Looking Back at 2021
As I sit down to type this post, it is quiet in the building. Too quiet in the education wing, but also the perfect peace that we had envisioned for our wild animal patients when designing workflow and rooms way back in 2016. It’s honestly surreal, are we really in this new space? Has it really been a year since we were working out of outbuildings that started the day at 40 degrees before the space heater turned on, or fretted at night to be sure the sump pump and the HEPA filters were running 24/7 to keep mold at bay??
I’m sure it’s familiar for you, that feeling of the past two years all running into each other. At the end of 2019, we were blissfully unaware of the terms “social distancing” and “pandemic”. Our biggest stressors were the usual: how to fund wildlife and environmental work as a sector that receives the least amount of philanthropic giving, how to prevent burnout in our team that sees pretty horrific injuries daily, along with managing to focus on scaling up our operations to meet demand while simultaneously performing the work to meet demand for injured wildlife and community connection to nature. But in February of 2020, the first cases of COVID were creeping in, and all of a sudden we had to add navigating a national shutdown, an inability to host in-person groups, field trips, volunteers, fundraisers, and the unknowns of the potential risks to both our team who are essential staff as well as our animal ambassadors and patients as the novel virus took hold.
Whew, I’m getting stressed just remembering it all, and hope you are still with me. I recently had a donor encourage me to share the ups and downs behind our good work and success, so I suppose this is a great avenue for that! In February of 2020 we found ourselves ⅔ of the way through construction of our new building, and a bit further in fundraising. Our original plans had been to hold a series of donor tours and open houses culminating in a huge outdoor fundraiser in June 2020 but unfortunately those plans never came to fruition. As humans, our brains like to forget unpleasant things as a coping strategy, but the reality for us was that while many area nonprofits and small businesses shut down or laid employees off, and with 28 wild animal ambassadors in sanctuary, an average of 100 patients in care, daily calls and wildlife admissions this was simply not an option for us. Not to mention our commitment to being there for a community that has come to know us and who rely on us for human/wildlife connection and environmental education. Thankfully, our community of supporters felt the same and because of their support and some aggressive applications for state and federal COVID relief, we have not closed one day or laid anyone off. Instead, we have managed to accomplish a multitude of things worth celebrating. Without further ado, here are top 10 moments from 2021 that I’m most proud of from our team and community: 1. We gathered with supporters under a tent in winter to celebrate 35 years of Center for Wildlife’s work and heard from individuals and partners spanning from 1986-2021.
2. Virtual “Hang with Henry” has become a Friday afternoon ritual for so many, with viewers tuning in from across the globe, learning about porcupines, asking wildlife questions, and taking in a moment of zen after another busy week.
3. Gaia took a snowy walk around her new enclosure that she and our other 27 other ambassadors will soon move into. Against the backdrop of the pines and gently sloping profile of Mount A, the enclosures invoke the feeling of a lovely little hamlet.
4. Two women overcame the intimidation of a large snapping turtle that had been hit by a car in Eliot, ME. This ancient creature was brought to the Center and his incredibly trusting nature and healing abilities have been spotlighted on social media with his videos having been viewed more than 11 million times.
5. A group of adults joined CFW staff and our partner, Lead with Nature for a morning snowshoe tracking walk immersed in nature for 2 hours. Discovery and wonder ensued, including learning pileated woodpeckers leave behind frozen and encased carpenter ants and that deer urine smells like a pine forest.
6. Enhanced waterbird platforms were installed In our Aquatic Recovery Room just in time to host 4 dovekies (penguin-like pelagic birds) swimming, preening, and drinking in preparation for release after being blown off course by extreme winter winds.
7. An X-Ray machine was purchased and installed, offering immediate insight along with baseline data on animals suffering from the effects of lead shot, sinkers, and other directly introduced challenges to their habitats.
8. Window visits to nursing homes by Fern and Violet brought joy, reduced blood pressure rates, and gave residents that were confined and restricted visitors due to COVID something to talk about and enjoy.
9. A group of leading biologists, veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, and citizen scientists joined both in-person and virtually for the Northeast Loon Working Group’s annual meeting in our auditorium. Topics of discussion and scientific findings included pathology, natural history, along with impacts from loss of habitat, lead and other human-introduced challenges.
10. Successfully overwintering two wood turtle hatchlings and then joining biologists that are leading studies of this species of special concern as they released them back to the wild. Watching their tiny bodies swim strongly against the soft current of their stream, their instincts kicking in immediately to forage and take cover was an amazing experience.