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Bar Harbor woman marks 15 years rehabbing animals with Acadia Wildlife Foundation

Posted May 20, 2012, at 3:40 p.m.
Last modified May 20, 2012, at 5:27 p.m.

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Ann Rivers, director of Acadia Wildlife Foundation, feeds a young raccoon at the foundation's facility in the Bar Harbor village of Town Hill on Saturday, May 19, 2012. Since taking over operation of the foundation in 1997, Rivers has cared for thousands of animals native to Maine.
Ann Rivers, director of Acadia Wildlife Foundation, feeds a young raccoon at the foundation's facility in the Bar Harbor village of Town Hill on Saturday, May 19, 2012. Since taking over operation of the foundation in 1997, Rivers has cared for thousands of animals native to Maine.
Acadia Wildlife Foundation Director Ann Rivers, tends to a snapping turtle on Saturday, May 19, 2012. The turtle had been non-responsive after being hit by a car but since then has shown &quotbig improvement," Rivers said.
Acadia Wildlife Foundation Director Ann Rivers, tends to a snapping turtle on Saturday, May 19, 2012. The turtle had been non-responsive after being hit by a car but since then has shown "big improvement," Rivers said.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Like many people in the local lodging trade, Ann Rivers spends her time providing food and shelter to those who need it.

She does not have a paying clientele, however. In fact, her lodgers don’t even talk. They are animals who are hurt, sick, or otherwise vulnerable and who are nursed back to health and independence before being released.

Rivers is the director of Acadia Wildlife Foundation, located off Kittredge Brook Road in the local village of Town Hill, where she cares for around 250 animals a year. For Rivers, that means working seven days a week and sleeping only a few hours at a time so she and her volunteer assistants can feed, clean and care for beasts that range in size from mice to moose.

Despite the long hours, Rivers clearly loves the work, which requires that she have permits from state and federal officials to handle the wild animals. She has been doing it for 15 years for little to no pay but with plenty of scratches and bites over the years from creatures who likely would have been dead without her help.

“Each person can make a difference in an animal’s life,” Rivers said Saturday. “You get a different animal every day. You get a different injury every day.”

Rivers gets “thousands” of calls each year from people, many of them police officers or other public officials, who alert her to animals in distress. She said she tries to get people to bring the animals to her because she doesn’t have hours to spend on the road every day picking the animals up and because the callers often don’t know how to properly care for the animals on their own.

Getting people to deliver the animals, she said, also gets them more invested in the process and more aware of the challenges of rehabilitating wild animals.

“I like having the public do it,” she said.

The animals Rivers helps rehabilitate often have been hit by cars or are young animals whose mothers have been run over. Sometimes she gets juveniles who have been separated from their mothers and cannot survive on their own. Among the animals she had on premises on Saturday for rehabilitation were a young bobcat, a snapping turtle, two young raccoons only weeks old, a fox and turkey eggs that are waiting to hatch.

She said the first animal she ever rehabilitated, in 1997, was an injured kestrel that had its eye poked out when he was a chick and had fallen out of its nest. She has helped many since then.

“I raise 75 squirrels a year,” Rivers said. “I’ve taken care of only two moose.”

She counts approximately 150 species of birds that have passed through her facility. She also has taken care of bears, deer, fishers, mink and more — so many that it is easier to name the types of Maine mammals that she has not handled. These include some species of mice, voles, lynx and pine martens.

“Everything else I think I’ve taken care of over the years,” Rivers said.

In the past couple of years she has gotten bats suffering from white-nose syndrome, she said. Nothing can be done to help them, she said, but it is important that the disease is tracked.

“We always want to see it,” Rivers said of any sick bat.

She said white-nose syndrome is not harmful to humans but, because bats can carry rabies, they should always be handled with gloves and never with bare hands.

Other animals that have been brought to AWF arrived along with bizarre or entertaining stories, she said. She once helped relocate a possum that, unbeknownst to its fellow passengers, had ridden with a family from Michigan to Maine in their station wagon before it was discovered. One woman put what she thought was a young beaver in a tub of water, only to find out later it was a flying squirrel. Another woman who called Rivers was feeding a young raccoon from her own breast.

“You wouldn’t believe the people who let their kids use [an animal in need] as a science project,” she said.

She said there are other wild animal rehab facilities in Maine, but most of them are west or south of Bar Harbor. She said she sends some animals that are brought to her facility — such as a young owl that recently became separated from its parent in Acadia National Park — to wildlife rehabilitation centers that are better equipped or more experienced at caring for a particular species. Likewise, some animals that she gets come from other rehabilitation centers, she said, but she tries to keep her operation relatively small. Some centers outside of Maine handle more than 5,000 of animals on an annual basis and have dozens of people on staff, she said.

“I’m not looking for a zoo here,” Rivers said. “I just want to do a little bit.”

In addition to the wild animals Rivers nurses back to health and then releases, she has some that are permanent residents of the wildlife center, which sits on 15 acres of privately owned land. These are animals that can survive with her help but likely would not survive if they were returned to the wild, because they either have permanent injuries or have been habituated to being around people. She has licenses to keep all of her permanent resident animals.

The animals who live at the center include an adult snapping turtle who used to be a pet in Massachusetts — where, unlike Maine, keeping them as pets is legal — a blind river otter, a screech owl, several brown bats, a saw-whet owl, two eastern box turtles, two painted turtles and a woodpecker. The river otter, she said, which also suffers from seizures as result of being hit by a car, is her favorite.

“I absolutely love them,” Rivers said of river otters. “They’re really charismatic.”

She also has a bald eagle that was illegally injured in a leg trap in Washington County several years ago, as well as a barred owl, a red-tailed hawk, a cormorant and two turkey vultures, which she keeps in separate enclosures outside the main building. A large, attached enclosure for the eagle is expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks, she said.

One of the biggest challenges Rivers faces is fundraising. A 2005 fire that leveled one of her shelter buildings resulted in a lot of donations coming in, she said, but such assistance can be inconsistent.

“I can run the place on $70,000 annually,” she said. “If I want to build, I need more than that. If I want to pay staff, I need more than that.”

The foundation in a nonprofit organization but it does not attend or host events, she said.

She does hold public viewings of her permanent resident animals, but only for small groups and only by appointment on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

The foundation can be contacted by phone at 288-4960. More information about AWF can be found at its website, www.acadiawildlife.org.

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