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Stroudsburg wildlife sanctuary in need of $25K

Minimus the Saw-whet Owl is a fan-favorite educational bird. He is a permanent Wilderz resident because of a damaged wing.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Minimus the Saw-whet Owl is a fan-favorite educational bird. He is a permanent Wilderz resident because of a damaged wing.

The Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife needs $25,000 to keep their educational birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) demanded the sanctuary last week relocate its educational bird cages outdoors within 45 days to comply with new environmental standards. USFWS has since extended that deadline to 90 days.

Wilderz rehabilitates and reintroduces native Pennsylvanian animals to the wild. Wildlife that cannot survive outside of the sanctuary are permanently housed at Wilderz and may work as educational animals, according to Executive Director Susan Downing.

Downing said Wilderz cannot afford to build eight weatherized, outdoor and predator-resistant cages in time.

“And [it] doesn’t matter if we don’t have the money, it has to be done… And we knew we wanted to redo a bunch of stuff. But, we had to redo so much other things that this was not in this year’s budget. But unfortunately now it has to be,” said Downing.

The center is constructing a new raccoon enclosure, an outdoor facility for foxes’ paws to touch “Mother Earth,” and a bear cage after a storm tore through the ceiling, according to Downing.

Downing and Co-Director Janine Tancredi are catching up to new environmental regulations since the center rebranded as Wilders around two years ago. The facility was previously grandfathered into compliance under the old director, Kathy Uhler, who opened the Pocono Wildlife Center in the 1980s.

She said USFWS picked the hardest time to change the cages.

“It’s hitting us at baby season, which is our worst time for it to happen because we’re fundraising every day for the amount of babies we get,” said Downing. “And we get in over 3,000 animals a year. And we’re up over 25 percent from last year. So, it costs a lot of money and we’re a 501(c)(3)...It’s all donation-based.”

Baby season started a month earlier than usual. Downing estimated they have gotten 200 baby squirrels and 150 opossum babies this season. She worries the center will fall behind the renovation schedule. They usually get around 3,000 animals a year.

“We just are getting ducklings in, so we are assuming our baby birds are coming in. And when the baby birds start coming in that’s crazy. It becomes really crazy,” said Downing. “Because you get tons of little baby birds. And they get fed every 20 minutes if they’re real little. So, you get a baby hummingbird and they’re getting fed every 15 minutes.”

Amanda Balas started volunteering at Wilderz in February to help the community she grew up in.

“You get to be with the babies. We just finished feeding baby raccoons and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I get to do this today!’ It’s fun,” said Balas.

However, the renovations have taken a toll on the center. Downing said she and Tancredi took pay cuts to keep the sanctuary going.

“We couldn’t afford not to with everything that we’ve had to deal with, that we’ve had to put money out from. It wasn’t in the budget, [so] we decided to take pay cuts. And we weren’t making anything to begin with…,” said Downing. “Janine took a $23,000 pay cut. And I took an $8,000 pay cut.”

Downing said Janine and herself each made $33,000 a year before cutting their wages.

Balas explained that the center puts everything into giving their animals the best possible care, including the feed animals, like rats and mice. She said Downing and Tancredi would do anything to take care of the animals.

“They're cleaned daily, they get food daily, they’re checked to make sure nothing’s sick or ill or has any issues. It really just goes to show how well they take care of all of their animals, because these guys are going to end up in somebody’s belly. But they're still very well taken care of,” said Balas.

For more information on the Wilderz at Pocono Wildlife and where to donate, visit theirwebsite. The center has raised around $2,300 for their new bird cages as of Tuesday, April 30, according to social media.

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
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