Wild animals entertain, educate Market Street crowd

Volunteer Barb Stewart introduces Copper, a red rat snake, to Market Street resident.

SENIOR LIFE Julie Sturgeon

Residents of Market Street Memory Care Residence had a wild visit in June when a group of native Florida animals stopped by. Hosted by the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary, the animals provided an hour of education and enjoyment.

A red-shouldered hawk named Quinn, along with a gopher tortoise named Lt. Dan and other indigenous species entertained residents during the visit. All the animals reside at the Florida Wildlife Hospital, home to injured and orphaned native animals.

“We have a small team of volunteers who travel with some of our resident animals (animals unable to be released) to summer camps, libraries, nursing facilities,” said Chelsea Hohlweg, volunteer coordinator for Florida Wildlife Hospital. “It’s part of our Ambassador Program.”

While most animals are released back into their habitat, some cannot be safely returned to their former homes. So, like the residents at Market Street, they become part of another family.

As she introduced Copper, a red rat snake, volunteer Linda Perry fielded a few questions from residents and told stories about the animals.

Bella, a kestrel, had been kept as
a pet. Volunteer Josie Quiroz shows off Quinn the red-shouldered hawk. <i>  | Photo by SENIOR LIFE Julie Sturgeon <i/>

“Bella likes being around people because she imprinted on people at a very young age,” said Perry, noting that a kestrel is a small falcon. “It is illegal to have a native Florida bird as a pet.”

Clearly the volunteers at Florida Wildlife Hospital love what they do and have a passion for native animals and their welfare.

“This is the best job I ever had and I am a volunteer,” said Perry, who handled each animal with ease. “Most of our staff are volunteers.”

“We require all volunteers to complete an orientation and pay a $20 fee,” said Hohlweg. “After orientation, they can sign up for shifts.”

The Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary, located at 4560 N. U.S. 1 Highway, operates primarily from donations and membership funds.