September 17, 2014

Carolina Wildlife Center warns it could close without help

A young opossum receives care at the center (Image: Carolina Wildlife Center)

A young opossum receives care at the center (Image: Carolina Wildlife Center)

South Carolina’s largest wildlife rescue center has gotten enough public support to stay open for another few weeks, but the center’s director warns it may soon close without further help.

The Carolina Wildlife Center is a Columbia nonprofit which treats and rehabilitates wild animals that have been injured or are unable to survive on their own. Once the animals are treated, they are usually released back into the wild. But executive director Jay Coles says an exceptionally busy year and lower-than-normal donations mean the center may not be able to remain open.

“The cost is going up and donations have been slow this year. They’re slow for all nonprofits and have been for the last several years,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “One of our biggest problems is that we’re getting in more animals than we’re getting in funds.”

As of mid-June, Carolina Wildlife Center had taken in more than 1,800 injured and orphaned wild birds, reptiles, and mammals. Coles said that was a 20% increase over the same period last year. The average operating cost for the center is more than $25,000 per month during the rehabilitation season, he added.

The end result is that the wildlife center has depleted its resources and donations this year. The center receives no taxpayer funding, relying entirely off donations and small grants to pay operating costs, as well as Coles and his 17 part-time employees.

Coles said the costs of running a wildlife “hospital” require advance planning. He worries about committing to take in more animals without having the resources to care for them.

The center’s board of directors originally planned to make a decision on Sunday, but news of the center’s financial woes led to increased donations this week. Coles said the additional donations will allow the center to stay open a few more weeks.

“As people are responding, that date extends out,” he said.

He said he believes there is a responsibility to treat any injured animals

“80 percent of all accidental animal injuries are a result of human interaction,” he said. “If we do things that cause them to be harmed, we need to be responsible for making sure they’re taken care of.”

However, Coles did say that many of the animals brought to the center probably should have been left alone in the wild. For example, he said concerned residents often bring in deer fawns or bunnies that were alone when found. However, he said nearly all those young animals likely had mothers nearby foraging for food at the time. Instead he recommends that anyone discovering what appears to be an abandoned young animal wait at least a day to see if it is truly without a parent.