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The Tennessee Conservationist Magazine

Bobcat and Deer are recent projects for rehabiliator, David England
Photos courtesy of David England

David England of Winchester isn't fazed when dinner guests at his home turn out to be young bobcats requiring bottle feeding every few hours; it's part of his gig as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
England, whose regular job is as a park ranger for Tennessee State Parks at Tims Ford State Park in Winchester, has been a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)-licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the past 12 years. England's involvement in wildlife rehab came about because he had a background in wildlife, TWRA was looking for someone in the Winchester area to serve and the park had had a wildlife rehabilitator before he arrived there.


According to Walter Cook, TWRA's captive wildlife coordinator based in Nashville, park rangers can be advantageous to wildlife rehabilitation programs because they are commissioned officers who follow procedures. Cook says park rangers frequently have a background in wildlife biology and experience in dealing with wildlife in the park; they understand the problems associated with disease and they have experience in dealing with the public.


"David England exemplifies all of that," Cook says. "The public feels good about dealing with state parks and city zoos," Cook says. Cook views wildlife rehabilitation as a service that keeps the public connected to wildlife. "The goal is to provide a service that gives the animal the best chance of survival and return to the wild."


This past year, England worked with three Red Foxes, four deer, one bobcat and one raccoon. The year prior, his charges included seven deer, two raccoons, five owls and one Red-tailed Hawk.
"TWRA brings these animals to me for rehabilitation. I can't house skunks; that's the only native animal I can't have by license," England says. As much as hearing about orphaned or injured wild animals can bring out our human tenderheartedness, England stresses the message that anytime he takes an injured animal, "it disturbs the food chain. Nature is cruel, but that's the way it is," he says.
England would like the public to learn and remember that with the majority of animals he gets, if people had left them alone, they would've been all right.


"These animals are with their babies when they feed them, not 24 hours a day like people. Most are found in farm fields and are picked up by people who are well intentioned, but uninformed. Even if they are an orphaned animal, they are disrupting the food chain if they pick them up. We look at predators as the bad guy, but they really are not. Wild animals do not make good pets. People need to realize that even though an animal may die, it's part of the food chain."
What should someone who finds an animal that seems to be orphaned do? England suggests leaving it alone and letting professionals deal with it.


"This is true of birds especially. Mama will push it out of the nest. I do rehab with birds of prey hit by cars. An injured wing isn't natural if a car does it. There are small rodents near roadways and owls get blinded and hit by cars. "I don't pick these animals up from people who call me. I have the people call TWRA and let TWRA decide what to do. In spring and summer, I'll have five to six calls a week. I love it, but my priority is this park. It's up to me to decide if an animal isn't going to make it and needs to be euthanized. With each animal, I have to turn in paperwork monthly to TWRA."


"The wildlife rehabilitators get many calls," Cook says. "About 90 percent of the calls become an education process informing people about what animals are supposed to be doing. Most are urban. Within the first two weeks, 50 percent of small game species (rabbits, squirrels, dove, quail) die. The small game average life span is nine days with predation, disease and inclimate weather. These animals produce large numbers in hopes that 10 percent survive into the next year." Cook says there are 108 permitted wildlife rehabilitators now. "Some do only education. Not all of them handle a wide variety of species like David."


This past fall, England rehabilitated and released several deer. "One of the deer was born in May and was a month old when I got her. I turned her loose and she'll stay around a while. I turn them loose in the fall when there is a good food source. They'll get with other deer and they'll revert to a more natural way of life. These new deer turned loose on the park will help the gene pool some."
England surmises he's rehabilitated 60 deer in 12 years. "I've had good success; that's the ones that survived. Deer are wild animals. Keeping them in a pen is the worst thing you could do. Once the deer are off the bottle, there is no more hand contact."

"I've had hurts and scrapes. Those deer can hurt you."


Feeding the deer calls for powdered milk to start, weaning them off that and then moving them to sweet feed. Then, England starts giving the deer grasses and acorns.
His sons, Don, 15-years-old, and Jacob, who is 12, help care for the animals. Don's high school offers wildlife management classes, which he has taken. "They help gather the food and bottle feed, which is every four hours round the clock depending on how the animals are, usually for a couple of months. My kids get a big kick out of helping raise the animals. It's not a good thing for me to have to raise them. The ultimate goal is to turn them back into the wild.


The bobcat England had last year was given to him by another rehabilitator who "does better with birds of prey." It was released off the park in late August.


In 12 years of wildlife rehabilitation, England estimates he has worked with 12 raccoons, four red foxes, four opossums, one Turkey Vulture, many Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Screech Owls and songbirds. Mike Robertson, park manager at Tims Ford, "is very supportive" of England's wildlife rehab efforts, England reports. "His philosophy is that it's educational and can be used in school programs. We tie it in to why parks are originally designed: to protect and preserve our natural resources." England pays the costs of his wildlife rehabilitation efforts out of his own pocket.
England presents a slate of 30 or more school programs a year for the park and he tries to include wildlife in most of his appearances. He has had education animals in the past including opossums, raccoons, owls and hawks, but does not currently have any.


Betsy Bucher, art teacher at Broadview Elementary School in Winchester, says her students had a first-hand experience with wildlife rehab. The students found a turtle that had been hit by a car. "David England took it for about nine weeks and rehabilitated it. The students then got to watch while he released it close to where it had been found. The park at Tims Ford is like our unofficial education partner," Bucher says. Programs presented by park rangers from Tims Ford focus on topics like animal prints, bones and furs; conservation of animals; wetlands conservation; leaves changing colors; nuts and berries and fungus and mosses.


England hopes he'll be able to do even more wildlife rehab in the future. A grant through Wal-Mart's Winchester store which TWRA officers Clint Smith and Wayne Sanders helped obtain, will allow $500 for new wildlife cages to be built. Students in the wildlife management classes at Franklin County High School are slated to construct the cages, England says. He expects these will be ready by the first part of the year.


For more information, call the TWRA regional offices at the following numbers: West Tennessee, 1-800-372-3928; Middle Tennessee, 1-800-624-7406; Cumberland Plateau, 1-800-262-6704; and East Tennessee, 1-800-332-0900.

 

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