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New live exhibits opened at CROW

By Staff | May 18, 2016

A tokay gecko. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Visitor Education Center now offers individuals with the chance to see invasive species of Southwest Florida, endangered species, as well as eggs in an incubator.

CROW’s Visitor Education Center opened in January 2009 to provide a self-guided tour through the hospital experience. The tour provides guests with the opportunity to go through certain portions of the hospital through the eyes of the animal recovery.

CROW Education Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt said the beginning portion of the tour is an introductory video, followed by the history of how CROW was founded and then the admission, diagnostics, treatment, daily care, extended care and release of the animal.

“Really since I began here as a staff member in 2012, we have really been trying to work collaboratively as an organization both on the property, as well with other organizations on the island, to cultivate a true enjoyable visitor experience for people coming here to the island,” she said. “Since all the organizations on the island do offer a very unique experience, what really sets us apart, at least here at our organization, is the fact that we do have the hospital and education center.”

Unfortunately the majority of people that go to CROW to visit do not get the opportunity to see the hospital because of the animals recovering, sick and not feeling well. Rainbolt said the way that they can offer that perspective is through live exhibits and having non-releasable animals in the educational facility.

A tokay gecko. PHOTO PROVIDED

“A big motivator for us to get more live exhibits is we are trying to get a lot more families to come to CROW. A lot of our new exhibits that we continue to build upon will be more family focused and less individual focus,” she said. “That way we can encourage families to do experiential learning together. They can go through the entire exhibit hall as a unit.”

Although CROW began a new wildlife walk program last year, which has been hugely successful, it has drawn more attention to getting up close and personal with the animals.

CROW began including live exhibits of animals in their Visitor and Education Center starting in February. Rainbolt said they have been acquiring the animals to fill the exhibits little, by little.

Rainbolt said CROW received funding from WCIND, the West Coast Inland Navigation District, and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, allowing them to do some renovations to the Visitor Education Center. She said the Southwest Florida Community Foundation funded phase one and phase two of their baby exhibits.

“The juvenile and neonatal care has been renovated to include a children’s feeding station and models to show how often babies receive care, what sort of requirements go into making them prepared to be rereleased. As well as advising people the difference between identifying whether or not babies do need to come to CROW, or best to re-nest them and reunite them with their parents,” she said.

An eastern indigo snake provided through SCCF’s Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project. PHOTO PROVIDED

The WCIND grant allowed CROW to add live exhibits to the Visitor Education Center. Rainbolt said there are quite a number of invasive species populating Southwest Florida with two common ones the tokay gecko and the cane toad, also known as the marine toad.

“Our hopes with having invasive species present is making people aware of what impact they are having on our coastal waterways and how people can educate themselves on knowing the difference between our natives and our invasive and how to not necessarily re-introduce, or introduce animals that shouldn’t be there to begin with,” she said.

Another of the live exhibits stemmed from a collaborative effort with Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. It provided an eastern indigo snake through the Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project. The eastern indigo snake at CROW was captive bred at SCCF.

“They are an endangered species. There are not that many of them left and in many areas they are no longer in existence naturally. So this conservation project allows us to show people an animal they wouldn’t get a chance of seeing normally up close and personal and what benefits they offer for Southwest Florida,” Rainbolt said.

The last live exhibit is an incubator. She said they get quite a few species of turtles, and gopher tortoises that come in as a result of being hit by a car.

An eastern indigo snake provided through SCCF’s Pine Island Sound Eastern Indigo Snake Project. PHOTO PROVIDED

“Sometimes we are able to save the mother and release her back into the wild to release her eggs naturally. But, more often than not the mothers don’t end up surviving from their injuries,” Rainbolt said. “So, kind of the silver lining of the situation is we can remove viable eggs from her womb and incubate them in the Visitor and Education Center for our guests to monitor how long it takes and how temperatures can determine gender and increase the survivability of some of these species.”

The eggs can range from 60 days of incubation to 90 days for a species like a snapper turtle. The incubator is monitored at certain humidity and temperatures to give the babies the best chance at a more controlled environment at survival.

CROW’s most recent hatchlings were a group of common snapping turtles. Ten eggs were incubated and three eggs hatched and released on Earth Day.

The species that are currently in the incubator are Florida soft shell turtle eggs. The ones that are viable will hatch at the end of May, beginning of June.

“The babies will be on display until the time when their yolk sacks absorb into their belly and we can see that they are eating on their own,” she said.

Cane toad, also known as a marine toad. PHOTO PROVIDED

Once they are eating on their own they can be released into the wild. Rainbolt said they are giving them the best chance at survival by keeping them at CROW a couple weeks after they hatch.

The Visitor Education Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday from May 1, through Dec. 14. The winter hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday Dec. 15, through April 30. Admission is free for members; $7 for adults; $5 for teens and free for children 12 and younger.

The center is located at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road. For more information, visit www.crowclinic.org.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.