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Living Sanibel: C.R.O.W. Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Inc.

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Established in 1968, CROW is one of the leading wildlife rehabilitation centers in the United States. Under the direction of two full-time staff veterinarians, Dr. PJ Deitschel, Clinic Director, and Dr. Amber McNamara, Staff Veterinarian, CROW treats 4,000 patients annually representing 160 different wildlife species. Their primary mission is the rescue, care, rehabilitation and eventual release back into the wild of sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife. Inherent in this mission is the education of adults and children to insure their peaceful coexistence with their wild neighbors.

After a multi-year capital fund raising drive of $3.2 million with a substantial contribution from the Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau, CROW completed a new visitor center as well as a new wildlife hospital in 2009. While the hospital itself is not open to the general public, the “Healing Winds Visitor Education Center” completed in the spring of 2009 is one of the most interesting, interactive facilities in the nation.

Designed by Malone Design Fabrication, a firm who has worked with the Smithsonian Institution and the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the visitor center lets you “Be the Vet” and try your hand at diagnosing wildlife injuries as well as identifying the appropriate treatment options for the injured animal.

Other displays include backlit radiographs, a multi-screened television display showcasing all the various species that have been treated at CROW, as well as educational displays that include case studies that walk visitors through the rescue, treatment, rehabilitation and release of CROW’s numerous patients, many of which are on endangered species lists. The Visitor Education Center also has a unique gift shop and a televised link to the sea turtle and otter rehabilitation pens where you can watch these animals get healthy and ready for re-release back into the wild. CROW is the only licensed sea turtle facility between Sarasota and Miami.

The leading causes of injury for CROW’s patients are automobile collisions (25.5 percent), as well as entanglements with improperly discarded fishing line (4.3 percent). Some of the other leading causes of wildlife injuries include red-tide poisonings, boat collisions with sea turtles and orphaned or abandoned immature animals (24.9 percent).

From its humble beginnings operating out of the home of Shirley Walter, to the current state-of-the-art hospital and education center, CROW has been an integral part of Sanibel’s commitment to living with wildlife. If you have chanced upon an injured animal, call CROW at (239) 472-3644, or go to their website for information about how to capture and transport the animal to the hospital. Be careful, as many birds can inflict painful pecks and scratches while other animals, such as raccoons and turtles, are capable of vicious bites.

As Dr. PJ Deitschel put it in a 2002 interview in Times of the Island: “It’s their home, too. Accept personal responsibility for their care and safety. This responsibility is a lesson for all life but certainly on this island, where living with wildlife is a way of life.”

CROW is also a teaching wildlife animal hospital with approximately 40 students each year. With more than 175 volunteers needed annually, individuals interested in helping at the clinic should call and inquire about helping out.

A visit to the “Healing Winds Visitor Education Center” reminds everyone of the impact civilization has had on the native flora and fauna of southwest Florida. Joni Mitchell’s lyric, “You pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” rings especially true when you see the broken shells of errant turtles trying to cross I-75 or the tangled fishing line wrapped around a pelican’s wing.

The signs along San-Cap Road as you approach the clinic say it best, “Please slow down for us!” Wildlife struggles to cope with our ever-encroaching population and it’s places such as CROW that help mitigate our impact. Donations and helping hands are always welcome.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.