown in a Bergen County lake, the juvenile raccoon with a broken jaw that required several months to recover fully. Others become seasonal residents when their hibernation has been disturbed, such as the adult male brown bat in desperate need of re-hydration, who was found outside a residential home in the snow. Some are brand-new babies like the four little squirrels who had become separated from their mother, and for whom Kaloyanides will play that role until they are big enough to survive on their own.

Kaloyanides, a lifelong wildlife enthusiast, decided to pursue wildlife rehabilitation after meeting a rehabilitator several years ago. She apprenticed with two licensed rehabbers before obtaining her own license and opening up the center. Caring for sick, injured, and orphaned animals is extremely difficult work, and it requires much knowledge, devotion, and money. Kaloyanides has the first two of these ingredients in abundance. As her facility grows, however, monetary support is crucial.

Many of the costs of running the facility are footed by Kaloyanides herself. But the center, which is a non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization, requires donations, and lots of them. It can cost $35 a week to keep one groundhog in fresh produce, $87 to provide the 3,000 mealworms an adult male brown bat will need to eat in a three-month period, and $50 a week for the powdered formula mix required to feed a few baby raccoons. And this doesn’t include the costs of medications and other necessary supplies.

The young in particular need special care. When baby animals come to the center alone, and not part of a litter, Kaloyanides creates a litter of same-species, similarly-aged animals so they can be released together, dramatically increasing their chances for survival. And releasing animals can be as complicated as caring for them: The state regulates release locations, and adult animals should be released in the same area in which they are found. Often private property owners with substantial acreage will allow releases to occur on their land, but to ensure that the food supply is adequate and the area is not overburdened, Kaloyanides waits at least three years before returning to a location.

The center’s website, south-mountainwildlife.org, provides crucial information for people who come across animals that seem to be in need of attention. A phone call to the center (973) 885-2751 will help you determine whether the animal actually needs help, and if so, how you can safely transport it.

As she walks back home from the train station from a trying day at the office, which included no fewer than six calls to her cell phone from people who had discovered animals requiring assistance, Ka-loyanides turns her focus back to the 25 small mammals living in her garage and back yard. Has the groundhog’s lacerated tongue healed enough for her to start eating? Have the baby raccoons she’s been trying to wean for weeks figured out how to eat out of their bowls yet? Will she need to mix more bat glop (blended mealworms, banana and vitamin supplements) for the brown bat? For Kaloyanides, it’s all in a long day’s work.

Yet, beyond the medical, technological and scientific advances at Kessler comes the profound and heartfelt creed that Dr. Kessler expressed so eloquently in his 1968 autobiography, The Knife Is Not Enough: "There grew a deep faith in our work here at Kessler and in ourselves. I began to understand that the strength of an Institute lies in its people, qualified dedicated people with vision and imagination as well as understanding and compassion."

If you’d like to make a contribution to the South Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center or would like to volunteer, please visit southmountainwildlife.org. Note: The center does not treat birds; for bird rescues, contact the Raptor Trust at (908) 647-2353.

Cecelia Cancellaro is a writer, editor, and the cofounder of Idea Architects, a book development company. She lives in Maplewood with her husband and two daughters.

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