Wildlife rescue rehabilitates injured animals | Local News

From a modest trailer near the end of an obscure road in Homosassa, Nature World Wildlife Rescue offers one last chance at freedom for the roughly 500 wild animals it tries every year to save from broken wings, dislocated limbs, and disease infections. bugs and other traumas they’ve suffered.

Prior to COVID, approximately 1,200 wild animals were assessed and treated each year by the all-volunteer staff of the nonprofit group founded in 1985 by the former Homosassa Springs Nature World attraction and vets KC Nayfield and Mark Lowe of Midway Animal Hospital in Homosassa.

Today, Mary Opall owns the property, holds the permits and is the manager of the facility, which she says is the only stand-alone wildlife rescue in an eight-county region. Sure, there are other rescues out there, but they mostly operate in people’s backyards, according to Opall.

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Nature World primarily deals with birds, amphibians, and animals such as squirrels, bobcats, foxes, deer, otters, rabbits, armadillos, possums, turtles, and turtles. They don’t save alligators or snakes.

The group is funded by donations. He does not receive money from the government. This makes it difficult to pay the $ 30,000 per year it costs to feed the animals being rehabilitated, let alone utility and supply bills, and other costs.

Still, the facility saved enough money to modernize its building. Nature World volunteers expect another single-width trailer to be installed soon, but it would be nice if they could upgrade to double-width, they said.

Meanwhile, the volunteers are content to tend to their furry and feathered visitors to see what they can do to get the animals released into the wild.

“My passion is to see them come out,” Opall said. “It’s a success, that’s for sure.”

Not all animals can be released. Some must be euthanized because their injuries are too serious. Others who wouldn’t survive in the wild but who, nonetheless, could make a success of their lives with a bit of TLC can become long-time residents and be part of Nature World’s animal menagerie used to educate children and the general public on how to respect wildlife.

Nature World is working closely with veterinarians to assess and treat the animals and to determine which ones can be saved, the volunteers said.

“You have to do what’s best for the animals,” Bussiere said.

Before COVID, volunteers took some of the animals with them when they gave lectures in schools or set up stands at festivals in the area.

Things have been a little calmer since the pandemic took hold – but not so calm.

On a recent Saturday, Sonja Bussiere, who is the group’s treasurer, was answering the phone and touring the area in her jeep, picking up five baby squirrels, four baby raccoons and a baby opossum.

Bussière rehabilitates Nature World’s raccoons and deer at her home.

On a recent visit to Nature World, there were all kinds of birds, waffle turtles, a coyote, and at least one baby raccoon in residence. Opal said the cast of animal characters is constantly changing.

And every turtle, bird, or animal has its own story, as do the people who work at the rescue, as well as those who call the facility and have spotted a struggling animal.

Bussiere, Opall and volunteer Christina Hunley spoke of a semiconductor passing through Ocala on the Interstate. She spotted a stranded red-tailed hawk, captured the bird, and put it in her truck. She phoned Nature World on her way to Arkansas.

She received advice on how to care for the falcon while she was on the road, and when she returned five days later, she drove the bird to Nature World.

“We took care of it, fattened it up and released it near Ocala,” Opall said.

Then there was the blind deer that fell into a gravel pit and was then patched up, the swan whose companion died who was coaxed to stop crying, and the turtles hit by cars whose shells fell apart. repair using surgical and safety screws. pins.

There was also the stranded young eagle with an eye problem.

A vet first assessed that the bird had a fungal infection and prescribed appropriate medication. When the eye did not improve, a volunteer said, “Let me see”.

Upon close inspection, the volunteer discovered a tick in a crease in the eagle’s eye. When the tick was removed and antibiotics prescribed, the eagle perked up and was quickly able to see, fly and be released.

Opall, Bussiere and Hunley also each have unique stories to tell about how they got involved in saving the lives of wild animals.

Opall met a woman from Nature World at a festival, who invited her to a meeting. Then the woman told Opall that they were going to save a young sandhill crane.

Opall said she led the woman near where the crane was spotted, and they looked and watched until suddenly the woman screamed, “There he is.”

Opall didn’t see him. She was looking for a baby bird near the ground.

“Or or?” she asked.

“Well he’s looking at you over that fence,” the woman said.

Opall then saw a fairly large crane. The women needed to catch the bird. But how?

Opall’s companion spotted two teenagers and convinced them to help.

The teens chased the bird onto someone’s porch and Opall threw a net at it. Then the woman from Nature World asked the teens to pack the bird up and carry it to the car. And they did.

Somehow, the team’s efforts and the success of the bird rescue convinced Opall that wildlife rescue was the path she was destined to take.

Bussiere recounted how she and her husband were driving along the Fort Island Trail when she saw an injured osprey. She jumped out of the car and approached the bird.

“Some guys looked at it and I said, ‘OK, I’ll take it. “”

She put the osprey in a box and called Opall.

Opall told him to bring the bird to the rescue.

Bussiere thought she had just put the bird down. But Opall asked, “Where are you going?”

Opall needed help holding the bird and removing the bugs from it.

Bussière helped and got hooked. And the bird was rehabilitated and released.

Hunley tells a similar story about Opall’s ability to attract volunteers through hard love.

Hunley was working on construction and his crew cut down a tree near Homosassa Elementary School. One of the men Hunley worked with called her and told her there had been a nest of baby squirrels in the tree.

Hunley brought the little critters home and did what she could to feed them. After days had passed, she called Opall to come and assess when the squirrels could be released.

“Mary leaned in for a laugh,” Hunley said.


“They were the biggest and biggest squirrels,” Opall said. “They were so ready to go.”

Undeterred by Opall’s laughter, Hunley asked if she could help Nature World.

This team of volunteers is always on the lookout for more hands to help. They might need help most days of the week. And they said if people are a little afraid of feeding and caring for wildlife, there is always a need for cleaning and other chores.

They could also hire someone to help them with paperwork and grant writing.

And while they focus on wildlife, their efforts have benefited teens as well.

Nature World works with adolescents in the juvenile justice system who are assigned to community service.

“We treat them (the teenagers) with respect, and the animals take them out,” Opall said.

Bussiere said some of the students went to college and studied related subjects, such as biology.

Opall spoke of a man who thanked her for helping his son, but instead fired him, not seeking praise. Then he grabbed her arms, looked her in the eye and said, “Thank you. You saved my son.

The teenager had been referred to Nature World by the court.

“I treat them just like they’re my grandchildren,” Opall said. “They will come back later and bring their wives and children.”

Opall said one of her desires is to show that she and her volunteers care as much about wildlife rescue as the founders of Rescue.

“I hope to make them proud,” she said.

Bussiere and Hunley have stated that Opall certainly does just that.

“Marie is the heart and soul of it all,” said Bussière.

Nature World Wildlife Rescue can be contacted at 352-621-5575.

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