You will not see flashing lights or hear piercing sirens like those of ambulances running through heavy Long Island traffic to make their way to one of the region’s many busy hospital emergency rooms.
But a seemingly ordinary car in the next lane might be carrying very precious cargo. Unknown to many Long Islanders, volunteer rescuers take on the role of their EMT counterparts to provide transit to wildlife hospitals and rehabilitation centers across our region. Each year, hundreds of native and migratory wildlife species are injured or otherwise require immediate medical attention and follow-up care.
Operating mostly with the help of volunteers, wildlife hospitals and their staff are as dedicated and focused on saving lives as their human-caregiver counterparts. The Wildlife Hospital and Education Center in Locust Valley, run by the nonprofit organization Volunteers for Wildlife, admitted nearly 2,000 patients in 2018 that included more than 100 species.
Volunteers for Wildlife has developed a database from detailed admission and medical records for animals rescued predominantly in Nassau County, western Suffolk County and Queens. The database provides insight about causes of injury and death related to sharing habitat with humans. While there are many reasons animals are admitted to wildlife hospitals, only causes related to human activity are included here. This information can shed light on how we can better coexist through more thoughtful consideration and better planning.
Of the 1,092 hospital admissions in the anthropogenic subset:
- 46% involved vehicular collisions. This represents the overwhelming cause for all species rescued and admitted to a hospital. This is hardly a surprise considering the high volume of traffic on Long Island.
- 25% involved attacks. This accounts for the second-highest cause and includes free-roaming feral cats having more than double the ranking of dogs.
- 12% involved entrapment. This could be by a fence, building, pool, sporting net (for example, soccer goals), and litter/garbage.
- 9% of admissions involved collisions. These were incidents with structures defined as man-made (buildings, power lines) as opposed to natural (trees, cliffs).
- 8% involved habitat disturbances. Those include land clearing for a condominium development or nests destroyed by tree trimming or removal.
A few simple ways to help save wildlife include staying alert when driving to avoid hitting animals and to prevent you from causing an accident; keeping dogs on a leash during walks and keeping cats indoors; properly disposing of plastic containers, fishing tackle and similar items that threaten wildlife; taking down soccer nets when not in use; using decals or bird-friendly designs on windows to reduce collisions; delaying tree trimming or removal until November through February to avoid nesting season.
Injured and disabled wildlife are especially dependent on us. Let’s help them live in a world greatly changed by us humans.
Skip Dommin is a member of the board of directors for Volunteers for Wildlife, a nonprofit organization in Locust Valley, where Alicia Grubessi and Lauren Schulz Eddings are supervisors at the Wildlife Hospital and Education Center.