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CROW Visitor Education Center adds patient presentations by staff

By Staff | Dec 8, 2009

Since it opened in January 2009, the Healing Winds Visitor Education Center, a 2,400-square-foot building located adjacent to the CROW’s state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, has become one of Sanibel’s most popular attractions for wildlife-minded tourists and residents.

And in recent weeks, the center began offering its visitors a more personal and in-depth experience, with staff members and docents of the Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife (CROW) offering daily presentations of how their veterinarians care for the many species of animals treated at the Sanibel facility.

“We treat over 4,000 animals each year here,” said Dr. PJ Deitschel, one of CROW’s leading veterinarians, who delivered the Dec. 3 presentation in front of approximately 20 onlookers. “We see a lot of birds – about 70 percent of our patients are birds. Another 20 percent are mammals, like raccoons and opossum, and the other 10 percent are reptiles.”

According to Dr. Deitschel, treating reptiles – like snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises – can be a very labor-intensive process. Typically, reptiles take a considerably longer time to recover and rehabilitate from illness and injury than other species.

For example, she noted, current patient #330 – a gopher tortoise with a mid-line fracture of its shell – has been at CROW for about 14 months.

In general, all patients received at the hospital go through three individual phases of treatment. Initially, they receive medication for their pain. Then, they receive antibiotics, which assists with recovery from any actual or potential infections. Finally, if necessary, they are given acupuncture treatments.

According to a display at the center, acupuncture can help move stagnant energy which may follow a significant trauma or surgery, or can give an energy “boost” to extremely weak or debilitated patients. In wildlife, as with humans or domestic animals, any imbalance or stagnation of the body’s “qi” (energy or life force) may cause pain or disease in several organ systems.

“Where there’s pain, there’s stagnation,” said Dr. Deitschel. “I think that human medicine is kinda boring, because you’re only treating a single species.”

Along the south wall of the facility, a number of Webcams offer visitors a real-time look at patients being cared for at the hospital next door. Dr. Deitschel pointed out two of their current inhabitants: a gopher tortoise who had been found tangled in a rope from a crab trap and a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, discovered washed up on one of Sanibel’s beaches sluggish and unresponsive.

In the case of the tortoise, one of the reptile’s front flippers had to be amputated because of the prolonged presence of the rope around the appendage. However, the prognosis for the animal to be released back into the wild was “very, very good.”

As for the sea turtle, veterinarians at CROW diagnosed the patient as likely suffering from red tide poisoning. They treated the reptile for toxicosis, placed it in fresh water and introduced both acupuncture and a blend of Chinese herbs. Now healthy, the turtle will be released back into local waters soon.

“I thought it was very informative,” said Phil Dagato, a visitor from Myrtle Beach, S.C. “I’ve been to a lot of these type of places, and this is better than any of them.”

“Her presentation was really good,” added Robbie Roberts from Nashville, Tenn. “I was surprised to learn about the length of time is can take for recovery. The staff here must have a lot of patience and knowledge.”

In addition to the new 11 a.m. presentations, the center offers visitors a fun and educational experience as they learn more about the organization’s mission through video presentations, interactive displays, walls filled with photographs, realistic animal models and informational kiosks which follow the case histories of four former patients at the clinic.

At kiosks placed in separate areas of the Education Center, four patients – a red-shoulder hawk, a river otter, a gopher tortoise and a wood stork – are featured. As you make your way around the room, you follow each patient’s case history from the time they were brought to CROW to the time they were successfully released.

“One of the best things about CROW is that we don’t discriminate against any animal. We don’t care about the color of your fur or the kind of scales you have on your shell,” added Dr. Deitschel. “We take all of them in. That’s one of the unique aspects of this facility.”

Established in 1968, CROW is one of the nation’s leading wildlife rehabilitation hospitals for tropical native and migratory wildlife. They provide medical care – using traditional, holistic and integrated medical practices – for more than 4,000 injured, sick and orphaned animals annually.

The Healing Winds Visitor Education Center is located at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call 395-0050 for additional information.