Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In Part, That’s a Good Thing.
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
When the center's resident birds, opossums, squirrels and other wildlife aren't being fed, cleaned or cared for, Craig, Fox Valley's director of animal care, finds herself trying to answer the seemingly ceaseless stream of calls from concerned citizens who've come across a hapless animal and don't know what to do about it.
"Phones have been ringing off the hook," she says.
Fox Valley and other wildlife rehabilitation centers across the country have seen a large increase in calls from the public since coronavirus-lockdown orders took effect in March. Wildlife Rescue League in Virginia, a help line that gives advice or directs callers to local rehabbers, reports their calls have increased by 62% compared to last year, with staff now fielding more than 50 a day.
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Can you say “cute”?! Thank you Sandy Royal for these adorable tulip nests! Our baby birds are very happy to have them, including this here baby Robin. You can also hear him asking for food... again! #donations #creative #sewing #knitting #nests #artsandcrafts #artstohelp #babies #babyseason #babybirds #robin #wildlife #wildliferescueleague #wrl #wildliferescueleagueva #tulip #tulipnests #babybird #wildliferehabilitation #wildliferehabber #constantfeedings #volunteers #allvolunteerorganization #northernvirginia #virginia #virginiawildlife #creativity #gratitude #thankful #grateful
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In any other year, this increase in volume wouldn't surprise rescue centers. Spring is the normally their busiest season. It's when birds make their spring migrations, snakes and bears come out of hibernation, and many animals time their mating behaviors to produce young as the days get warmer. This means people can encounter fledgling birds hopping on the ground, fawns lying still alongside a trail, or baby cottontail rabbits curled up in the grass. To humans they appear to be orphaned, when in fact the parents are usually keeping a watchful eye nearby or gathering food. Injuries also increase this time of year as lawnmowers nick rabbit nests, young squirrels fall out of trees, and birds encounter domestic cats or fly into windows.
"People have a tendency to panic," says Beth Axelrod, president of the board of directors at the Wildlife Rescue League. "They feel empathy for an animal that they think is in need, which is good, but that puts them into panic mode, and they feel like they want to get this animal help right away."
But this year things have shifted into overdrive. The pandemic has changed our normal routines — more people are spending time outside and becoming aware of the wildlife in their backyards or local parks.
It's not that there are more orphaned or injured animals, it's that people are paying more attention.
"People are home, they're bored, they're looking out the window, they're going on walks, they're actually paying more attention, or they have the time to look an animal up and find out where it's supposed to go, " says Melissa Anahory, programs and operation assistant at Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Pittstown, New Jersey.
Woodlands Wildlife Refuge has taken in 250 more animals than this time last year. At Fox Valley, they're up 1,000 animals. Several rehabbers I reached out to for this article were unavailable for interviews because they were so overwhelmed with constant animal intake and care.
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Wildlife rehabilitators in big cities aren't experiencing the same surge in calls as their more suburban or rural counterparts. Downtown Washington, D.C. is seeing fewer calls than its surrounding counties. In Manhattan, Jerry Basford, a volunteer and board member at the Wild Bird Fund, says he isn't surprised. "Fewer cars on the road means fewer pigeons getting hit."
What did surprise Basford, though, was the increase in donations. Both online and onsite donations have doubled.
"We thought our donations were really going to dry up," he says. "You know, people out of work, et cetera. And it's been just the opposite. It almost seems like people really want to do something."
People who bring animals to wildlife rehabilitators tend to become donors, explains Anahory. This year that means the more animals that come in, the more donations they receive to help rehabilitation centers stay open during the pandemic.
Beyond donating money, volunteerism is on the rise — or at least, the desire to volunteer. The Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife Rescue League and the Owl Moon Raptor Center in Boyds, Maryland, have all seen an uptick in requests to volunteer. Jaci Rutiser, a longtime volunteer at Owl Moon, says there have been so many requests to help since the start of the pandemic that they've had to start a waitlist.
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Our baby dormice have done a lot of growing up in 1 week. They came in after a cat killed their mother, luckily these two were unharmed but require a lot of care to get them ready for release. Our lovely volunteer Angela has taken these two home to care for them until they are old enough to go back to the wild. #dormouse #hazeldormouse #wild #wildlife #wildliferehabber #wildlifevet #wildlifecare #baby #cute #handrear
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Unfortunately, for wildlife rehabilitation centers, the threat of COVID-19 has meant cutting volunteers and limiting the amount of staff that can be present at the same time. Many wildlife rehabilitators who are licensed to practice in their homes have shut down their operations because the risk of exposure to illness is too great. The animals that would normally go to them are now going to the centers that have remained open.
This places additional stress on workers and volunteers. Axelrod says a typical summer was already demanding, with up to 30 calls a day. "So having over 50 calls a day is even more challenging."
Craig points out that a lot of the calls Fox Valley receives are from people who don't understand normal wildlife behavior — and that means more opportunity for education.
"Most of our calls are from people finding animals in their yard or out on nature walks," she says. "And since so many more people are doing those things right now, we're getting a lot more of those kinds of calls. A lot of them we're able to give advice over the phone, and the advice is typically, that's a natural behavior. Leave it be."
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Sunday morning cuteness! Check out the video! Fledgling Ruby Throated Hummingbird 💕 #ibr #iowabirdrehab #iowa #birds #iowabirds #wildliferehab #wildliferehabilitation #wildliferehabber #nature #birdrehab #birdrehabilitation #hummingbird #rubythroatedhummingbird
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The pandemic may be unprecedented in our experience, but experts says this desire to do more follows patterns we've seen during other tumultuous times. Alison Cawood, marine ecologist and citizen science coordinator at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, notes that big changes such as elections or natural disasters often inspire spikes in people wanting to do something bigger than themselves, whether it's reporting a species on a citizen science app or calling a wildlife rehabilitator about an injured animal.
"When things are more stressful, I think a lot of people want to do something to help," she says. "You can't fix whatever the big thing is, but here are these things that you can do. You can help the environment."
What happens next? As many states ease lockdown restrictions, and as summer turns to fall, wildlife rehabilitators expect they'll soon experience a well-earned reprieve from tending to baby animals and answering continuous phone calls. But this period — and rehabbers' efforts — could leave a lasting impact. Thanks to them, many people will be returning to work or classrooms better informed about the wildlife that exists around them.
And those concerned citizens and rehabilitators may emerge from this first perilous chapter of the pandemic knowing that, because of their attention, thousands of animals have been given a second chance at life.
Hope Dickens is a Maryland-based photographer and writer.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.