Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota – How animals thrive in the city of lakes

Student club-turned wildlife center shows why all lives in a city matter

(Chris Chang/Taiwan News photo)

(Chris Chang/Taiwan News photo)

MINNEAPOLIS / SAINT PAUL (Taiwan News) — Minneapolis and St. Paul form the bulk of the Twin Cities, the largest metropolitan area in Minnesota, a verdant Midwestern state bordering Canada.

Minneapolis is split by the Mississippi River, which not only shapes its urban landscape but also enriches its ecosystem. Amid the meandering greenness of the city, the boundary between people and urban wildlife blurs, and their lives intertwine.

This tight connection has been embodied by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota (WRC) in the 40 years since it got its humble start as a local student veterinary club.

(Chris Chang/Taiwan News photo)

Situated in the northeastern suburb of Roseville, the WRC has a clear mission: to provide medical care to animals in need and return them to where they belong.

Winter in Minnesota is prolonged and frosty. Animals know how to cope with the cold weather — they hibernate, fluff out their feathers, or migrate south; some even allow themselves to freeze until the ice thaws in warmer spring air.

Nevertheless, accidents happen, and in the harsh winter, where temperatures can drop to -30 C, accidents can mean the difference between life and death. That is why the WRC plays a substantial role in supporting urban wildlife.

The animals being sent to the center include small mammals, birds, waterfowl, and even reptiles. Larger animals such as coyotes or foxes might be transferred to a larger rehabilitation center or to local rehabilitators after receiving proper treatment.

(Chris Chang/Taiwan News photo)

“During the winter months, we will probably be getting in five to ten animals per day,” said one of the volunteers at the center. “Some days we don’t get anything; sometimes there might be a big group. For example, on one day last year, we got in 18 bats found at a little place where people were doing construction.”

Bats woken from hibernation will burn up to 62 percent of their fat stores. Without proper nutrition to help them get back to a healthy weight, it is unlikely they will survive the rest of the winter.

Other common WRC patients include swans rendered immobile by lead poisoning that become trapped in frozen lakes, creatures with various types of injuries, and those that have been orphaned.

Even in the summer, when the center usually receives more than 100 animals each day, the WRC generally does not turn any away.

Like humans, animal patients' recoveries can be long and arduous. Some, such as birds with fractured wings, undergo months of treatment but never fully recover. Considering their chances of surviving after being released, euthanasia is sometimes the only option. But thanks to the experienced veterinarians and the top-notch equipment at the facility, this is rare.

All the animals at the center are kept in separate rooms divided by kind. Each room is adjusted to a temperature and humidity level that facilitates recovery.

During winter, however, not every animal can be released after they fully recover. Birds, for example, are taken to the “Cold Room” first to get them accustomed to the outdoor temperature before reuniting them with their habitat.

Hibernating animals such as bats, on the other hand, are placed in special cages that mimic a cave-like environment. After a long sleep in the cages, these flying mammals are released so they can mate and frolic in the open air again in the spring.

(WRC Facebook photo)

The WRC currently has around 600 volunteers and is entirely funded by private donations. “Keeping that funding paced with our rapidly increasing animal caseload is a challenge,” said Tami Vogel, communications director at the center.

“This year, we are going to have almost 1,700 more patients than we did last year. Currently, we are building an offsite outdoor caging facility down south, which allows all our patients to have places to jump, run, and practice the muscles that they will be using in the wild after we release them,” she added.

What makes this wildlife center such a success? According to Phil Jenni, the center’s executive director, the WRC's location and resources have kept it moving forward during its forty years of operations: “We are unique because we have a vet school nearby, and we are in a metropolitan area with a population of three-and-a-half million people.”

Even though Jenni believes wildlife centers would bring value to most big cities, it would still be challenging for these places to build and pay for an operation such as the one WRC has.

Location and resources might explain the center’s success, but none of it would be possible without citizens who respect their urban environment and believe that all living creatures deserve a second chance to thrive in their beloved city.

(Chris Chang/Taiwan News photo)