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Gifford: Living wild – rooms going fast at Fox Valley Wildlife Center

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The Drake Hotel in Chicago houses about 500 rooms, and the city’s Palmer House Hilton offers a staggering 1,640 or so. But as impressive as those numbers are, there is a facility in Elburn that expects over 3,000 guests this year. Even more amazing, it doesn’t offer beds, and most of its occupants aren’t human.

The Fox Valley Wildlife Center, 45WO61 Route 38, Elburn, started when Kay Johnson and Sandy Webster acquired the old ranger’s house in Elburn on a lease from the forest preserve in 2000. It opened it in spring 2001 as a rehabilitation center.

Spring is one of the busiest seasons for the Fox Valley Wildlife Center, but I was able to talk with the center’s director Ashley Flint, to get a better understanding of the services the center provides.

“Our main goal is to release the animals back out into the wild ... to educate the public on how to better co-exist with wildlife,” Flint wrote in an email.

Flint always has had a love for animals and their care, but she said rehab was a developed passion.

“I was originally going to be a zookeeper,” she wrote, “so right out of high school I tried animal care experience, searched positions and found Willowbrook Wildlife Center. During college, I volunteered at Willowbrook. Out of college, I began interning and then working at Brookfield Zoo. When I saw the position [for Fox Valley], I made the decision to make rehab my career ... getting to run a center that is completely off of donations, the struggles and triumphs really give me a drive for what I am doing.”

The “guest list” at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center varies. All types of mammals – such as squirrels, raccoon, deer, opossum, mice, chipmunk, fox and coyote – are admitted. Flint says her favorite animal is the opossum: “People don’t realize how unique they are – the only marsupial in [the] United States ... they have a lot people don’t know about them.”

The Fox Valley Wildlife Center also cares for an extensive list of birds, including all types of water fowl, cranes, hawks, turkey vultures and songbirds. This year, it added two large male turkeys to its roster. 

Volunteers help with food prep, feedings, maintenance of animal enclosures, laundry and, of course, animal care.

Most residents have a short-term stay, but others call FVWC home.

The center has several educational animals which, for a number of reasons – usually imprint, when animals change their behavior because of being around humans, or injury – cannot be released back to the wild, Flint explained. 

I asked Flint if there are any animals FVWC cannot admit.

She said: “We only take in wild animals, no feral cats, domestics or pets of any kind. ... We cannot take in skunks and bats due to the rabies risk, or adult deer, which are too high stress for any kind of rehabilitation.”

So, what is the most challenging animal to take in? “Baby Cottontails are probably our most difficult. They are very high stress, so their survival rate is low. They are time consuming and are difficult to feed.”

Her inspiration comes from animals that arrive in poor condition, but slowly improve daily until they can finally be released: “It’s a lot of hard work; the animals don’t always make it. But the ones that do get released remind me what it is all about.” 

The Fox Valley Wildlife Center serves all of Kane County. It operates entirely off of donations, so monetary gifts always are needed. If you’d like to help, you can also reference the center’s “wish list” at www.foxvalleywildlife.org.

Or check out the website to learn what to do if you find an animal that needs help, or learn about upcoming events.

• Paige Gifford is 13 years old and lives in Geneva. This is her second year volunteering at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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