What should you do if you see an injured animal? Should you give it some food and water? Take it home and make it your pet? (Please don’t, it’s illegal.)
If you’re in South Jersey, the best option would be to call the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. Tucked away on a quiet road in Medford, Cedar Run is staffed by 11 full-time members, 12 interns and more than 200 volunteers who work with wild animals every day. At its peak, Director of Development and Communication Tracey Francois said, the refuge’s animal hospital might see up to 600 animals at a time, from mammals like raccoons, rabbits and deer, to birds of prey. It is equipped to care for around 150 different species.
Both Francois and refuge Executive Director Mike O’Malley advise against people feeding or treating injured animals, illegal actions that could cause stress in the animal and do more harm than good. O’Malley offered the example of people using kitten-milk replacer to feed injured rabbits.
“Kitten milk replacer is for cats, and cats are carnivores,” he explained. “It’s very, very protein rich for animals that eat only meat. If you feed a rabbit something that protein rich, their organs shut down pretty quickly. It may be well intentioned, but you could kill the animal pretty quickly.”
At the refuge rehabilitation center, interns Ally Fisher and Hannah Slesinski know firsthand the precautions taken to keep the wildlife wild. Fisher, a Cherry Hill resident, hopes to become a veterinarian one day, while Deptford resident Slesinski would like to do research and work more with wild animals. Both began their internships in June, and have helped feed, medicate and clean up after the animals, as well as educating the public.
“The line between wild and domestic, some people need to understand it just a little bit more,” Fisher reflected. “It’s important. They’re so cool, these wild animals, and you want to keep them and want to be close to them, but just knowing that they’re wild and they act differently and need care differently, it’s a pretty fine line.”
“It’s difficult sometimes when we get in animals that they’ve been raising in their houses for a while or they’ve been trying to feed on their own, and they come into the hospital and they’ve been making a lot of mistakes, and it leads to either the animal being injured or malnourished,” Slesinski added. “We can’t always save those animals and it’s really frustrating, because if they had just brought the animal as soon as they found it, in most cases we may have been able to save it.”
The interns and staff at the refuge are equipped to take care of wild animals by feeding them species-specific formulas, and they take special care to minimize the chances of the creatures getting too attached to them by wearing disguises or feeding through privacy slots.
Animals can stay anywhere from three months to a year, but once they’re ready for release, refuge staffers try to return them to where they were found so they can find their homes and avoid territorial conflicts with other members of their species.
For those interested in broadening their knowledge and experience with wild animals, Cedar Run’s internship program has three tracks: education and nature center, marketing and development and wildlife rehabilitation. There are currently interns from Camden, Gloucester and Burlington counties who work 40 hours a week and gain hands-on experience. Internship applications are typically posted in the fall and accepted on a rolling basis until March.
“One of the things we try to get across to the public is that we’re trying very hard here to offset human impact,” O’Malley noted. “I would say 90 plus percent of the patients we’re seeing are only here because of a human-related issue.”
Refuge events for fall include Autumn with the Animals on Sept. 19, a day marked by live music, canoeing, food, games, crafts and other activities.
Cedar Run is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To learn more, visit https://www.cedarrun.org.