PUNTA GORDA — Among the animals on the mend at Peace River Wildlife Center this week were a possum orphaned as a newborn, several tortoises whose shells had been split open, and an osprey that had been shot in the wing by a pellet gun.
Such animals most likely would have died in the wild. But after weeks of care provided by the center’s staff and volunteers, most soon will be returned to the wild, and those that won’t be able to fend for themselves will become permanent wards of the center.
It’s the center’s animal hospital, however, that may not make it through next summer, if donations don’t increase this winter, staffers say.
The center spends some $200,000 per year tending to some 2,000 admissions and 200 permanent wards. If this winter’s revenues fall short, the center is contemplating shutting down its hospital wing, according to Callie Stahl, center operations manager.
“That would be devastating,” she said. “That means there would be no (wildlife rehab center) between Venice and Sanibel to take care of injured animals.”
The center has been tending to sick, injured or orphaned wildlife since 1982. Normally, revenues pick up enough during winters to make it through summers.
This year, the center has enough cash to last little more than a month.
Stahl said contributions have declined due to tough economic times.
Tending to injured animals is “part of being good stewards,” she said. “We provide that service to the community.”
Most of the animals are brought in by residents who can’t care for them themselves. The care isn’t cheap. The center’s three dozen resident pelicans, ibises and cormorants, for example, chow down hundreds of pounds of frozen smelt per month.
The center’s wards include a pair of lame bald eagles and other raptors. They require frozen rodents.
One tortoise in the hospital had a shell and face so severely wounded the center’s “rehabbers” had to insert a feeding tube through a slit in her throat. “She is healing slowly but surely,” Stahl said.
Another ward was a young yellow crown night heron with a broken leg. That wound is expected to take two months to heal. “In the wild, he wouldn’t make it a day,” Stahl said.
In the spring, the center can count on getting inundated with orphaned baby birds. Many get blown out of their nests. Without intervention, they likely would become prey.
“We understand there’s a circle of life,” Stahl said. “But the way I look at it, we’re countering the human influence.”
Jacanne Duffy, fundraising chair, said the center has cut expenses as much as it can. Further cuts mean writing off maintenance or eliminating vital staffers who keep operations on track, she said.
However, the center has organized two major fundraisers. Feb. 2, 2013, it will hold Wildlife on Wheels, a combination car show, poker run, and arts and crafts festival to be held at Muscle Car City. Also, Feb. 9, 2013, will be its first-ever Eagle Open Golf Tournament at Twin Isles Country Club.
Organizers also hope to boost revenues Saturday by participating, along with a dozen other nonprofit groups, in an alternative Christmas gift market at Christ Community United Methodist Church, 27000 Sunnybrook Road, Harbour Heights.
Stahl encourages visitors to take tours and donate. The center is open even on holidays.
In addition, the center seeks donations of items on its wish list. They range from frozen chicken to laundry detergent.
Peace River Wildlife is located at 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway (at the end of West Marion Avenue). For more information, visit www.peaceriver
wildlifecenter.com, or call 941-637-3830.