Owls are guarding ducks like those they once carried off. Here is most of a press release that just went out from the NC Zoo about the Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, fully funded through the NC Zoo Society and fully run by volunteers:
ASHEBORO, N.C. — Life for the ducks and small birds at the North Carolina Zoo’s Cypress Swamp is very similar to life in the wild. Like a natural wetland, the zoo’s Cypress Swamp is home to Venus fly traps, carnivorous pitcher plants, snakes, cougars and alligators. But these were all invited, placed in the exhibit under controlled conditions to keep the animals safe. Not long ago, uninvited predators—great horned owls--from the forests surrounding the zoo moved in.
For ducks, one of the night’s most chilling sounds would have to be the eerie call of the great horned owl. Perhaps the only thing more frightening is the silence that lingers when the owl’s call stops. That is when owls hunt on soundless wings.
And that is what they did at the N.C. Zoo. Keepers tried sheltering part of the ducks’ habitat with strands of wire, but these had little effect. Then reluctant defenders came--two great horned owls, a male with a damaged eye and broken wing, and a female with a wing injured in two places.
No one knows how the owls were injured, but they were brought to the N.C. Zoo’s Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Funded only with private donations through the N.C. Zoo Society and staffed almost exclusively by volunteers, the center provides all supplies and services needed to help the nearly 1,000 injured North Carolina animals that come for treatment every year. A visitor to the center could encounter a gray squirrel with a concussion, a snapping turtle with a damaged shell, baby opossums pulled from the pouches of mothers killed by cars, a black rat snake with pins inserted to stabilize fractured vertebrae, a brown thrasher with a cast on its leg, an orphaned bobcat or great horned owls with broken wings.
In every case, the center’s goal is to treat the animals then release them back to the wild. The center even maintains a garden where animals can learn to forage on their own. But in some cases, an animal’s injuries are too severe or an animal’s natural habits are so disturbed that release is impossible. In those cases, the animal becomes a permanent resident, as did the great horned owls at Cypress Swamp.
Their wings were so badly damaged that they could never again fly, so since 1998 they have been stationed high in the trees where they call to each other at night. Perhaps their calls at first stimulated some primal dread in the ducks at Cypress Swamp, but in the past seven years, a strange partnership has emerged.
Great horned owls are territorial, and when the owls at Cypress Swamp call to each other, other owls keep their distance and Cypress Swamp ducks and ducklings keep safe. What fencing and wires could not accomplish has been achieved by an invisible barrier of sound.
And there are other center patients who could not be released but who have found new niches at the N.C. Zoo. A prime example is Murphy, the groundhog who came to the center in 2002 after a Good Samaritan found him, then only two months old, beside a busy road. But Murphy did not fear humans, so he could not be released. Since then, he has traveled to schools and events all across the state as an official ambassador of wildlife and wild places. He is also known throughout North Carolina for his accurate Spring weather forecasts.
This year, Murphy is sponsoring “Murphy’s Wild Ride,” a fundraiser for the Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Every $25 raffle ticket Murphy sells buys medicines, X-rays, food, veterinary and rehabilitative services for the center. The prize for Murphy’s Wild Ride is a 2005 Nissan 350Z Convertible valued at more than $35,000.
But the real prize is much harder to quantify--for the veterinarians who gain valuable experience at the center or for 2,000 school children a year, or for the orphaned bobcat or the freed hawk or the ducks protected by a predator’s call. Or for the volunteers and contributors who know the satisfaction of lending a helping hand.
And help is always needed. To help by buying a raffle ticket, contact the N.C. Zoo Society at (336) 879-7250 or check the Zoo Society website at www.nczoo.com. For information about volunteering at the Schindler Wildlife Rehab Center, contact staff members at (336) 879-7644 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Any form of help is important because, in a very real sense, there are lives at stake.