Nature’s Nursery Trains Rangers In Helping Injured, Orphaned Animals

Operations director Nicole Frederick tells Metroparks rangers (from left) Cassidy Lehmann, Jayce Mejias Santoro, Zach Freeh, Pete Genzman and Shannon Mann about opossum behavior. Not pictured is ranger Rich Ketchum. MIRROR PHOTOS BY KAREN GERHARDINGER
Jayce Mejias Santoro works to get control of the owl during a training session.
Cassidy Lehmann poses with a great horned owl after safely controlling its wings.

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Turkey vultures have beaks designed to tear flesh apart and will vomit both acids and dinner when stressed. 

Opossums have glands that will ooze something that smells like death and are prone to defecating when scared.

Rodents like squirrels can bite through Kevlar gloves, so it’s best to pin their heads between fingers when trying to catch them.

These are just a few of the wildlife rescue tips that Nature’s Nursery co-founder Laura Zitzelberger and operations director Nicole Frederick shared during training sessions offered to Metroparks rangers who are often the first to learn about an injured or orphaned animal from park guests. 

“The training is designed to ensure the rangers and animals are safe during encounters,” Zitzelberger said. “The rangers learn Nature’s Nursery policies so they know what the organization does and doesn’t rehabilitate.”

For the rangers, the training answered many of their questions.

“Being in the parks, I wanted to know how to handle different animals,” said Cassidy Lehmann, who in her first year as a ranger has worked at Toledo Botanical Gardens and Side Cut Metropark, where she sees raccoons, ducks and opossums.

Jayce Mejias Santoro, a ranger who works in Blue Creek, Farnsworth, Oak Openings and Providence metroparks, said in his eight months on the job he’s already encountered raccoons with distemper, deer struck by cars and lots of questions from park guests who want to know what’s out there.

Both Lehmann and Mejias Santoro volunteered to catch a great horned owl that is rehabilitating in an outdoor cage. As the owl stared out the window, Frederick donned heavy gloves and demonstrated how to grab the feet first, then get control of the wings.

“It has a lot of air under its wings. It’s very powerful,” Mejias Santoro said after safely tucking the owl’s wings to its side.

Ranger Zach Freeh didn’t have as much luck with a squirrel, which Frederick pulled out of a nesting box. Zipping around the enclosure and prompting laughs from fellow rangers, the feisty squirrel was eventually nabbed with a net by Frederick, who demonstrated how to hold its head between fingers – and to wear gloves to avoid getting bit.

While opossums have scary-looking teeth, they’re the most predictable of all the mammals and easier to handle, Zitzelberger said.

Some of the other facts the rangers learned included:

• Herons and egrets look for shiny things – including eyeballs – so wear glasses.

• It’s not true that once a baby animal is touched by humans a mom won’t take it. Unless mom is dead, put the baby back.

• Baby ducks rely on mom for warmth and shouldn’t be placed in water without her.

• Opossums are only in the womb for up to 14 days but latch to mom’s nipples inside a pouch for up to two months. If mom is killed, those babies need to be detached immediately so they don’t receive toxins.

• Pick up a snapping turtle near the back of its shell. Its spine could be broken if picked up by the tail. 

• Although raptors can bite, their feet are the most dangerous part – except in the case of vultures. Covering their head will settle them down.

• Rabbits must have their hind legs restrained or they can break their back when kicking.

When approaching an injured or orphaned animal, keep quiet and don’t talk – that won’t calm it down, Zitzelberger said. Also avoid unnecessary touching. Then use an appropriate cage, box or – in the case of snakes – pillowcase to transport the critter to Nature’s Nursery. 

“Make sure it has a lid. Even if that squirrel isn’t moving when you put it in your car, you don’t want to end up with it under your dashboard,” Zitzelberger said.

Nature’s Nursery has taken in 3,724 animals so far this year and, during its peak season of March through the end of October, may get up to 300 calls per day. Training volunteers and rangers on how to capture and transport injured and orphaned animals helps the nonprofit organization, which has a small staff to rehabilitate and care for everything from songbirds and snapping turtles to opossums

Nature’s Nursery does not take animals from out of state, domestic animals, coyotes, raccoons, deer or mute swans, or animals trapped or removed for nuisance purposes. 

Rangers and anyone reporting an injured or orphaned animal should call (419) 877-0060 and know the exact location the animal was found, possible reasons for injury and information on any human contact.

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