100 WVIA Way
Pittston, PA 18640

Phone: 570-826-6144
Fax: 570-655-1180

Copyright © 2024 WVIA, all rights reserved. WVIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Animals go Wilderz in the Poconos

A Western Barn Owl 'kills' a cat toy at his home, the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
A western barn owl 'kills' a cat toy at his home, the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife.

A local wildlife sanctuary for animals ranging from barn owls to possums needs medical, cleaning, and food supplies.

Kathy Uhler opened her refuge after finding a mentor in college.

“Well, when I was in college, I was at East Stroudsburg University and I met a wildlife rehabilitator,” said Uhler. “One of my majors was environmental science, so I did my internship there. And I loved it so much, I got licensed that winter. So, the winter of 1982, I was licensed for wildlife rehab.”

She opened the Pocono Wildlife Center the following year. Since the 80s, her staff has rehabilitated animals from across Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Uhler has since stepped back and become their education director. The center also rebranded in the last two years as the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife.

As more commercial developments open up in the Poconos, Uhler aims to teach people to coexist with wildlife.

“We have a very urban population in a very rural area. It’s unique in the entire country. So, the importance of education is vital,” said Uhler. “We have a lot of people who either love animals to death or are terrified of animals. And we want to get everybody, encouraging them to enjoy, support, and live with nature the very best we can.”

However, as birthing season starts up for local wildlife, center staff said they need the community’s help to stock up on baby formula and other supplies. WVIA News toured the sanctuary with Susan Downing, one of their executive directors.

Most of the center’s animals are educational animals, according to Downing. She showed off Aika the raven – a permanent Wilderz resident.

“She’s our educational raven. She lost her eye, so depth perception was an issue for her,” said Downing.

Aika cannot see well enough to catch prey, so Wilderz is her forever home. The center gets permits from the state’s Game Commission to use animals like Aika for educational purposes.

Wilderz reintroduces their fully rehabilitated animals into the wild, said Downing.

However, living at Wilderz does not stop Aika from being a happy little bird. Downing sang a tune to Aika during WVIA’s tour, and she fluttered around her enclosure in response.

Downing explained how ravens and their familial classification in the animal kingdom, corvid, are the smartest birds in the world. Crows, she added, are at the top of the pack.

“Crows, they can solve an eight-step problem. So, the analogy is: you have your GPS and it starts spitting out directions – up to eight different directions – a crow can follow that,” said Downing.

Downing then showed off Talia – who is likely going to be an educational bird.

“Talia is our young red-tail. She just lost her juvenile striped feathers about two, three months ago,” said Downing. “And we’re trying to get her to realize that she does want to fly.”

Talia looks fine, but she baffles caretakers at Wilderz. Her and the other birds are in large enclosures that reach up towards the sky. Center staff built mazes of tree branches that she can fly up to perch on – but nothing worked. She first came to Wilderz in critical condition.

Most of the center’s animals were hit by cars. Others were shot. By educating people about wildlife, Downing hopes she can change that.

“With the amount of land that’s being taken from their natural habitats, and now they’re in our [back]yards to the point where we get phone calls saying, ‘Your coyotes escaped,’” said Downing. “And it’s like, ‘Actually no, that’s just a wild coyote [and] you’re in a brand-new [housing] development. That’s part of their hunting grounds.’ People don’t get it.”

This amount of food only lasts Wilderz a month, staff reported.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
This amount of food only lasts Wilderz a month, staff reported.

Wilderz’s educators teach people how to handle animals in their backyards. However, Downing wishes more people would share the outdoors with wildlife. They frequently get calls from people who find families of foxes or coyotes on their properties.

“But they’re only there for six weeks to two months, maybe a little bit longer and then they’re gone,” said Downing. “So, we have a lot of people [who say,] ‘Hey, they have babies under our shed.’ And, it’s trying to help them live with it safely with their pets and their animals until they’re off and gone.”

However, Downing added that some animals cause extensive damage on homes, some costing homeowners thousands of dollars. So, she hopes people will check for one thing before removing a wild animal.

“If you have raccoons in your attic, if you have a fox under your shed, please don’t relocate it without knowing whether it’s a mom. Because, if you take that raccoon out of your attic…you’ve now orphaned all these babies,” said Downing.

For more information on the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife, visit their website at poconowildlife.com. The center’s animals have specific foods and medications they need, so staff ask people to donate either to their wish list or to make a financial donation.

A view of The Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife from the driveway.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
A view of the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife from the driveway.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org