Wildlife Watch: Vermont wildlife rehabilitators

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:49 PM EDT
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STARKSBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - When an animal is found injured or orphaned, the state relies on wildlife rehabilitators to bring them back to good health and return them to the wild. Ike Bendavid found out what it takes to be a wildlife rehabber.

Medora Plimpton has always had a passion for wildlife. “As a kid, I was always the child that everybody was bringing their baby birds to or small mammals to kind of help. This was the early ’70s, before they were licensed and things like that,” Plimpton said.

Before starting Howling Mountain Wildlife Rescue at her home in Starksboro, she was on a different career path helping humans. “Six years ago my job as a nurse, I was able to cut it down to half-time and fulfill my childhood dream. “It starts in early March and it goes all the way through September typically, depending on the animal.”

Plimpton is one of about 20 licensed wildlife rehabilitators for the state. “I do it because I don’t want those babies to be left behind. And there is something really rewarding about starting something as an itty bitty infant, raising it, and watching it go back to where it belongs,” Plimpton said.

She’s one of the few who works with rabies vectors. “What we do are raccoons, foxes, and skunks. And those are the three mammals in Vermont that it’s more likely that they have rabies than others, which is why we have to be vaccinated. we do other mammals as well if we have time.”

Currently, she has 28 raccoons, three foxes, and one skunk, and that can change daily. “Probably the most time-consuming is raccoons. I have had most of these guys since infancy, some even when their umbilical cords were still attached, so it requires they drink from baby bottles. Formula-specific made just for raccoons, just for foxes, just for skunks. There is a lot of different formulas you can use. They are fed with a baby bottle and sometimes when they are a newborn it’s gotta be every few hours around the clock when they are super new. And as time goes on and they get older, they get weened to less bottle time and eventually they ween over to solid foods. Then, they make their way to out in the enclosure, which is where they become wilder, which is what they are supposed to be,” Plimpton explained.

As cute as these animals are, they are not pets. It’s Plimpton’s job to get them back to the wild. “Success to me is having the animals when they are ready to go, they look good, they have got enough weight on them to get them through the winter hopefully, they are scared of me even though I have nursed many of these guys, and they look to me as their surrogate mother. I have done a good job if the ones I am trying to catch for release -- I need big heavy gloves. I got to really protect myself -- and they don’t want anything to do with me,” Plimpton said.

The rehabilitators are certified by the state and work closely with Game Wardens like Major Justin Stedman. “There is a lot of time commitment to it. There are requirements for paperwork, there are requirements for insuring medicine gets to animals and visits to the vet’s office, and there is a significant amount of effort put forth by the rehabbers. To do this, it’s certainly not anything for someone who thinks it would be fun. There is a lot of work behind it even though they are volunteers basically,” Stedman said.

Volunteers like Plimpton, who want to save animals from suffering. “With human interference, these babies are left behind. And if we leave them be, they basically suffer a slow, long, painful death of dehydration, starvation, and eventually worse things

Experts advise that if you see an injured animal, don’t touch it. Call a rehabilitator or Game Warden instead.

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