BAR PORT – Every corner of the Acadia Wildlife Center is teeming with environmental art, hands-on exhibits, and wildlife collections to keep you curious for hours. But beyond the trove of zoological treasures lies an even more fascinating discovery: the furry, feathered, and scaly creatures tucked into custom enclosures.
Ann Rivers is the sole steward of the nonprofit rehabilitation clinic and dozens of animals cared for inside. She has been on site since 1997, taking in hundreds of patients and answering 5,000 phone calls a year. The center can house up to 100 animals at any one time, ranging from mammals to birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Rivers’ 24-hour mission is to restore these injured wildlife to health and ultimately to their original habitats.
“It all starts with a phone call,” Rivers says.
Anyone who has encountered an injured animal contacts the center for assistance. Rivers assesses the seriousness of the situation with them to see whether the animal actually needs help.
“We talk about it, they tell me what they see, what they’re concerned about,” she said. “I’m thinking if I should tell them to bring it in.”
Once they arrive, the intake process begins. As the animal comes to rest from the tumultuous journey in a remote area, Rivers gets as much detail as possible from the involved party about what happened to better understand and care for the patient.
“So if they found it under a window, you think, okay, it hit a window. I’m going to look for those kinds of symptoms,” Rivers said. “Any observation someone has made are important things.”
She will then conduct an exam to fully evaluate the patient and map out a recovery path. Injuries can range from wounds and concussions to broken bones. Treatments may include X-ray imaging, blood tests, and prescription medications.
Once the injuries heal, small, temperature-controlled rehabilitation rooms are upgraded to large outdoor cages. It is now time to practice and prepare for release back to their original home.
In the case of two abandoned baby bobcats, whose two-minute mealtime video on the Acadia Wildlife Facebook page garnered more than 18,000 likes and 2.8K shares, they were found during a dig under a brush pile in June.
After failed attempts to reunite the kittens with their mother, Game Warden Eric Rudolph brought them in for examination. At first, Rivers left them in a quiet room and fed them regularly through a feeding syringe.
Once they got used to their new environment, the male and female were moved to an outdoor pen filled with trees and logs to climb on. They now spend their days playing and growing into strong felines that will hopefully be able to cope with unsupervised conditions.
Eventually, the bobcats will be released in the fall around the time their mother would have let them go. But Rivers is releasing a soft release where the two can come and go all winter long for food as they learn to hunt. She said this is a critical step for survival as they are at a disadvantage; even feral cats only survive at a 40 percent rate.
Everything from a moose to a mouse
This summer, the walls of the center have housed foxes, goslings, coyote, stoats, woodchucks, swallows, bats, woodpeckers, skunks, hummingbirds, snakes and many more species. And no two patients have the same prognosis.
A hummingbird with a broken wing needs a cast, orphaned bats need care every two hours, and a coyote with mange can be treated with three months of medication.
“You get hundreds of different species with hundreds of different problems,” Rivers said. “You have to learn it in practice.”
Regardless of the wide variety of diseases and conditions AWC tends to be, every patient needs a good dose of loving care to recover successfully. Thanks to Rivers’ tireless devotion, within days a once-weakened animal can roam free as if it had never been injured.
“It is incredibly satisfying. You wake up every day and you’ve done something,” Rivers said.
Animals that can no longer be released into the wild due to permanent injuries, become regulars at the center. Rivers is applying for special education permits from the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the federal government to keep these individuals.
Rehabilitation patients are protected from the public so they can preserve their wild nature, but educational partners are specially trained to get used to humans Interaction.
Conservation education programs take place at the wildlife center on Saturdays at 11 a.m. by reservation or other times by appointment.
Rivers said the education center, which teaches the public about animals and conservation, was born out of a desire to give its customers something in exchange for their help in saving an animal.
“Let’s say we save 100 animals; the next year, that’s another 100 babies. So there’s a generation of animals that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t heal the original,” said Rivers’ son, Tony Mullane.
“It’s the same with education; any kid you spark that interest in, they go on and fall in love with nature and animals, and then they make sure they grow up.”
The nature center or education class has a variety of owls, including two sawfish, one of North America’s smallest owls, a porcupine named Spike, a fox, multiple species of turtles, dozens of bats, and even a bald eagle.
AWC is one of the few centers in Maine with a full-time bald eagle license. Luke, who has been with the center for 15 years, came to the center as a juvenile with severe head trauma. From barely standing, he learned to walk and eventually fly.
A teaching woodpecker named Harry was docile for years. He could barely fly until one day he was found fluttering. After testing him in a flying cage, AWC declared his release. These kind of small miracles generally happen in the center on a regular basis.
From humble beginnings to a successful retreat
Located on 15 acres of private land, the AWC facilities include a 1,100-square-foot clinic and nature center and 15 outdoor animal recovery enclosures, including an eagle flying loft, loons water cage, and bat flight path. But the hideout didn’t begin in all its glory. It grew out of a 10-by-10-foot hut and a rabbit hutch.
Rivers even inherited the organization from founder Coleen Doucette, who founded AWC in 1994. Doucette left to work on well-oiled wildlife in Delaware. Rivers’ background began in wildlife rehabilitation and education at the Audubon Society in Massachusetts.
She worked in the clinic for three years until she went to college in Ontario. One of her professor’s partners was the director of Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie.
“Every waking moment I could get away from school, I went there more every summer, every vacation,” Rivers said.
After spending countless hours researching and protecting endangered breeding species, she earned her credentials as a master bird bander.
Her tenure in Canada ended with graduation. But she quickly found a new home in Mount Desert Rock after seeing a newspaper ad for a position as Whale Research Assistant. The isolated location of 25 miles out to sea provided perfect conditions for a bird research station.
There she would start her love for bats. The nocturnal animals would find their way to her nets at night when she was fishing for petrales. She would build Maine’s first bat flight at AWC later in 2019.
“I just love them,” Rivers said. “And I tend to like animals that other people don’t like. Maybe I can make them change their mind.”
She ended up at AWC to fill the shoes of her neighbor who was about to close the store. After a 10-year hiatus from rehab and an afternoon with Dorcette to prepare, Rivers was put in charge.
Rivers has been at work ever since, expanding the center and caring for nearly every variety of wildlife for 25 years.
Mullane remembers that the walls of the training center, which used to be a wood shop for boat building, went up. He and his mother have built a new exhibition or cage every year.
“My mother and I built the entire eagle cage together. We lifted every panel and screwed it in,” he said.
Mullane, who has early memories of driving his kid’s car with bears in the back, said he will likely inherit the organization one day, but he’s worried about how he can cover the ever-increasing costs.
“I’ve worked for mostly non-profit organizations all my life. I love to get up and work for a mission and do something good in the world, but you also have to be able to live,” said Mullane.
Rivers said there are few rehabilitators because most people are unwilling to give up their lives and all their savings to care for injured or orphaned animals.
“I need to have something that has meaning to me, that I can look back on my life and just say I feel good when I’ve done something,” she said. “So that’s why I keep doing it. And the animals are amazing.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit the AWC website at www.acadiawildlife.org.